Sunday, September 28, 2003

Why the Bloomberg/Klein Educational Reforms Will Not Work

This article was sent to me by Jeff B., one of my original readers. I have lots of thoughts on the article, so I wanted to respond to it. When I could not find a link to it on the internet, I wrote to Professor Singer and received permission to publish it. You read it here first! My comments will follow in a later post (probably not today).

Lab report update: 50 down, 60 to go.


Why the Bloomberg/Klein Educational Reforms Will Not Work
By Alan Singer, Hofstra University

In August, a New York City Department of Education spokesperson expressed concern that the general public did not seem to buy into the mayor and school chancellor's reorganization plan. The problem was supposedly a communications failure. That same week the department announced a decision to hire thousands of parents as school-community liaisons. Apparently, one of their primary tasks will be selling the reforms.

However, the real problems are not being addressed. The Bloomberg/Klein educational reforms are based on faulty premises and will not work. The most obvious changes, the dismantling of the community school districts and the imposition of centralized mayoral control, were intended to make educational reform go smoothly. But what is the substance of the reform? There are basically three components: a more standardized curriculum, top-down management, and investment in smaller experimental schools.

Few educators dispute the value of better coordinated instruction and the actual reading package for the lower grades allows for flexibility and seems to make sense. Unfortunately, it is being presented to teachers as a series of scripted directives to be followed by them and the kids. The things that make learning fun and contagious – art, music, dance, drama, sport, play, an appreciation of diverse cultures, friendship, investigation, speculation, the discovery of new things, and the give and take between human beings, are being squeezed out.

In the middle schools and high schools, failure will be compounded as students are forced into extended remediation sessions. Locked into double period blocks of preparation for standardized reading and math tests, they will fail to learn the same things they failed to learn in the past. For lower performing students, perhaps for the bulk of them, not only will the arts be shunted aside, but probably also social studies, history, literature and the sciences.

The heart of the Bloomberg/Klein plan is a business organization model that is autocratic and has little relevance for the education of people. It has not worked for the delivery of electricity, health care or gasoline, and it will not work for schools.

It treats education as a commodity to be produced efficiently and delivered for the lowest possible price. In this model, children are raw material to be manipulated and if resistant, discarded. Teachers become little more than cogs in a machine, part of a delivery process. Parents are seen as consumers who should be instructed on how to purchase the best pair of jeans, sneakers, or schools- assuming such schools are actually available to them. School-based administrations become middle managers instead of educational leaders. Their job is the unquestioning enforcement of arbitrary directives. If you want to see how this model works in practice, look at the beginning o f Charlie Chaplin’s classic movie, Modern Times. In factory-like schools run on a business model, no one gets treated like a human being.

The better educated and more savvy parents will never accept this kind of education for their children. Would Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein or Caroline Kennedy? To keep these families in the public school system, their children will attend specialized academic schools or new "designer" programs in the experimental, and well-funded, mini-schools. To maintain an air of equity, high achieving minority youngsters, or those with the most pushy parents, will also be channeled into these programs. While they are being presented as models for the future, they are little more than oases in an educational desert. Most youngsters will remain in overcrowded, under-funded, mediocre remediation centers.

Genuine school reform means recognizing that there are no quick fixes for the schools and that it will take money and probably greater attention to social inequality in American society. Numerous studies have shown that the surest way to improve the educational performance of students is to raise the socio-economic status of families. In the meantime, some proposals make more sense than others.

Our schools must treat children, teachers and parents as human beings. They must acknowledge and respect individual differences, not try to pound square pegs into round holes. This means focusing on teaching children, not learning packages. It means convincing students of the value of learning, not forcing them to complete what appear to them as meaningless tasks. This approach to reform means involving teachers in planning and decision-making, not just giving them directives to implement. It means treating parents as partners in the education of children, not obstacles and the subject of blame. It means providing parents with support through parenting and literacy classes and instruction on how to help children learn, instead of using them to deliver corporal punishment when teachers cannot engage their children.

We already know what can work. The best private and suburban public schools augment student achievement through enrichment programs and by building teams of teachers, administrators, counselors, support personnel, and parents that coordinate instruction and address the needs of individuals. Even in the most troubled inner-city schools, informal teams of teachers have always figured out ways of working together to improve education for their students.

The Bloomberg/Klein reform plan cannot work because it ignores the reality of the life of young people and their families, what we know about how adults work and children learn, and broader social inequality. It is a prescription for disaster.


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12:58 PM  
Blogger real_tips said...

education is important to everyone.. thanks for sharing..

11:13 PM  
Blogger real_tips said...

7:40 PM  

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