Barkan certainly has an axe to grind and she grinds it and chops away in this piece detailing her account of educational philanthropists work over the last 10 years.
I have been a critic of many of these reform movements. Most are popular, with great ideas, yet tragic implementations. When I first heard of the Gates Foundation grants I was excited. I was in educational technology which would certainly see a lot of that money and I did (indirectly, of course). However, the projects chosen primarily focused on testing; more so, assessment of the basest nature. These were assessments that flowed from the same standardized tests used for years.
Teacher assessment has seen some more innovative suggestions, but practical implementations more often revolve around these same student test scores. If you judge teachers on how well students test, those teachers are going to prep students for the test. If you think that sounds like a good idea, remember that prepping for the test involves narrow instruction and training on how to take the test. This is not the kind of teaching you want for your kids, I assure you. They often point to Asian countries that did well on PISA. What they don’t indicate is that students in these countries might get as much as 20-40 hrs/wk of tutoring outside of school (or before/after-school programs). In a place like Korea, this can add $1000’s a month to the cost of raising children. Parents do this, and go into debt, with the hope that these kids will get into good schools, get good jobs, and thus support them in their old age. This is simply not the reality in America.
As Barkan brings up, poverty is the #1 determiner of school success. How are you going to get poor families to pony up for extra-curricular programs. Heck, many of these parents hardly see their children in-between their many jobs that just keep food on the table and a roof overhead. Without HUGE infusions of governmental cash, the amount of instructional time seen by students in Asia is an impossibility.
It’s not enough to put huge amounts of money into poorer districts. This only addresses part of the problem. The larger issues is the home. A small part of the problem is a lack of money for educational experiences in the home. A much larger issue, which goes beyond socio-economic status, is the American cultural view of education.
Somewhere along the way, Americans began to think of public schools as synonymous with education. What I mean is that schools become the sole educators. Parents removed themselves from the role of family educators and offloaded this responsibility to the schools. This might have started with reading and math, but it seems to have become all-encompassing, with schools taking on the responsibility of teaching reading, math, science, history, ethics, civics, economics (personal financial management), arts, physical education, cooking, sewing, typing (keyboarding), ………. You get the point. Many of these things were taught in the home, at least partially, in the past. If a parent didn’t take interest in math, it was because their kid was going to work in the mine on his 16th birthday. That was fine and still is, but those jobs are disappearing and those that exist don’t offer the same pay, benefits, or security that they once did. These days, any job/career that will boost folks above the poverty line requires advanced knowledge that goes beyond what can be done in most high schools. This is either going to come from self-/family study, college, or both.
You get the idea. I roam afar in this post. I suggest you check out the original article for a good read.