How to beat reform ‘addiction’

John Merrow spent 41 years reporting on education for NPR and PBS “Newshour,” long enough to develop a clear-eyed view of what’s right and wrong with America’s schools. He argues that our obsession with “reform” is an addiction that’s harming students and teachers.

But he insists we can beat it, if we just work the steps. And yes, there are 12 of them.

Book cover“The process of school reform is unquestionably addictive,” he writes in his book “Addicted to Reform.” “Its goals always feel good and sound right. … Unfortunately, as with drug addicts, the high is temporary, lasting only until reality intervenes and it becomes clear that the problem persists.”

Merrow diagnoses the illness in detail. He laments the way schools sort students into winners and losers at an early age. He criticizes overuse and misuse of standardized tests, segregation of schools by race and socioeconomic status, and inequalities in school funding. He calls out schools of education for failing to effectively prepare teachers.

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‘A Nation at Risk’ redefined purpose of education

A common take on “A Nation at Risk,” the government report on education issued 35 years ago, is that it had its flaws but at least it provided much-needed attention to America’s schools. But it sure didn’t look that way from the trenches, said Ray Golarz, a long-time Indiana school administrator.

“The end result of ‘A Nation at Risk’ was that teachers, administrators and schools were seen as the enemy,” he said. “Now tell me that was a good result. I don’t think so.”

The 1983 report, by a commission created by Secretary of Education Terrel Bell, claimed the United States was falling behind foreign economic competitors for the first time since World War II and laid the blame on the nation’s substandard educational system.

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today,” read one of its best-known lines, “we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

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