The recent New York Times story about a remarkable drop in test scores (after being recalibrated by New York State), should give us immediate pause and force a reassessment of claims about what really works in public education. Many people are scrambling to explain away what happened. Some are even complaining that “the goalposts were moved.” Some of the shining lights of the charter school movement are at a loss and can only say: “we just have to try harder.” Try harder at what?! Teaching to the test? Teaching even more skills to improve performance on standardized tests? I would like to suggest the crazy notion that the ladder is against the wrong wall. Unfortunately, for too many people, this will have a short news cycle and it will become business as usual.
Abdication of Responsibility
I’ve said it before: the game is rigged. The idea of a meritocracy in education is laughable. We’ve seen during our recent series of financial woes that qualities like integrity, hard work and sound morals have no significant correlation to economic success at the very top. IQ cannot be proven to directly influence economic outcomes.
The merit myth also applies to education. One thing that may be “post -racial” about this country is the extent to which the lives of poor, working, and middle class – Black or White – are all dictated by the needs of an oligarchy determined to maintain its power and privilege. This plays out starkly in the field of education. I have too much experience with elite private schools to believe that it’s about hard work, good character, and intelligence. I’ve been in too many meetings with wealthy supporters of charter schools to believe that they would subject their own children to the same education model they believe in so strongly for poor children.
Taking It Back
Education is a gatekeeper but not the type that anyone interested in fairness or American ideals should allow. Educational attainment is primarily a reflection of family income. This has to change if this country is too have a significant, viable future. Here are a few things that those of us interested in fairness and the future of the Republic should do:
- Read anything by John Taylor Gatto.
- Do your own research on best practices in literacy.
- Learn more about the history of education models like Montessori and Reggio Emilia
- Skip the vacation to the Hamptons and attend an event sponsored by the Appleseed Project.
- Attend a meetup of the local homeschooling association.
- Join a charter school board.
- Help kids get involved in Junior Achievement, Civil Air Patrol, and 4-H Clubs.
- Teach your children to play and win the “Inner Game.”
- Don’t blindly accept “expert” definitions of “measurable success.”
- Teach your children that competition doesn’t always have to be a zero sum game – it can also be about cooperation where you and your opponent bring out the best in each other.
- Learn the difference between end goals (which we don’t have total control over) and process goals (which we can control).
Knowing the truth about inheritance, family income, and luck should give those at the top some pause, greater humility, and a desire to do better by those less fortunate. In the meantime, we have to get tougher, smarter, and more strategic about doing it for ourselves.
Do you have any models of schools that work for everyone?