Schools and accountability
Here’s the part that gets me – if, as is assumed in this critique (an assumption I largely agree with by the way) that it is not possible to adequately measure performance via testing, then by what standard is it appropriate to say that parents shouldn’t have the ability to determine their own criteria for evaluating their child’s education, and then act on that criteria to send their child to the school that best matches that criteria? ~ Mark Thompson in the comments
Here’s how I see this. Standardized testing is a shabby substitute for actual community and parental involvement in our schools. It’s a crutch. Inevitably, it’s a crutch that empowers bureaucrats and enfeebles teachers and students and schools and families and communities. If we want our schools to be more ‘accountable’ and our teachers to perform adequately, then we as a society need to reintegrate our schools and our communities. No man is an island, as Donne so aptly put it. Well, no school is either. Nor should they be. School should be a piece of the larger community. We should hold our schools accountable by holding ourselves accountable first, by being a part of our children’s education.
There are many ways to do this, including more community partnerships and, as I’ve said before, apprenticeship programs. In some places, this means we need to reevaluate how much influence teacher’s unions have. Not everywhere, by any means, but in those places where bad teachers get preferential treatment over their students. It strikes me that more and more we feel that all of this should be done for us. How well are our schools performing? We don’t know because we aren’t involved in them so we’d better have them take lots and lots of tests! How are our teachers performing? We don’t ever see or speak with our teachers, or really with our kids, so we’d better grade their performance based on these tests!
If parents want ‘the ability to determine their own criteria for evaluating their child’s education’ they should simply be more involved in that education. Some school choice probably won’t hurt here, but I worry that school choice in general will be used as an excuse not to really become involved in the first place. ‘Well we picked a really high-performing school for our kids, so everything will be just fine!’ Again – I think some school choice is probably not a terribly big deal. It may do some good. But I think it only addresses one tiny sliver of the problems our schools face*.
In a sense, this is the problem we’ve seen with retirees in places like Sun City who want to avoid paying taxes to pay for public education. That is more malicious, obviously, than simply wanting to pick a better school for your kids – but both actions undermine a commitment to our communities. And that comes back to haunt us. In the end, I think you get what you put in.
Another question that has been raised is the idea of gifted-students classes. I’ll be blunt. At this point in my life I’m against both gifted and special-needs classes being separated from the mainstream. What classrooms need is a diversity of ability. If gifted kids need more of a challenge they should be able to get it through electives or after-school instruction. If special needs kids need more help, that should be provided. But placing all these kids together will enrich the entire experience. Hell – I’d say we should go back to one-room schoolhouses if I thought we could get away with it! Segregating students based on age is just as silly to me as separating them based on ability.
In any case, segregating classes based on talent misses so many fundamentally important things about how we learn, how we socialize, how we learn to get along, that in the end is ultimately a disservice to everyone involved.
I’ll have more elaborate thoughts on the brain-drain concept later. For now, suffice to say that I think we have been suckered into a grand illusion that centralizing our best and brightest is the only way, indeed the inevitable way – and that, I believe, is entirely untrue.
* P.S. I agree with Freddie on this point as well – most American schools are doing just fine! Indeed, most Americans think their own school is doing just fine, even if they think everyone else’s is awful! For instance, take a look at this chart from Gallup:
Max Socol asks:
Not to argue from authority but just out of real curiosity: have you worked with special needs students before? Have you spent any time in any kind of classroom? (As a teacher, I mean.)
The answer is yes – a little. I have taught in special-needs classes, both behavioral special ed and traditional special ed. And I have had a great deal of experience with educators, talking about these issues – including the issue of special education being “mainstreamed” – as well. The fact is, to adequately mainstream real problem kids or really handicapped kids, you need to probably have teacher assistants on hand. There is no way that these kids will learn at the same rate as others. Some severely handicapped kids need one-on-one instruction. There is no perfect way to integrate them into the larger class. That being said, segregation is a really backwards way of treating people with different learning ability and even different basic intelligences. Of course, if you try to have everyone learn at the same rate, well you’re going to fail. Then again, I’d say that applies to “normal” kids as well. But who ever said all kids in a class should have to learn or achieve at the same rate? That’s sort of an odd way of thinking, actually, even if it is firmly ingrained in our psyche.
Also, I like Greg’s ideas for measuring school success. I bet we could come up with more if we tried:
College admittance rate
Trade school admittance rate
Military enlistment rate
Number of incidents that require police intervention
Winning academic prizes or scholarships to college, etc.
Hours volunteered by HS students
Number of grads who get jobs straight out of HS and they avg pay