by David Colarusso - April 27th, 2007
I’ll get to my thesis in the second paragraph, but first some background. Two weeks ago I was involved in a rather interesting discussion surrounding American education. It all started with a posting I made in response to YouTube’s Spotlight ’08 posting from former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He wanted to know what we thought was America’s greatest challenge and what we would do to face it. I said “adaptability in a changing world” and suggested improving public schools. To his credit, he posted a reply to my video, using it as a starting point to provide his own thoughts on adaptability. He didn’t, however, have much to say in relation to my suggestion that we improve public schools. You can judge the quality of the exchange for yourself. I’m putting all of the candidates’ Spotlight ’08 postings along with my replies here. This is so I’m not tempted to blog every time I upload a reply. Check back weekly, as I intend to respond to each of the candidates.
What struck me most about the conversation was the impression I got that most people mistakenly think it’s a simple matter. Perhaps the largest misconception about public education is that we know what works. To a large extent we do: involved parents, small classes (personalized attention), knowledgeable and passionate professionals, etc. However, in truth, we as a society can’t even agree on why/if there should be public education. Some of us see it as job training. Others, hold to the ideals of a liberal arts education and the creation of an educated electorate. This ill-defined bottom line is at the heart of why “fixing” education is so difficult. We may in some general sense agree there needs to be a correction, but as for the specifics, we can’t even agree on what’s broken.
This is one of the chief reasons we can’t treat education like a business. We can’t agree on what the bottom line is. Even if we could, there’s the question of how to measure it. Testing? Well, for my views on testing look here.
Let’s imagine, however, that we could agree on a bottom line and that we had a means of measuring it. Even then, we should remember that while the market is great at producing solutions, half of all new businesses fail. Public education, the great equalizer of American society, is too important to be left to pure market forces. We can’t afford to have half our schools fail while we work things out. However, there’s probably an argument to be made for a limited number of experimental schools where we could try things out. What’s the answer? I don’t know, but I know it’s not simple. Your thoughts?
Civic Hacking, General Observations, Technology in Education