Friday, April 18, 2014

Public K-12 Reform: Looking Back, Looking Forward

As the transmittal memo noted, Edunationredux is about to segue into probing our nation's higher education challenges.   

Knowledgeable critics of U.S. college and university strategies in this century have predicted that by 2025-2030 a material fraction of those institutions may face bankruptcy.  The reasons, to be explored:  Their 'corporatization;' tuition inflation; further reductions in state funding; idealistic and myopic strategic planning; squeezed acceptance rates; low learning productivity; and even possible reduced dependence on traditional higher education in meeting future private sector  human resource needs.

Back to Public K-12

But today's post is a wrap up of a series of over 90 posts/essays about U.S. public K-12 reform challenges.  Baffling to many even in the belly of public schools, the "corporate reform" movement did not start with NCLB, or even ANAR, but was launched in the early 1980s.  No mistake, it was not an imaginary or capricious set of factors that motivated the movement -- it was the belief, by the CEOs of 100 of our nation's largest corporations, that our public schools were failing the nation.  Reinforcement came from NAEP and international testing, where the U.S. moved from top-of-the-heap to an also-ran among developed nations.

Those failure modes ranged from attempted social engineering and liberal silliness, through failures to create genuine learning, the misguided belief that just more dollars would transform schools, to de facto discrimination in bringing economically and culturally challenged children up to acceptable learning standards.  The buzzword that finally framed present reform was "accountability," targeting public K-12's deflection of needed learning standards.

The rest of the story is even less meritorious:  Cognitive failures, compromises and even contests among our alleged reformers; the rise of testing profits and psychometricians; hypocrisy from our Federal government; leading to the present grotesque pogrom of standardized testing and moronic state grades that are actually pushing real learning in reverse.

Stubborn Issues That Persist

Here are some highlights of three years of trying, in some balanced fashion, to address the public K-12 change issues of the day.
In between and among the above ten Edunationredux posts, are 85 more treatises on the various public K-12 reform and change challenges.  Many of these wandered off into too many side-paths in getting to the core questions, but an at least weak defense is that American public K-12 over more than a century exhibits a systemic complexity that defies easy answers.  The cliche, that there is no silver bullet, may actually be more law than just proposition.

An Interim P & L

If there is a bottom line to the last 35 years of attempted change in our public education system of 99,000 schools, distributed across 50 states with varying policies, serving great diversity, diminished by local control, it is a net loss.  The presumption of "corporate reform" -- that if we beat on those teachers and little buggers in the classroom hard enough, it will surely motivate them to develop critical thinking and creativity -- has worked about as well as the U.S. Congress and the CIA's torture programs.  

That systemic complexity makes the reform of the system on your doorstep a reach, seeming to absolve local educators or offering rationalization.  But those who are supposed to be the guardians and advocates of our public primary and secondary learning, our public school bureaucracies and their oversight, and whom we tend to deem sincere and conscientious, have managed by denial and dogmatism to reject the self-reform alternative to the top-down model.  A quote from Dr. M. L. King says it well:  “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

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