Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wrong Way Again

One of the most annoying things that I see in America's approach to education is the oxymoron of claiming we need to "catch up" to other countries...then promptly doing the opposite of what they do.

One can easily question many of the international tests used to compare national education outcomes -- many are entrusted to foreign ministries to be administered and reported fairly. However, I think it's fascinating that just when Obama is using a few pennies to control education in each individual state, our supposed betters are moving in the opposite direction.

Today's object lesson in the United Kingdom. David Cameron's oddly hybrid liberal-conservative government may be the last place on might look for progressive ideas on education. Yet it is there that Education secretary Michael Gove is asserting what people who enter classrooms on a daily basis realize: centralization doesn't work.

Just when Massachusetts turns over its constitutional competences to vague inter-state groups working on shared standardized tests, suborning its achievements to a dumbed-down national curriculum, Michael Gove advocates for the opposite:

While each of these exemplars has their own unique and individual approach to aspects of education, their successful systems all share certain common features. Many have put in place comprehensive plans for school improvement which involve improving teacher quality, granting greater autonomy to the front line, modernising curricula, making schools more accountable to their communities, harnessing detailed performance data and encouraging professional collaboration. It is only through such whole-system reform that education can be transformed to make a nation one of the world’s top performers.

Compare this to Obama's current drive (with Deval's complicity) to take autonomy from the front line, divorce them from their communities and tie them to the state, and poisoning professional collaboration by throwing funding in as a prize of competition rather like the Apple of Discord.

Just reading this White Paper is enough to make any American teacher look at visa requirements. Here are some choice lines:

"We envisage schools and teachers taking greater control over what is taught in schools, innovating in how they teach and developing new approaches to learning"

"The guidance on the National Curriculum is weighing teachers down and squeezing out room for innovation, creativity, deep learning and intellectual exploration."

"Government cannot determine the priorities of every school, and the attempt to secure compliance with its priorities reduces the capacity of the system to improve itself."

"Reform initial teacher training so that more training is on the job."

There are some baffling name-checks on the most destructive practices in America in this document, which contradict pretty much everything else contained therein. However, combined with a McKinsey international study that demonstrates the direct relationship between international achievement and school/teacher autonomy due for release tomorrow, it is clear in which direction the UK is moving.

The same direction prescribed in Germany (PDF) Japan, or South Korea. The same direction embraced by the industrialized world -- except for the United States.

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