TODAY educational reformers believe that the schools were damaged and businesses who can provide a cure. Some put their faith in an idea competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, especially through online learning. Both sides share the belief that the solution is in the impersonal, whether the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.
Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It is impossible to improve education by ending the run around human relationships inherently complicated and messy. All children must believe that they have an interest in the future, the goal is worth fighting for, if they will succeed in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that's where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approach to foster care bond between teachers and their students.
Marketplace spell dominate policy discussions. High stakes reading and math tests are treated as a single metric of success, partners down the line. Teachers that students do poorly on the test to get a pink slip, while those achieving students receive merit pay, as many companies pay bonuses to their star players and a slow fire. Just as the company closes stores that do not meet their sales quotas, open a new one in the area that is more promising, failing schools are closed and called the school turnaround models, with new teachers and administrators, to take their place.
This approach may sound reasonable in a think tank, but in practice it has failed. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the training they need, damaging morale. In some cases it may prevent students from pursuing a career in teaching, and with the looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, it is a recipe for disaster. Merit pay inviting competition between teachers, whereas what is needed is collaboration. Closing the school treats everyone there fault in causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children at the school - "no reason," said the reformers, as if poverty were the reason.
Charter schools have been promoted as improving education by creating a competition. But the charter students are doing the same thing, above all, as a public school of their partners, and the worst charters, such as online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several countries, does not deserve to be called a school. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents a direct say over the schools their children attend, but students are not disadvantaged. For a generation ago, the Milwaukee voucher experiment has been run, with the result that many debated that to me shows no real academic improvement.
While these reformers talk a lot about the market and the competition, the essence of a good education - bringing together talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum - go undiscussed.
Business does have something to teach educators, but it's not a competition or striking power saving ideas such as a disruptive innovation. Instead, what strategies work that has been tested.