The new principles introduced by the Obama administration with regards to renewing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act can be summed up essentially as harm reduction. The plans to ameliorate NCLB and provide additional funding for schools demonstrate an earnest desire to improve schools, but also reveal an utter lack of imagination through the continued support of an institution that does much more harm than good.
A number of fallacious beliefs are at the heart of education reform movements. One in particular, which enabled the enactment of NCLB and which persists today, is that teacher performance can be objectively determined through testing. Even after one ignores the basic fact that quality teaching is dependent on there being a conducive environment which schools by design can never provide; the process of trying to gauge accountability is one of many recipes for failure. Among the problems with this approach is that curriculum becomes solely about the test and teachers who may have been engaging are effectively undermined. Obama seeks to minimize this, but even in his plan, testing remains the arbiter of determining a teacher’s competence. An easier and more accurate way to find out who the poor teachers are would be to ask a student. You would only need to ask one because every single student in any given school can tell you exactly who the ineffectual teachers are. Of course that will never happen because the group best able to determine aptitude, and who are most affected by reforms – students – play no part in any discussion about education. They remain solely as subjects of mercurial social experiments.
Obama did provide an ideal, albeit a vague one, that "all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.” Exactly what it means to be prepared is absent from his speech. If being prepared for college means having the capacity to think critically and produce original work in a coherent manner, public schools will not provide such skills. Schools are institutions where scores of children are herded together such that they must be governed by social efficiency. Real creativity must be squelched when it emerges because schools would not be able to function if they had to treat each child as an individual whose intellectual interests had to be respected.
Career preparation is possible if one is profoundly cynical. Since virtually all public schools are removed from society and keep students confined in classrooms, jobs that students are prepared for would be restricted to work that takes place indoors, isolated from communities, and which involve doing tedious boring tasks. Few practical skills are learned in school. Information is presented in an abstract manner and students are taught dependency. This is inherent to the structure of all public schools. Where schools do succeed in preparation is teaching children to become good prisoners.
The sad fact is that public schools can never provide the functions Obama calls for because it violates their essence. Trying to make schools into places where children can become freethinking self-actualized individuals is like trying to turn lead into gold.
Alchemy persisted for over 6,000 years while public schooling has only been around for 150 years. Until a new paradigm is sought, schools will continue to fail. Let’s hope we learn the futility of reforms in shorter time.
Obama Promise: Brighter Education futures for Kids
ATLANTA — President Barack Obama is promising parents and their kids that with his administration's help they will have better teachers in improved schools so U.S. students can make up for academic ground lost against youngsters in other countries.