Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Should Education Be a Race?

"The economic motive has always figured in the spread of mass education in the United States, but recently it has predominated, edging out all the other reasons we send kids to school: civic, social, ethical, developmental." ~ Mike Rose

There is big money involved in the federal education grant program, Race to the Top (RttT). States across the land, including Maine, are scrambling to pass legislation that will put them in contention for an infusion of funding. The requirements are:

--Turn around the lowest-achieving schools.

--Create competitive academic standards and tests that prepare students for college and the work force.

--Build data systems to track students from grade to grade.

--Connect teacher and principal salaries to student performance.

--Loosen caps on charter schools.

Question: Are we selling our souls for money?

President Dwight Eisenhower had the following to say about local control of education:

"A distinguishing characteristic of our nation — and a great strength — is the development of our institutions within the concept of individual worth and dignity. Our schools are among the guardians of that principle. Consequently . . . and deliberately their control and support throughout our history have been — and are — a state and local responsibility. . . . Thus was established a fundamental element of the American public school system — local direction by boards of education responsible immediately to the parents of children. Diffusion of authority among tens of thousands of school districts is a safeguard against centralized control and abuse of the educational system that must be maintained. We believe that to take away the responsibility of communities and states in educating our children is to undermine not only a basic element of our freedoms but a basic right of our citizens."

In the end, does more data ever improve our lives? See Neil Postman's "Informing Ourselves to Death."

" . . . It is all the same: There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory." ~ Postman

Do we want corporations and technocrats to determine how and what our children learn? See the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Check out who is - and who isn't - on the boards.

When it comes to turning around lowest-achieving schools and connecting teacher and principal pay to student performance, have we forgotten about this side of the equation:

What are your thoughts?

Related Links:

How to Create Workers, Not Citizens - the Frustrated Teacher
Bridging Differences: The New Era of Greed
NEA: Race to the Top = The Demise of Teaching
Schools Matter: Calling Out Harvard's Graduate School of Education

Reforms of Least Resistance
All Innovation Short of Charter Schools
Starting to Race to the Top


Pam Kenney said...

Although I'd prefer that corporations and technocrats not determine how and what our children learn, I know that complaints from the business sector about poorly prepared college-educated hirees are rampant and justified. If we don't want computer and technology companies, with their attendant profit motives, to dictate curriculum standards, then educators better get serious and develop standards to educate our young people that are more rigorous than the ones we have now.

Does that, then, mean our students need "21st-century skills"? I don't think so. Delineating creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and collaboration as skills unique to today is nonsense. Good teachers have used all of them in their classrooms for years, and they know that the best learning takes place when kids learn basic content and processes simultaneously with reasoning, problem-solving, and communicating.

What I'd like to see are strong measurable standards and better training for our nation's teachers. At the end of the day, it's the quality of the classroom teacher that most influences what the students learn.

Jim Burke said...


While I can't disagree that high expectations and good teachers are important, you seem to be missing the whole socio-economic context of the situation. It is hard to buy into doing well in school if the cards are stacked against you in the first place. There certainly are exceptions, but to do well in school, you need a good foundation (love, support, experience, encouragement, a sense of safety and security, and a belief that if you work hard, it will make a difference in your life.

We can make these standards as "high" as we wish, but it is not going to make one bit of difference if basic survival needs are not attended to as well.

It is just so easy for the rich and middle class to talk, from the comfort of their own life styles, about raising the bar for those who have nothing. The bar can be raised all we want, but if the rich continue to get richer and poor poorer (check the statistics for the past 40 years), then high standards are pointless.

In closing (*cough,cough*) I would argue that, in the end, it is a social-economic and cultural problem created by the greedy . . . and not a standards and teaching issue at all.


Pam Kenney said...

Sorry, I don't agree, except in extreme cases. An excellent curriculum and great teachers can overcome all sorts of problems children come to school with.