It’s probably human nature to believe that solutions we propose to “fix” problems are simpler than they are. And in fact, the less we know about the complexities of our problems, the surer we are that “all we have to do is X.” (I’m sure my students get tired of hearing me say “it’s more complicated than that.”)
Education has always been an arena where simple answers flower. If we “just” imposed discipline…if we made parents sign a contract…if we administered more standardized tests…if we let parents choose their children’s schools…that would solve the problem.
The people advocating for the “school choice” solution, especially, have always seemed oblivious to the myriad of practical problems involved, from transportation, to what you do about children being raised by uncaring/absent parents, to how you insure that the parents who do care have the necessary information about their choices, etc.
I am emphatically not saying that the fact that suggested changes bring their own complexities is a reason not to try them. I am simply pointing out that change, even for the better, introduces its own challenges. Teacher accountability, for example, is important–but we need to be sure the system we use genuinely reflects the performance of the teacher–not the prejudices of a principal or the poverty of the students.
Similarly, charter schools offering public school choice can be important laboratories for new educational approaches, and they can offer parents a better “match” for their children’s specific needs. But the sponsors need to insure accountability there, too, and as we have seen in Indianapolis with the decision to close the Project School, objective evaluation often runs smack into parental emotion–and creates disruption for the children who must then be enrolled elsewhere.
A recent story from Cleveland points to a more serious problem.
Ohio has enthusiastically privatized schools, bringing in private-sector management companies to turn many of them around (“if we just ran schools in a business-like way, then we’d see improvement…”) A few days ago, the Superintendent of Ohio Schools resigned, under fire after the state’s inspector general found he’d been improperly lobbying for a private education company he planned to work for. He had also allowed the company to pay for his travel.
Does this mean that private companies should never be allowed to manage public schools? No. It does mean that a decision to hire such companies should be made very carefully; such a decision brings risks of its own and we aren’t necessarily equipped to deal with those risks. (Someone might mention that to Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, but he doesn’t appear to listen to anyone.) There is no magic bullet, and solutions–even good solutions–usually bring their own problems.
If solving our social and political problems was as easy as some people seem to think, wouldn’t we be further along toward solving them?