Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Forbes magazine commissioned a study of the cost and benefits of the five big ideas for reforming education. The five big ideas will cost $6.2 trillion over 20 years and produce $225 trillion in additional gross domestic product. So what is the plan? Universal pre-k, teacher efficacy (attract, retain, and measure good teachers), school leadership (raise their salaries and give them the power to act like any other division head, including hiring and firing), blended learning (delivering rote information through technology and relying on teachers for value added instruction, which requires increasing computer and internet access), and common core curriculum.
Reduced to those headlines, it sounds simple. Reduced to the impressive financial spreadsheet, it sounds like a no brainer. To make sure, Forbes convened the top leaders from the four key constituent groups to ask whether the five big ideas are doable. The leaders were Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Randi Weingarten, and D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. They generally agree that the plan is doable.Relative to other ideas, universal pre-k it could be called a universally accepted good idea. We just need to fund it. Some of the other ideas also have merit, but the lens through which they view education is problematic. They sound like they come straight out of a business school textbook. Implicit in them is the notion that if we run education like a business, our problems will be solved. This critique is not a defense of our current model, but a critique of their version of what the problem with our current model is.
Traditionally, we have had two school systems. One for the have and one for the have-nots. We are now moving toward a more fragmented set of systems: a traditional public one for the have-nots, a charter one for the have-nots, a charter one for the haves, and a private one for the haves. The fundamental problem is the inequality in these systems. Running them like businesses will not cure the inequality. In fact, if the business of education is to run like a market, many signs points to further stratification. For instance, recruiting more qualified teachers and principals is a great idea, but if we still funnel them through a system of inequality, we are reproducing the fundamental flaw in the system. We will simply find ourselves several years from now talking about the next 5 big ideas to cure education. That is unless the current five big ideas can raise the bottom half of our schools to a qualitative level that makes us comfortable with the remaining inequality. To be fair, the current big ideas are a response to the problems that inequality produces, but they are not an attack on inequality. They are a concession to its existence.