Time’s cover story from a few weeks ago, about the latest “blue ribbon” report on American education, has been released.
Since no one bothered to send me a free copy, I’ve only been through the executive summary of Tough Choices or Tough Times. But Jay Mathews read the whole thing and has a few comments – none of them positive.
Of course, he admits that he didn’t expect to like what they had to say long before the book arrived in the mail.
Mathews is certainly right that the recommendations are ambitious, especially considering the realities of American politics. I wouldn’t call them “fanciful”.
He’s also correct that reports like this tend to have little impact considering both the short attention span of the American public and the huge bureaucracy of our education system.
Some of us actually remember all the fuss over the Nation At Risk study from the early 80’s. It produced lots of talk but little action.
However, Mathews is also far too optimistic about the ability of our current system to educate students for a world that is rapidly changing.
Our schools need to be better, but it is also clear that they are providing the finest training in the world in just about every specialty you could name, and are giving the majority of Americans enough skills to support a middle-class lifestyle.
He goes on to offer much more about how our education system don’t need any major changes, only some relatively minor tweaks around the edges.
But it’s Mathews Pollyannaish statement with which he ends the column that bothers me the most.
If the report’s authors’ fears prove true, and American living standards begin to decline because of competition abroad and poor schooling, the U.S. education system will change very quickly. But we education reporters learned long ago that most national commissions are wrong. It is better to wait and let actual events, rather than well-staffed guesses, determine our next move.
He’s been covering education long enough to know that the US education system has never done anything, much less change, quickly.
The smart approach would be to create a plan for the future rather than simply reacting to whatever comes along next.