When we talk about school reform, we never talk about the problems that are impossible to overcome. So often I hear people talking about opting out of tests, volunteering in the classroom, improving arts education—as if these things will make a significant difference.
But that stuff doesn’t tackle the problems with school that are structural. Most of those serious problems arise because no one represents the children’s interests at school.
1. Schools go directly to kids with the school’s gospel.
I didn’t vaccinate my youngest son. We have Aspergers all over both sides of our family. So if there was one little chance that vaccinations are related to Aspergers I didn’t want to be a part of it. The families who don’t have a history of autism can be the ones taking the lead on vaccinations for the rest of us. I’m fine with that.
And apparently, so are the rich parents of Los Angeles. Because it turns out that the majority of rich families there don’t vaccinate.
So you know what the LA doctors did? They found this documentary about vaccinations and made sure kids saw it in school, where their parents couldn’t filter the information toward their own views.
At first I was outraged. Then I thought: homeschoolers should use tactics like that in school as well. The data that shows kids should have a self-directed education is just as strong as the data that vaccines are safe. So what about going around the parents to get to the kids?
2. Politicians run long-term school reform efforts, but politicians are measured by short-term success.
Newark public schools are the worst in the country, both in terms of gun shot wounds and failure to graduate. The New Yorker published a blow-by-blow account of how the mayor of Newark wrestled $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg and friends and then blew it on the pop-up consulting companies of friends and donors and Newark schools have nothing to show for it.
The Newark school system is the story of how the politician’s goals are not aligned with the parent’s goals because school reform is long-term but politics caters to change that wins short-term elections. The New Yorker article also sheds light on the fact that schools problems are local, and family-focused, and parents know the problems better than anyone else, but no one is asking them. There is so much money in school reform that there is no time to ask parents their opinions because you have to work so fast the spend all the money before the next election.
3. No adults have their interests aligned with the kids.
Parents want free childcare. We know that. But teachers are paid way too much for the babysitting they do.
It’s amazing to watch the legal hoops states have to jump through to convince teachers that they should have the same level of job security that everyone else in the workforce has, which, frankly, is pretty much zero. California had to go through years of battle so they could fire old, ineffective teachers. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg spent the majority of his extended mayorship wrestling control of school from the teacher’s union, and it’s still an on-going battle.
It makes no sense to me that our elected officials have less control over education spending that non-elected, non-impeachable teachers do. Yet the problem was outlined clearly when the governor of Wisconsin tried to outlaw collective bargaining for teachers.
Parents feel that if they put teachers in charge of their kids for eight hours a day then they have to defend teachers when they come up against the politicians. Parents support teachers to fight hard to maintain the status quo, even if it’s not good for their kids.
It seems fine to me that teachers should have to learn to job hunt and work twelve months a year, and fund their own retirement. This is what adults do in today’s world. But teaches unions disagree, and this is a huge barrier to changing education in the US.