I try not to get involved in education politics.

September 10, 2010 at 12:39 am Leave a comment

http://gothamschools.org/ is a great source for education news. It calls itself “a running conversation about what works and what doesn’t in NYC schools.” It includes a daily summary of interesting articles and posts from around the country.

This week, the site linked to a post where, as gothamschools.org put it, “a former KIPP teacher explains how he lost faith in the dominant ‘reform’ narrative” (Education News Colorado). For obvious reasons, I was interested to read the post. It didn’t offer anything particularly new and I was ready to just move on. Until I saw that it had 23 comments that were all positive.

I just had to add my negative comment, and I thought I’d share it here because it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while now:

I guess I’ll be the first “negative” comment on this post because, as usual, I am bothered by critics of reform who make it seem like one must either completely support everything about the reform movement or completely reject it.

Let me be clear. I don’t disagree with the criticism. I just don’t think it’s very helpful.

I am a teacher who is focused on measureable student achievement. I also want each student to develop an “appreciation of things worth while” and “extract meaning from his future experiences.” If I had to choose one of these goals over the other, I might train students to perform low-order skills without giving them true understanding. But there’s also a risk that I might think I’m giving students a rich, meaningful education without ensuring they can demonstrate and apply their knowledge.

 The reason I’m disturbed by this post is because it polarizes the two concerns. I talk to teachers who feel like they have to choose between them. And when they choose, they fail. A truly good “reform” teacher would never say that it is solely about student achievement. They just know this focus can help. Like everything in life, it takes balance.

I am sure you had some bad experiences with the relentless focus on standardized tests and accountability. I have too. But I don’t believe we have to completely reject the reform movement. We can appreciate the intention of the movement and help shape it.

The next time you have a debate about education, whether you are for reform or against it, I ask you to bring the two sides closer together.

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