It’s not wonder, what with the burgeoning pile of stories of “education” standards that are divorced from the physiological abilities of young kids, test questions that are convoluted or outright illegible, materials printed in the wrong language (my nephew had a math test where the instructions were suddenly, for several pages, in Spanish) or filled with technocratic propaganda, not to mention unrealistic benchmarks for progress that parents, educators, and students would be rebelling against Common Core Curriculum — a disastrous bit of experimentation by governors looking to cover their asses on terrible school system performance, technocratic non-profits like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and power-hungry top-down bureaucrats at the Department of Education.
But what happens when you push back in a terrible, freedom-crushing state like New York, as the parents at this school did, ending the testing mandate? Why the PTA Education Coordinator Bob Aloise comes out demanding Child Protective Services be used to force parents to comply with the destruction of their children’s minds.
The real answer to failing schools is to recognize these antiques of the industrial era are not fit to the needs of the students today, and that the goal of directing students toward college or university often does them a disservice.
Central to “fixing” the schools is to remove the influence of one-size-fits-all bureaucrats at the federal and state level, returning control of schools to the local level — municipal or county districts, or perhaps even broken out to the schools, themselves. Return accountability to the parents and taxpayers by streamlining the bureaucracy and the influence of teacher’s unions that engage in politicking, not education. Allow the teachers to teach, not do a bunch of needless paperwork, and give them the latitude to tailor lessons to the ability of the students — you have an exceptional student in math, say? Perhaps you should test them to see if they can handle the next grade level of math. You have a kid slow in math but solid in the other studies for his/her grade — give them more time on math studies.
Tailor the education to the student, or the public schools will — rightfully — become the dumping ground for the underprivileged as middle and upper class parents pull their kids and homeschool, private tutor, or private school their kids. The only way to tailor programs for the kids is to get rid of top-down administration, fixed benchmarks, and eight hour workday-like scheduling. Also, stop focusing on college as the destination; vocational training should be offered again in high school levels, with school partnering with local businesses, community colleges, or other training establishments. With internet training and education curricula easily (and cheaply) available there is not reason for any school to be in the way of a child’s development.
As to the urban and rural poor — how do you address the education of kids for whom traditional schooling is, in a word, useless? The kid that can make money on the drug corner, or the kid that can be earning doing farm labor, and for whom the poems of Wordsworth are as irrelevant as knowing celestial mechanics? You have to recognize that you need to offer them something other than minimum security incarceration with books. You have to show them how math applies to their lives — use money and basic rules of commerce; they understand this. Show them why speaking and writing properly allows you to operate outside the neighborhood; how speaking properly gains you respect outside your own clique and opens up opportunity. But to do this you need engaged teachers not weighed down by school, district, city and above politics. You need to find and excise the interest groups that seek to lock these communities into dependency, and which leech the money and resources that have been appropriated for education.
Teacher and parents need to work together to get rid of themselves of middlemen and the political players that are using kids for their own power and enrichment. That also means the chances of saving urban minority populations from the machinations of politicians, union bosses, and corrupt education administration is unlikely — the level of engagement for the parents in these areas is low and they certainly shouldn’t be turning to a middle class white guy with an advanced degree for the answers; that will have to come from angry parents and teachers in those specific communities. You know your demographic. You know the culture and how to use it. You are the only ones that can make it work, not the politicians in DC, or Illinois and New York, or in Chicago or Philadelphia…you.