I just finished reading the first round of editorials on the Reuters Great Debate blog. So far opinions have been expressed by Steven Brill, Joel Klein, Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier, currently senior scholar at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education. Here is what I found out.
Before we can begin to improve our schools, we have to eliminate poverty, fix our health-care system, create a better class of politicians not swayed by special interest groups and persuade unions to put children first even though they do not pay union dues. Only then can we begin the real work of improving our schools with the spirit of innovation for which the United States is known.
This reminds me of a piece of junk mail I received years ago. I do not remember what it was selling, but I have never forgotten its first sentence: “One ‘doing it’ is worth seventeen ‘getting ready’s.” The problem with just “doing it” is that we have a limited idea of experimentation in education. In our school systems an experiment is a charter school, which is a full-blown school system on its own. Often the premises of these charter school “experiments” get lost in the logistics of starting a school from scratch and satisfying all the regulations they have to meet.
One option that could be considered is innovative tutoring. A tutoring program can be implemented alongside an existing school system. Its size can be as small as a few students or a larger group. It can be implemented as an afterschool program so no change to the existing school program is necessary. Based on initial results, it can be expanded or abandoned as appropriate. The participants can be volunteers whose parents have signed the always necessary limitation of liability agreements. For the participants such a program can begin to reform education today … not next year or after the next election … but now. If successful, it can be expanded as appropriate. If really successful, it can be extended to many school systems in a short period of time. Later, it might even become the genesis of a new school.
If we think smaller and act faster, we just might be able to begin to make a difference in the quality of our education.