If you care about the future of education in this country, then you won’t want to miss a piece headlined “School Wars” in the new Weekly Standard.
Written by Justin Torres, it’s actually a review of two new books on American education. One is “Common Sense School Reform,” by Frederick M. Hess, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Torres writes that Hess “takes direct aim at gauzy notions and sentiments that divert us from enacting needed reforms. Many will find shocking his direct attack on the idea that teachers are doing all they can to improve student achievement. Bunk, he says. In fact, while many teachers are working as hard as they can, many aren’t.”
“Many [teachers] are themselves so poorly educated they aren’t up to the task of raising student achievement. And those who are up to the task still need external incentives–performance measures, bonuses for improved performance, and penalties for falling short–that Americans take for granted in other professions. ’Educators, for better or worse, are a lot like everybody else,’ Hess writes. ’Some educators are passionately committed to their craft, highly skilled, and will be so regardless of rewards or guidance, but most–like most engineers and attorneys and journalists and doctors–will be more effective when held accountable for performance.’”
Hess, as described by Torres, favors school choice as a way to “help to spur school improvement by rewarding innovators who can deliver educational success–if choice rewards popular schools with additional resources and punishes persistently low-achieving schools with closure or reconstitution.”
The second book being reviewed is “Class and Schools, Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap,” by Richard Rothstein. You can tell where this is going, can’t you. Instead of using competition to reform education, Rothstein obviously has something else in mind.
“For Rothstein, social class is an irreducible reality; students come to school the products of cultures with different methods of child rearing, different opportunities for academic and social enrichment, and different attitudes toward schooling. ’The influence of social class characteristics is probably so powerful that schools cannot overcome it, no matter how well trained are their teachers and no matter how well designed are their instructional programs and climates,’ he writes.
“For Rothstein, a former New York Times education columnist now at Columbia Teachers College, school reforms are destined to fail if they are not accompanied by full-scale social reforms that seek to equalize differences in social class.”
How about just educating people and then letting them go out and rise in the world?