I read an excellent piece on the status of American education in The Atlantic recently, and would strongly recommend anyone interested in schools and schooling to click here and take a look at what Jack Schneider has to say about what's really happening in our schools.
On balance, Mr. Schneider offers a very fair and level-headed analysis of American public education, suggesting that the "crisis" in American education has been wildly exaggerated. But the real problem underlying this discussion can be seen in the first 2 paragraphs, in which only 3 persons are identified as “education experts”:
Sal Khan, Campbell Brown, and Michelle Rhee.
To be clear, none of these persons has attended a public school, has a degree in education, has had their children attend a public school, or has ever held teacher certification. And yet they possess the loudest and most strident voices in the education policy arena, dominating conversations on education policy through sheer volume, and absorbing much of the light and heat in the education policy sphere. Aided and abetted by "education publications" like the billionaire-funded Education Post, Brown has become the "moderator du jour" for education reform meetings, conferences, and made-for-TV edu-infomercials.
If the country desired a substantive discussion on health care policy, we wouldn’t turn to “Dr.” Laura, “Dr.” Phil and “Dr." J.
We would convene task forces of actual physicians and medical researchers, have meaningful discussions on health care policy and practices, and make reasoned, incremental changes in these policies and practices.
But in education, we have allowed edutourists like Rhee and Campbell to be elevated to positions of authority, and technocrats like Khan to be lauded as visionaries, even as the research conducted by actual education experts is ignored, scorned and even repudiated, and replaced with ideas designed to privatize schools, demonize teachers, and profitize children.
Now, even some of these education experts, tempted by the prospect of previously unimaginable wealth and power, have sold out their profession for a shot at cashing in on the corporate reform gravy train. Witness Dr. Deborah Ball’s stepping down as Dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan to concentrate on her work on NOTE: National Observational Teaching Examination for ETS, the Educational Testing Service.
As I've written about previously here, and here, and others have written about here, NOTE is a high-stakes student teacher evaluation test that requires pre-service teachers to "instruct" avatars--yes, avatars! And if their "teaching" of these cartoon characters isn't deemed adequate, the student teacher is denied their certification or teaching license, in spite of the fact that the student teacher in question has just completed an accredited, rigorous 4 or 5 year teacher preparation program, regardless of the student teacher's earned GPA or demonstrated capability to teach real, live children in hundreds of hours of field experiences in local school classrooms, or the intern's exhibited knowledge, understanding or competence in their subject area.
(And, just to rub a little salt in the wound: the persons who are remotely-operating the avatars are not teachers themselves--they are unemployed actors who have been trained to manipulate the joy sticks and computer simulations that control the avatars' voices and movements. The designers of the avatar system found that teachers thought too much about their responses to the interns' teaching "moves"--the actors didn't concern themselves with matters like content correctness or developmentally-appropriate responses; they just followed the provided script, and efficiently completed the task at hand.)
As Jack Schneider points out in his article,
If the educational system had broken at some point, a look backward would reveal an end to progress—a point at which the system stopped working. Yet that isn’t at all the picture that emerges. Instead, one can see that across many generations, the schools have slowly and steadily improved.
The truth, unfortunately, is much less sexy, and doesn't sell nearly as many newspapers or generate as many "clicks".
It's not very exciting to suggest that our schools, even as they have been systematically defunded by federal and state governments, are doing a terrific job of educating the nation's children.
It doesn't create much "buzz" to point out that even in spite of constantly moving targets, fluctuating "cut scores" on standardized tests, and daily changes to state teacher evaluation systems, our teachers are better prepared than they have ever been, are being expected to do more with less, and--amazingly--are doing it.
America's educational system is not "broken", and our schools aren't "failing." Our teachers aren't "lazy," and no, Sec. Duncan: our kids aren't "dumb."
The truth is that the vast majority of American schools are excellent, and our teachers are doing heroic work under the most difficult working conditions we have seen in our lifetimes. Our education system isn't "failing": we have failed our schools.
The solution to getting out of the "manufactured crisis" we now find ourselves in starts with listening to the real education experts in our midst: the classroom teachers who have devoted their professional lives to teaching our children.
And politely telling Mr. Khan, Ms. Brown and Ms. Rhee to mind their own business, and let us do our jobs.