Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

No Union Left Behind

Time Magazine gave a "report card" to the "No Child Left Behind" education reform. Parts of the story they got perfectly right: states have continually dropped their standards to create the illusion of progress, and an enormous emphasis on basic reading and math skills is deforming the educational process, squeezing out other subjects and ignoring students at either end of the Bell curve.

And yet . . . how did Time manage to get through an entire seven page article without ever talking about what was causing the schools to fail in the first place? Not once in seven pages could they screw up the courage to talk about suspected (but still hotly debated) causes of low performance in inner-city schools: black culture that undervalued education, low involvement of parents, diminished expectations due to continuous poverty (perhaps caused in part by racial discrimination), more single-parent homes, less unstructured play, more television watching, and (God forbid we should say it) poor quality of teachers. At least the New York Review of Books could talk about these issues, addressing important factors without rushing to find single causes or single solutions to the problem.

I suspect, more than anything, that discussing such factors would make their recommendations less compelling. Every single recommendation that Time makes -- remove punitive measures, create national standards, don't do drastic overhauls of schools, provide more funding for teachers -- are practically identical to the talking points from the teachers unions. Hmmm . . . is this really an unbiased evaluation?

I should hope that it's clear that more money is not the answer . . . at least, not pouring more money into the current system. While those defending the education status-quo have sliced and diced assertions that we spend more money than any other industrialized nation on education, there are numerous internal examples of how some schools get vastly improved performance without spending more money. (See the NYRB article for descriptions of the KIPP Academies.) Some complain that the strategies of such schools "cannot be widely reproduced." That may be true . . . in the current culture and the current system. But who said we have to keep the current system? Oh . . . yeah . . . the unions.

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