I finally got the chance to watch the Fox News special report on education "Breaking Point: The Education Crisis in America". I have to admit they did a pretty good job – considering how much of the hour they had to work with after commercials, news breaks and self-promotion. As expected they spent one segment pushing standardized testing, although I did like that they looked at how the heavy emphasis on preparing for "the test" is affecting the kids at the upper end. Too many schools are in the position of the one profiled where higher-end classes are being cut to make room for more test prep.
I also expected the program would rip into the NEA and AFT, the two biggest teacher unions, and they certainly did. That segment was the most unbalanced part of the program but not completely undeserved. The NEA/AFT puts a lot of effort trying to maintain the status quo when, if their leadership had any brains, they would be out in front leading the effort to reform public education. But it would have been more fair if Fox would have also spotlighted some of the positive programs both unions sponsor, such as support structures and training for new teachers.
Most surprising were the final two segments which were very positive profiles of teachers and programs that are working. But those parts and an earlier segment on the Free School of New York (where kids make their own choices as to what to learn and when) demonstrate to me something that Fox missed. This may be a rather radical conclusion but I believe the cookie-cutter schools we have now – where every student is treated and tested alike – are a big part of the problem with public education.
Any good teacher knows that the students in their class have a variety of learning styles and they try as best they can to adapt to those differences. Maybe it’s time we acknowledged that on a larger scale and created different schools to fit student’s learning styles. Let’s take that one step farther: also match teachers – and their different styles – to the different schools.* That would create a school choice program that actually makes sense.
*On that subject, take a look at a really good article called Why Choice is Good For Teachers in this month’s issue of Education Next.