What is public education supposed to be doing? I would love if anyone who comments would write a 2-3 sentence reply to that question.
To aid in this discussion, I bring up two articles. (For now, I'm leaving out the growing - and coming-to-your-child's-classroom like a freight train - issue of so-called "personalized learning" via technology.) (All bold mine.)
One article is from the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Along with being a charter thinktank, they also like to put forth ideas about what they think public education should be (but they are not interested in any discussion and, of course, you can't comment on their articles.)
I Ain’t Talking to You If You Ain’t Talking About Structural Reform spins off from remarks from the Washington State Teacher of the Year, Nate Bowling, who said, "“If you ain't talking about the teacher in the classroom, I ain't listening.” Naturally, CRPE is disappointed with his stance.
Here's what CRPE likes:
I read Nate’s post the day before we opened our annual Portfolio Network meeting, a meeting focused on all kinds of policy discussions that Nate might refuse to talk about: moving autonomy and funding to the school level, unifying enrollment systems to ensure equal access across district and charter schools, replacing or turning around low-performing schools.Basically, that all kinds of schools, including district and charter schools, would be one big happy family where people all enrollment in one place and you could mix and mingle kids and schools. Except, of course, for a couple of major issues.
One, it's not a happy family when some of the relatives don't have the same public oversight as others. Where some relatives can be a public entity on some issues and a private one on others. Where one entity has to provide the infrastructure for a big item (like athletics) that the other entity gets to access.
Two, if you are "replacing or turning around low-performing schools" but there are different rubrics for that assessment for different schools.
But there are two lines from the article that struck me that pertains specifically to this discussion:
The primary job of government has to be ensuring that every child in every neighborhood has a range of good schooling options.
Parents and teachers have to be able to opt-in to schools that are a good fit, not be assigned.
As someone who grew up in a small town with no choices, those two items strike me. Because options would be nice in a small town but how does anyone afford them in a school system? Because if you open a charter in a small town, it will immediately affect the school system.
I think it possible in suburban and urban settings to have choices and, to my knowledge, most of them in this country do have options for students via magnet schools or alternative learning schools. Are they harder to access? Yes, but there's usually a reason for that (either in schools that have struggled in the past that are further away from many other schools or requirements to get in to keep that magnet focus.)
Those two thoughts from CRPE also strike me as very American. We're Americans and we love to have choices. But ask any foreigner who comes to the U.S. and goes to a Bartell's - so many choices! It's overwhelming and how do you know which one is best? Getting the wrong toothpaste? Not such a bad choice but getting the wrong school for your child? There's a bad choice.
That first statement strikes me as a fundamental question for lawmakers and citizens - is it the primary job of government to provide school choices for parents? Is there really the money for all that choice?
The second statement, about picking your school, does play into the feeling of being in control. But, of course, if every assigned school is fully-funded with good teachers and a good principal, you can probably feel better about the assignment. There may be that tickle in the back of your brain - "Maybe there's a better school for my child?" That may be true, but one huge item that CRPE overlooks is that parents like their child being in their neighborhood and creating connections and community there.
The second article is called The Split Screen Strategy: How to Turn Education into a Self-Improving System by Ted Kolderie and it was reviewed at Education Next. Mr. Kolderie is a whole-hearted charter supporter so you'll probably wonder why I'd be interested in what he has to say.
The “split screen” refers to Kolderie’s two-pronged approach to school reform, working within the existing system to try to make it better (what he calls “improvement”) while at the same time creating new systems to replace it (what he calls “innovation”).
So take out charters and this could be a good idea for districts. What are we doing on both sides of what needs to be done in public education?
The “innovation” screen, at its core, envisions a choice-driven school environment where teachers are in charge and are tasked with personalizing an education for every child in their charge. It gives them what Kolderie calls “meaningful authority,” not just to set the course of learning for students but to establish standards of practice for the professionals in their building. He sees innovative schools as led less by single administrators like principals and more by a “partnership” of top professionals (as found in law firms or health clinics). Accountability systems would likewise evolve to encompass a broader set of indicators to try to more thoroughly capture what it means to be an educated person. It is a system marked by iteration, feedback, and improvement, and driven by empowered students, families, and teachers.
This sounds very much like the Finland model.
I'll interject here that, truly, the only empowerment I have seen for charter school parents is in choosing the school. I have seen very little that parents actually have a say in anything that happens in these schools.
On a fundamental level, Kolderie’s reform strategy makes a great deal of sense. The vast majority of children attend traditional public schools, and even with the growth of charter schools, publicly supported private schooling, and home schooling, the current system stands to remain the dominant educational modality for the foreseeable future. Any strategy that doesn’t have something to say about these children and these schools will be a call for “revolution at the margins.”Readers, do you think our current system is "torqued out" or better yet, how would YOU describe our current system? (Please don't say "broken" - be specific.) And no, all our efforts should NOT be expended in replacing the current system because the system continues to work for many, many students. (And, of course, charters have not shown anything near the promises they make nor are most of them scaleable.)
At the same time, it appears that Kolderie argues that our current system is “torqued out.” He seems to endorse former Minnesota Education Association president Bob Astrup’s argument that “as traditionally arranged the K‒12 system is giving us the most it can.” If this is the case, and there is evidence to support the claim, isn’t time spent on improving these institutions a waste? Shouldn’t all of our efforts be expended replacing the current system?
Probably the most common critique of Kolderie’s vision will be that pursuing it is risky. He advocates moving large numbers of students and large amounts of money into unproven learning systems that have fewer guardrails to protect students and taxpayer dollars. More-motivated or connected parents will be better able to navigate this system and create for their children a higher-quality education than poorer or less-motivated parents. It risks widening educational inequality.Teachers
Those arguments don’t hold up. In fact, Kolderie’s vision is less risky for poor families than our current system is, as it breaks down many of the walls that are currently keeping poor families out of good schools.
His newly reimagined system is a great opportunity for teachers to create schools and classes, free from bureaucratic meddling, but in order for the system to work, teachers will have to be comfortable with risk. They will have to be willing to put their “product” (for lack of a better term) out there for people to use or not use. That is a big ask. For all we complain about step-and-lane pay scales, defined benefit pensions, and multihundred-page collective bargaining agreements that spell out every minute of a teacher’s day, they provide a work environment that is light on risk. Moving to Kolderie’s nimble, agile, continuously improving system will require teachers and leaders who want to experiment, and fail, and iterate, and improve. It might very well require a major shift in the way we select, prepare, evaluate, and compensate teachers.
The new system will only work if everyone is clear-eyed about the purpose and buys into what it is trying to do. Failure will happen, and we have to be honest about that.In a way, that is what is happening now. We have charter schools in this country that are, if you believe their talk of "innovation" and change, are basically experimenting on kids to try to find new and better ways to reach them. If only charters were these hot-beds of innovation, we WOULD be able to gauge what works and what doesn't and if it is scaleable/affordable.
"Do Schools Have a Civic Purpose?"
This question in the article circles us back to our primary question about the role of public education in this country.
The Achilles’ heel of any argument for substantially personalized learning is that we have a school system not simply for the benefit of individual students but also for the cultivation of our next generation of citizens.
Much of the talking past one another in contemporary American education discourse happens because many on the left see education entirely as a public good and many on the right see it entirely as a private good.Meaning are we training students or educating them? Creating smart worker bees or educated citizens?
Education is a mixed good; some of the benefits accrue to the individual, like increased earnings, better health, and a longer life, and some of the benefits accrue to society as a whole, like better civic engagement, more tax revenue, less crime, and less dependence on social welfare programs. An overly personalized system may tilt too far in the direction of private good, and risk eroding the values and institutions that protect the freedom of families to choose what is best for their children.Your thoughts?