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.

Continue reading

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Indiana updates: You think your child’s summer break was short?

The Warren Township school district on the east side of Indianapolis wins the prize for the earliest start to the 2010-11 school year. Their students returned to class on Monday (Aug. 2).

Peggy Hinckley, the Warren superintendent, cites a recent Time magazine article in explaining the rationale for the short summer break. She says summer vacation can be “devastating” for low-income kids. “The article describes what we as educators know, and that is a three-month summer break is not good for children,” Hinckley tells the Indianapolis Star.

The Time cover story, titled “The Case Against Summer Vacation,” makes a powerful case for year-round school. Continue reading

Welcome to School Matters

Welcome to the School Matters: Indiana K-12 blog, our modest attempt to be part of an essential conversation about education in America, Indiana and, especially, our community of Bloomington, Ind.

Why are we doing this? Primarily because we think it’s the right thing to do. Our schools matter more than anything else to the future of our nation and the well-being of our children and youth. Yet it’s not easy to get access to a full range of news and views about education. As a report in December by the Brookings Institution lamented, “During the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 percent of national news coverage from television, newspapers, news Web sites, and radio dealt with education.”

We are grateful, living in Bloomington, that the Herald-Times has experienced, full-time reporters covering both K-12 and higher education, a rare commitment of resources these days. We’re also inspired by the growth of online communication about school matters, such as the Support Public Education in Monroe County Facebook group and the Support Our Schools online forum. We hope to augment these traditional and new-media sources with news, analysis and links that are timely, accurate and relevant.

We both spent years covering K-12 education for the Herald-Times, and we remain intensely interested in the topic. We find ourselves thinking and talking about education nearly every day. As journalists, we try to make sense of the world by reporting and writing about it. And nothing is more in need of making sense right now than the state of our schools.

The immediate impetus for starting this blog was the MCCSC’s decision, in response to state funding cuts, to reduce spending by $5.8 million and eliminate the jobs of 142 teachers, librarians and administrators – 79 of them through reductions in force and the rest through retirements. Nearly every week has brought new questions to address: Why these reductions and not others? Will state legislation provide a way out? Will the MCCSC launch a tax-increase referendum this fall or next spring? What will it take for a referendum to win?

But local school issues don’t exist in a vacuum. Teaching jobs are being slashed across Indiana. Schools are closing in Kansas City, Detroit … and New Albany. Debates are raging over charter schools, public school choice, merit pay for teachers, school turn-around methods, and how to best prepare, motivate and evaluate teachers. There’s so much to learn, so much to say – let’s get started.