"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why School Reforms Fail

This blog just went through each of the proposed solutions in the book Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch. The solutions she proposed are rooted in a realistic view of what basic education really entails. The solutions must be based on a perspective that basic education is both a human right and responsibility. The solutions require first and foremost a recognition that poverty harms education. The solutions must come from where learning is supposed to occur, from inside the classrooms, most importantly, from the teachers who are working day and night on their thankless job of preparing the future members of society. Lastly, education should be focused on learning. Society should not throw all its other problems to education expecting that schools can solve these. Basic education is not an antidote to all of society's ills. Unfortunately, most education reforms are not built with the above in mind. For this reason, reforms fail.

Above cartoon copied from
The Problems With Education "Reform", and What to do About Them…
English teacher Pat Welsh wrote recently in the Washington Post, "Four decades of failed school reform". In the article, Welsh recalls his experiences and views on various school reforms that passed by during his forty years of teaching. He calls them "fads" that simply came and went. In one sentence, Welsh describes the reasons why education reforms fail:
All of them failed to do what I believe to be key to teaching: to make students care about what they’re studying and understand how it’s relevant to their lives.
Acknowledging the above as the key reason why most reforms come and go, without delivering any of the promised results, leads us to the undeniable fact that the teacher is indeed key to any reform that has any chance of succeeding, for only a teacher has the wisdom and experience that is required to make students care about their learning. Recognizing this key requirement in education means accepting that the solutions are going to be diverse, as diverse as the student population. There are no silver bullets, magic potions. Any education reform that touts itself as a "cure for all" is simply an illusion, no different from snake oil.

The following is the last section of Welsh's article, suggesting what measure may actually work:
What works? 
More than four decades of education reforms didn’t make me a better teacher and haven’t made T.C. Williams a better school. Rather, the quick fixes promulgated by headline-seeking politicians, school administrators and self-styled education gurus have in some cases done more harm than good. 
I found that the most helpful professional-development experiences involved fellow English teachers sharing what worked in their classrooms — always with the caveat: “This works for me; it may not work for you.” Being with people who loved doing what I did and exchanging ideas without any professional jealously was always reinvigorating. 
A passion for communicating one’s subject matter to the next generation isn’t among the 74 items on Alexandria’s Curriculum Implementation Walk-Through Data Collection list, which Sherman, who left Alexandria schools last month, used to evaluate faculty. But it’s what all great teachers have in abundance. And it’s what will keep them going when the next wave of reforms comes rolling through.
Teachers need our support and it is not just about money. More often than not, teachers are asking us what they normally ask their students. Listen....





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