Distorted priorities

Published by Lori Pickert on April 3, 2010 at 01:47 PM

[A]pplying the principles of business to instruction leads to distorted priorities. It leads, for example, to an overemphasis on test scores as the sole measure of schooling, simply because it is a measurable. Business methods do not acknowledge that the non-measurables may be even more important than what is measured. — Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

Charters became the favorite new toy of businesses and businessmen. Some hoped to make a profit off it, some hoped to find fame and glory, some just liked to be part of the latest fad. They saw testing as a way to relatively cheaply control their quality, and ward off regulators and monitors. They saw teachers and parents as buyers/clients/wage earners. The model was business — and maybe not the best of business at that, as some business reformers warned them.

The crisis talk, our economic shakiness all seemed a perfect backdrop for scaring people into forgetting about our age-old experiment in public education, an experiment that has been adopted throughout most of the world, above all in democracies.

We have installed new bureaucracies, we have recreated too many chain store schools. Decisions were made further and further from school folks.

[W]e need to work very hard to retain the best examples of public education before even the memory of what it meant for us all to have a stake in each other’s children. — Deborah Meier, Small Schools and Choice Revisited

Mmm, distorted priorities. If I was in a cranky mood, I might observe that educational academics have fallen into the water and decided it’s hot. The rest of us have been feeling the heat for some time.

Ms. Ravitch was pro-NCLB back when it came to be, then over time she became agin’ it. We may fire all the teachers, NCLB may come and go, but educational analysts will always have a job! Well, darn, and I wasn’t going to be cranky…

Ms. Meier writes, “If this privatization fails in the ways I suspect it will, it will have destroyed our public system; and it may be hard to put humpty-dumpty back again.”

Would anyone want to put humpty-dumpty back again? As angry as many of us have become at standardized testing, accountability, and the loss of a well-rounded education, the reason we started tinkering with education (beating on it with a wrench? kicking it?) in the first place was because it wasn’t doing its job well enough. The fact that No Child Left Behind did way more damage than good and ended up leaving far more children behind doesn’t change that.

We are moving inexorably forward. What will education look like in 10 years? Will business-model education take as long to fall out of favor as NCLB did?

Okay, well, I have a personal deal with myself that I will only post so many cranky general observations before I must post something real, immediate, and positive. So my next post will be that — and what better antidote to politics?

As Will Rogers said, “The schools ain’t what they used to be and never was.”



Comment by Dawn Suzette on April 4, 2010 at 08:15 PM

Thanks for posting Lori. More food for thought!
I will have to check out that book.

Comment by Amy on April 4, 2010 at 08:34 PM

Post as many cranky comments as you want to! I learn so much from reading your links and reflections.

Comment by Paula on April 5, 2010 at 01:05 PM

What will education look like in 10 years? I have no idea. It will probably still be a mess. But 10 years from now there will be a shortage of craftsmen. Craftsmen that make glassware, boats, watches, etc. Lately I talked with my husband about this: if our child likes to attent university, she also should learn one of these old-fashioned crafts to be able to have a home-based job.
School-education suffers too much political and economical pressure. Home-educators can look at the student, her/his skills and aim for specific goals.

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