Billionaires to the rescue!
The New York Times says that Bill Gates and Eli Broad, a couple of billionaire businessmen, want to reform high school education in America. Oh boy! I can't wait!! I suppose I shouldn't be so cynical about this, but it's hard not to be. I'm sure these two gentlemen have the best of intentions, and I can hardly object to their desire to make the American public and politicians care more about education, but I can't help but find them insulting and arrogant.
Speaking about American high schools, Broad says, “If we really want to get the job done, we have got to wake up the American people that we have got a real problem and we need real reform.” He also says, "America’s schools are falling behind. It’s a crisis that takes leadership to solve."
This isn't the first time I've said this on one of my posts but it's true: I've been hearing this crap for the entire 33 years that I've been in teaching. Shortly before I began typing this, my good buddy, Brit Hume of Fox News, announced that the stock market had gone above 13,000 today for the first time. The stock market is so high because our economy is so good, and our economy is so good because American workers are more productive than anyone else in the world. And over eighty-five percent of those Americans went to public schools. It looks to me like we couldn't have screwed them up too badly!
Broad's comment that American schools are "falling behind" implies that we are getting worse, and that simply isn't the case. There is no evidence that there has been any drop in the performance of high school students since the 1960s. This despite the fact that the social problems we've had to deal with have dramatically increased.
I will be the first one to admit that there are problems in todays American public high schools. But I really don't think Broad or Gates understand what the most important problems are. They believe all of the problems are things we are doing wrong inside the schools. They believe we should have merit pay because teachers aren't good enough. They believe we should more school days because the school year isn't long enough. They believe we need a national curriculum because our curriculum isn't good enough. On the other hand they say nothing about what to do about kids who won't try; they say nothing about what to do about kids who won't behave; they say nothing about what to do about parents who allow their children to be absent from school for 30 or 40 days per year. One of Gates' and Broad's first advertisements for their program will feature a kid at a blackboard writing, "The histery of Irak." Gates' and Broad's proposals may not be bad things, but you know what? I'll bet you could have merit pay for teachers, add school days to our year, change our curriculum, and that same kid would still be spelling those same words the same way.
I'll bet Broad and Gates have talked to a lot of CEOs of major corporations about their ideas. I'll bet they've talked to some politicians, and they've probably even talked to some university professors. No doubt, they've also talked to superintendents from large school districts. But I wonder if either Broad or Gates have ever sat down with a regular old high school teacher and asked, "What do you think needs to happen in order for your students to be more successful?" If they haven't, it might not be a bad idea to do that.