Are We Making Things Worse?

The narrative is quite familiar. Schools are failing therefore we need to do something. Education, however, is quite complicated and results from interventions often take time to materialize. On the other hand, it is likewise necessary to know if the interventions are not working or even worse, contributing more to the problems. In this regard, sound data and statistical analysis is urgently needed. One study from Rhode Island is one example. The state of Rhode Island decided to identify and categorize its schools acoording to student performance. Based on this categorization, schools are then mandated to implement interventions. Two years have passed and the study finds, "...schools required to implement few interventions performed no differently relative to schools that had no interventions required. Among lower-performing schools, those required to adopt more interventions did worse than schools mandated to implement fewer, including higher student mobility."

This study and similar ones bring me back to an article written by Mike Rose in the American Scholar:

There are various possible reasons why education reforms, such as those implemented in Rhode island, fail. Unfortunately, studies that are large in scale are unable to point specifically at the reason. One reason frequently given is that the intervention is not implemented faithfully or that resources are not adequately provided for the reform. Seeing how many of these reforms fail makes it quite improbable that people simply do not know how to implement refors. What Mike Rose offers in his article is a much more plausible reason:

How can our schools get better when we’ve made our teachers the problem and not the solution?

Rose then provides an alternative approach in drawing education reforms:

  • Reforms should begin with these assumptions: "at least some of the answers for improvement were in the public schools themselves, that significant unrealized capacity exists in the teaching force, that even poorly performing schools employ teachers who work to the point of exhaustion to benefit their students?"
  • "Teachers should read, write and think together" 
  • Effects of poverty must be acknowledged. 

Sadly, most educational reforms do not begin with the above. It is time to change our perspective, otherwise, we will simply continue failing.