The central problem besetting K-12 education in the United States today is still—as for almost thirty years now—that far too few of our kids are learning nearly enough for their own or the nation’s good. And the gains we’ve made, though well worth making, have been meager (and largely confined to math), are trumped by gains in other countries, and evaporate by the end of high school.
This much everybody knows. But unless we want to live out the classic definition of insanity (“doing the same thing over again with the expectation that it will produce a different result”), we need to focus laser-like on the barriers that keep us from making major-league gains. If we don’t break through (or circumnavigate) these barriers, academic achievement will remain stagnant.
The barriers-to-gains that I’m talking about here are not cultural issues, parenting issues, demographic issues, or other macro-influences on educational achievement. Those are all plenty real, but largely beyond the reach of public policy. No, here I refer to obstacles that competent leaders and bold policymakers could reduce or eradicate if they were serious.
How much difference would that really make? It’s possible, of course, that we’re pursuing the wrong core strategies. Maybe standards-based reform has exhausted its potential (more on this next week from Fordham). Perhaps choice and competition really cannot lift all boats. Possibly technology is overrated, alternate certification can never amount to much, teacher quality is doomed to mediocrity, principals don’t truly want authority, etc....