He points out that the NAEP scores (National Assessment of Educational Progress) haven't varied much since they started in the early '70s. He astutely points out that elementary school students have done better but
"...what good are they if they're erased by high school?
He points out that the achievement gap had been narrowing slightly but then stalled in the late '80s. The student-teacher ratio has fallen sharply from - get this - 27-1 in 1955 to 15-1 in 2007. (Seriously? Where are these public schools with 15-1 class sizes?) Teacher pay? He doesn't think so. Pre-school?
Yet, the share of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool has rocketed from 11 percent in 1965 to 53 percent in 2008.
Here are his two reasons that "reform" has been lacking.
"Reforms" have disappointed for two reasons. First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) "scalable" -- easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains. Efforts in New York City and Washington, D.C., to raise educational standards involve contentious and precarious school-by-school campaigns to purge "ineffective" teachers and principals. Charter schools might break this pattern, though there are grounds for skepticism. In 2009, the 4,700 charter schools enrolled about 3 percent of students and did not uniformly show achievement gains.
The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail.
Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a "good" college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school "reform" is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out compared with about 25 percent today) and adolescent culture has strengthened, the authority of teachers and schools has eroded. That applies more to high schools than to elementary schools, helping explain why early achievement gains evaporate.
And, he believes the motivation fact is across all races and economic classes.
He ends on a reality-based explanation:
Now Duncan routinely urges "a great teacher" in every classroom. That would be about 3.7 million "great" teachers -- a feat akin to having every college football team composed of all-Americans. With this sort of intellectual rigor, what school "reform" promises is more disillusion.
I do agree with him. I believe that what our children watch on tv or computers, whether it is politicians talking or tv shows, they get the message that it's okay to know just enough. (Or, worse yet, if you are young and stupid, it's just the first step in a career if you are willing to act the fool in front of a tv camera.) That there are no perfect adults isn't the issue. It's that there is not enough of the same steady message that education matters. That hard work matters. That cheating your way to the top will never be successful. It matters at the individual level and it matters at a societal level.
I believe our kids aren't hearing this enough. I am shocked that we still have 25% of students dropping out of high school. What young person today thinks there is a future without a high school diploma? How can that be?
I don't think we honor academic achievement enough in our schools. At the end of the day, we care more about sports and arts achievements in school than academic achievements. (Look at any trophy case at any school.)
I believe at the end of the next decade, we'll look back on this version of ed reform and say "for what?" What did we achieve? Who did we leave behind? How much money did we falsely spend in this endeavor? It's the Gates Transformation money but on a bigger scale.
I'd love if after all this competition for money and putting money towards transforming schools, that we truly find some small and useful truth for public education but I don't think we will.