When it comes to Obama’s education secretary, the Post favors “reform”–it wants someone who’s “willing to experiment.” Meanwhile, everyone knows what these words mean when mainstream journalists discuss public schools. “Reform” means cracking down on teachers and teacher groups through ideas like merit pay and the ending of tenure. There may be some merit to these ideas–but few others seem to get mentioned.
…it’s the type of chatter that’s routinely churned by “educational experts.” But Hiatt is being fatuous when he says that “every student can learn, write and do math” (whatever so vague an assurance might mean)–and he builds a straw man when he goes on to say that “their ability to do so should be measured.” (Few oppose sensible measurement.) Duh! The question isn’t whether “every student can learn;” the question is how much various students can learn, at what point in their public schooling. The larger question is what sorts of changes in instructional practice might help these students achieve these goals. Meanwhile, the desire to rush to the question of who’s “at fault” merely extends the problem.
…But everyone knows that “black kids can learn” (whatever that vague assurance might mean); reciting this bromide makes “experts” seem noble, but it doesn’t make anyone smarter. The actual questions here are quite different: How much can this particular child learn, during this particular week, and what would be the best particular way to help him or her do that? Unfortunately, educational experts often like to cheerlead–and the Hiatts start acting like cheerleaders too. Soon, we find ourselves snarling at teachers, who surely must be “at fault” in these students’ “failure to learn.”
The problem most discussions of improving education (‘school reform’) have is that they are miraculously devoid of any discussion of how to teach and how to prepare students to learn–which would seem to be the crux of the matter. As Somerby notes, instead, we just get morality plays that often add to the problem by focusing on wages in the wrong way.