Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Broader, Bolder Approach to Education

Can't say I love the name, but this task force of the leading lights in education and more has coalesced around the idea that we need to look beyond schools to solve the "education" problem. Apparently the website went live on June 10, 2008.

It's about time.

Of course, it's not clear how they can make this happen.

Their two principles:
First, conventional education policy making focuses on learning that occurs in formal school settings during the years from kindergarten through high school. The new approach recognizes the centrality of formal schooling, but it also recognizes the importance of high-quality early childhood and pre-school programs, after-school and summer programs, and programs that develop parents’ capacity to support their children’s education. It seeks to build working relationships between schools and surrounding community institutions.

Second, the broader, bolder approach pays attention not only to basic academic skills and cognitive growth narrowly defined, but to development of the whole person, including physical health, character, social development, and non-academic skills, from birth through the end of formal schooling. It assigns value to the new knowledge and skills that young people need to become effective participants in a global environment, including citizenship, creativity, and the ability to respect and work with persons from different backgrounds.

Their general argument:

More than a half century of research has documented a powerful association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement. Weakening that association is the fundamental challenge facing America's education policymakers.

The nation's education policy has typically been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status on learning, a theory embodied in the No Child Left Behind law, which passed with bipartisan support in 2001 and is now up for reauthorization. Schools can ameliorate some of the impact of social and economic disadvantage on achievement. Improving our schools, therefore, continues to be a vitally important strategy for promoting upward mobility and for working toward equal opportunity and overall educational excellence.

Evidence demonstrates, however, that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can substantially, consistently, and sustainably close these gaps.

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that policies aimed directly at education-related social and economic disadvantages can improve school performance and student achievement. The persistent failure of policymakers to act on that evidence — in tandem with a schools-only approach — is a major reason why the association between disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong.

5 comments:

Peak said...

conventional education policy making focuses on learning that occurs in formal school settings during the years from kindergarten through high school.

The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

Did I miss your point that these quotes refer to positions you do not like? If so, I agree with you that schools exist to manage selected student learning faster then just through random trial-and-error, not "solve the world's problems." Yes?

Anonymous said...

I think it's not always the school who will guide the students to success. It also depends on the student, their social status and their environment. An out of school youth succeed for she was granted a scholarship in one of the bicol colleges in Legazpi. She managed to succeed because of her goal to help her parents and now she is currently working in one of the tie up companies of her Alma Mater.

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Richard said...

An article by Peter Shrag in Harper's last year, "Schoolhouse Crock," really captured the heart of the matter regarding this debate: in America we expect schools to solve most of our social problems and yet schools often fail at even their most basic goal -- to equalize the playing field and provide the skills and training for success in life. Rather than addressing fundamental social changes and inequality, we entrust and then blame schools for most of our problems.

The more fundamental question is whether there are enough quality jobs in America and whether we are equitably allocating the risks and benefits of living in a "free market" society. The truth is that racial inequality is growing today, income and wealth gaps are skyrocketing and poverty is on the rise even as corporate profits increase (until very recently). Are there enough quality jobs for every citizen offered a quality education? Does the education system combat or reproduce social inequality? How much can schools do to change society if other reforms are not implemented? And do we provide a livable wage to all those who put in an "honest day's" work?

It seems to me that the moment is ripe for a more reasonable and substantive debate on what we expect of schools and what opportunities we provide to the average American. School reform can improve the lives of children, but more must be done to address the fundamental questions of distribution of opportunity and access to quality jobs. Until we acknowledge that there just aren't as many quality jobs available and that the average American is worse off than they were 30 years ago (when the conservative revolution took off), a lot of these debates ring hollow. Real educational improvement can only follow from improvement in what a good education garners. And this, of course, ignores all of the other questions about what else a quality education provides to children and the country at large (creativity, openmindedness, civic virtue and courage, tolerance, social responsibility, etc.).