This is the fourth post in a six-part series on general education issues. I was recently invited to be part of a panel discussion after a screening of the film Rise Above the Mark, and these posts will continue that conversation. This space will not be used for a review or critique of the film, parts of which I agreed with and parts of which I did not. The film and the discussion it has inspired have, however, brought key education issues into a broader forum, and it is these that I will address in this series.
How do we hold schools accountable for educating our children?
In my previous post, I suggested a broad understanding of education and a correspondingly broad way of viewing success, one for which tests and data collection are not particularly well suited. That does raise the question, however, about how we hold schools accountable for educating our children. After all, public schools are supported by taxes, and taxes are paid by the people. The people have a right to know what kind of a return they are getting on their investment. They have paid for a product, and it needs to meet their expectations.
Actually, that is largely nonsense. While it is true that a community should know what is going on in its schools, it is absurd to treat the issue in a purely commercial fashion. Education is not something we consume in the way we consume automobiles. Why, then, would we expect to hold schools accountable with tools like Carfax that simply list raw data? Such methods are too easy a way out and do not give the full picture.
Truly human endeavors, and by that I mean those that involve human beings working closely with human beings as opposed to working with machines or working alone, are messy. They involve emotions and thoughts and experiences, all of which change from day to day and can no more be fit into the narrow parameters of assessment and evaluation championed by some than can a vast beach be squeezed into an ice cube tray.
Does that mean that schools must remain black holes, incapable of being analyzed with any ray of light? It means no such thing. It means simply that we must use methods suited for this kind of analysis, methods appropriate to assessing the formation of a human life rather than determining the effectiveness of the assembly line.
Before we speak about the #1 best all-around method for evaluating education ever, we do need to acknowledge one more thing. The same, proper desire for a community to hold its schools accountable is one the schools must share as well. In other words, schools must talk more about holding their communities accountable, for since education is a truly human endeavor as defined above, no one aspect of the process should be singled out for focus to the exclusion of others. Children are educated by their teachers who are led by administrators, who serve in particular facilities, and who use certain tools of the trade, e.g. books and "school supplies" and technology. Children are also educated by their parents who are led by their own life experiences, who live in particular neighborhoods, and who use the tools of the trade, e.g. the loving affirmation or the back of a hand. They are educated by coaches and businesses, entertainment and advertisements, nurturing and wretched living conditions. In short, they are educated in the broadest, and therefore the truest, sense of the word by all aspects of their community.
So how do all the members of a community hold each other accountable for the education of children? They do so by getting involved. Parents must visit schools for programs and during the day. Would that mean taking time off from work? Possibly. Then again, we take off from work for other things, so why not to see what is really going on during the most important waking hours in the most formative years of the lives of our own children? There was a day in which teachers visited the homes of their students. It is not an outlandish proposition today. Business and community leaders are always welcome to volunteer with children, both during and after the school day. With this kind of true interaction among the principal players in a child's education, is it possible that the truly bad teacher, the one who mumbles in pig Latin while stating that 2+2=5 and then tests over the Louisiana Purchase using an assessment composed in Greek and written in invisible ink, would long go unnoticed or retain employment?
What will you or those in your organization do to help hold accountable those involved with education in your community?
□ Visit one of my local schools
□ Volunteer at an after-school program
□ Ask my children's teachers/principal what they need
□ Attend a local school board meeting
□ Attend a state school board meeting
□ Attend a congressional session on education
□ Engage in a personal email or phone conversation with someone involved in education