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« Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Targets State Workforce | Main | "Video Competition" Bill Up For Vote in Wisconsin Senate This Week »

November 02, 2007


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I just wrote a Masters thesis on this. Competition in the public schools has not shown to improve education and in many states has decreased performance. The Milton Friedmanites believe that open markets solve all problems. No such luck in education. Parents make decisions to send their kid to a school on many things, the schools performance is just one thing. In Milwaukee, the charter schools that are performing the worst are actually seeing the greatest enrollment increase, the charter schools that do the best have seen a drastic decrease in their enrollment (almost 33% in one case). So much for people voting with their feet.


Competition corrupts the teaching and learning endeavor, which is essentially all about engaging in a discussion about ideas centered around making meaning. Much of what passes for education in America is really about Skinnerian behaviorism, rewarding kids for doing what those in charge want, punishing them when they don't. Be we are thinking beings and rewarding kids for what they already like to do creates less interest and rewarding kids for what they don't like to do, should call into question what is we are having them do. Skinner doesn't work. Try Dewey. Democratic schools have never really been tried on a large scale.
Actually engaging kids in active thinking and questioning by tying learning to their lives, shown to be far more successful in every way we can measure learning, is almost a secret in this country. Instead the corporate model of mass instruction has largely prevailed. And this model is largely to blame for most of the ills of the public school. Anyone who doubts this should spend an evening reading The One Best System by David Tyack or How Teachers Taught by Larry Cuban. The transmission model which has as its central feature ramming facts into kids heads, has been the dominant model of teaching in this country for more than 100 years. Learning is then measured by some variant of standardized test (with much of the material learned later forgotten by the child, its actual meaning never really constructed). The other model, Dewey's constructivism, has been shown by many educational researchers, to be far superior in keeping kids engaged in deeper understanding and leads to more active thinking, creativity and questioning minds. You don't measure learning by the standardized test, which is abstract. You reflect learning by performance exhibitions, portfolios, projects and experiments, among others. This approach has the benefit of putting the local school in charge, rather than the five big testing companies. More democratic. Accountable to the local citizenry. (Check out the education greats Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier and their leadership nationallly and the schools they have founded and/or run here.)

But of course, since about 1965 (thanks, unfortunately, to RFK's leadership), the whole endeavor of education is legislatively tied at the federal level to the out moded, incomplete, misleading standardized test score, taking a bad situation and making it far worse. Those of you following what George Miller and Ted Kennedy are planning for NCLB II, know it is about to get alot worse (and we'll be stuck with that until 2012).

America is neurotic about competition and we have this fascination with the apparent precision with numbers. You combine those two and its a powerful formula to subvert the promise and potential of the teaching-learning act.

Several things are certain: America's classrooms will continue to get even more boring, with millions of kids turned off to learning, their continuing impulse to learn suppressed by a drill and kill, work sheet approach in the sit and git classroom. Teachers will continue to struggle to be the professionals they aspire to be as the gap between what they can do and what they're allowed to do in the classroom pedagogically increases. The corporate testing firms will continue to expand on their over $2 billion dollars of standardized testing contracts with states. (And remember, these are not objective tests, rather subjective tests---the questions are written and chosen by human beings; only the scoring is objective.) The attention diverting black-white test achievement gap issue will continue to be prominently displayed and used as a club to beat up teachers. (It's, in part, a measurement gap, with the design of the tests penalizing different ways of knowing.) And one more I'll add, no serious, long term, wide ranging school improvement will occur until the surrounding communities reform (in this case, both are in need of democratization), as the great Seymour Sarason, long ago argued. Schools don't exist in a vacuum and as along as faith based initiatives, like trying to improve schools by improving test scores, are the only solution, the status quo will prevail.


Good news: The U.S. Senate is not going to take up No Child Left Behind this year. Not enough time left to write the legislation. This gives those many teachers, parents, administrators, higher ed. education experts, and interested citizens concerned with reducing standardized testing and putting in place better accountability through performances, portfolios and exhibitions more time to lobby Congress to do what is right.

The bad news: schools that are under the testocracy gun---judged as "failing" because their abstract numbers aren't high enough---will continue to be punished in the mean time.


We need to seriously rethink the whole concept. I used to believe that education needed to be federalized. Now that it essentially has been, I am not so sure. I do think that the stakeholders need to to have an equal say at the table. How could the cooperative model approach this? In Madison, perhaps the nine member school board, instead of general elections, be divided up. Three seats for the workers (all school staff), three seats for parents, and three seats for tax payers who do not have kids in the system. Go a bit further and let each school be autonomous with the same breakdown for an executive committee. I don't know that this would create a cheaper option, but it would be more transparent, democratic, and inclusive of the entire community. Even if the education provided cost more, the buy-in would exist from the community.


i really not understand whats happening here
competition is needed by a pinch of creativity.

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