One of the biggest problems in education (that no one seems to think about) is the negative impact of constantly reorganizing schools and curriculum and tests. Change itself may be making our schools less effective. It takes a few years for a teacher to get really good at teaching a certain course in a certain context. By reorganizing everything every few years we are ensuring that no one ever gets "good" at anything.
The schools that are most often impacted by constant change are the "struggling" schools. Since these are the schools that need to be "fixed." Everyone from the teachers to the principal to the superintendent to the governor to the president is eager to try something new. But, nothing ever seems to work, this has been going on for decades and we still hear the same news stories about "failing" schools.
Will anyone ever solve the mystery?
But, maybe there is no mystery.
Good schools, after all, do exist. There are many public and private schools in the country that send their students to top colleges, that have students who score off the charts on all test etc. So, we know it is possible for a school to be "good."
All we really need to do, then, is study the way that the existing good schools work then do everything possible to make that same environment in the "bad" schools. Simple. Why has no one done this?
Things Good Schools Have in Common:
- a stable faculty with little turn-over
- a wide variety of courses not just the "three Rs"
- a wide variety extracurricular activities
- safe environments free from most violence
- parents who are involved in the school
- treating students with respect, not like little criminals
- students take high stakes tests less often than at "bad" schools
- Expect teachers to do much more than just punch in and punch out
- have a student body whose needs are generally met ( that is few students are hungry, homeless, or under other forms of basic stress)
But good schools are also very diverse in other areas, it seems there isn't any one curriculum or set of tests that makes a school good. So, much of the stuff we tinker with is very likely to be important. I mean, I think at some level everyone knows this, but to make bad schools good would mean dealing with issues like poverty and homelessness, it'd mean doing something about the basic quality of life that these young people have. And that would be expensive.
So, instead we get these gimmicks. Like paying teachers based on how students do on tests. (you might as well pay me based on the roll of a die) It feels slimy and cheesy and cheap and deep down we know it won't work and then in two years there will be a new gimmick. But, at least we "did something."
And the real tragedy is that this constant change is having and impact a negative one.
But, it never stops because every politician has to "do something" about education and since we are not willing as a people to invest in the next generation by making more good schools we get the endless gimmick mill, and it isn't helping.
Why can we just stop, take a deep breath and start fixing the things that everyone knows need to be fixed? How about a school where the goal would be to create stability. A school with resources like a dentist, a nurse and therapists to help students and their families physically and emotionally. A school where students who act out are responded to with the kind of discipline and love required to get to the root of their behaviors. A school where no single student would be able to disrupt learning for others because it would have the resources to work with those young people who need extra attention. A school with lots of activities, including opportunities to work at educational paid internships.
Such a school would not just produce higher tests scores but it would develop the kind of people we need in America the next generation of creative minds, it would not be easy or cheap to create a school that, as much as possible, gives a stable nurturing and environment that the well-to-do take for granted for their kids to everyone. But I think it would more than pay off.
Why can't we talk about how we might do this rather than these gimmicks?