As a longtime student of comparative education and father of three children in NYC public schools, I have the following three observations to offer:
1. Whatever the merits of standardized testing and the good intentions of its proponents, which I am happy to aver, I can tell you that testing has ravaged pedagogy, and the psyches of elementary and middle-school teachers, all across the city system. It is a phenomenon verging on a cultural disaster. There is virtually no time or energy available to attend to the developmental needs of my children beyond how well they can fill in the bubbles on multiple-choice tests that are taken in the spring: Everything leading up to those tests involves obsession with training my children how to fill in those bubbles; and after those exams are taken, the rest of the school year is a virtual romper-room of psychic collapse and aimless post-traumatic diddling around.
2. The educational debate as practiced now in America is ideologically attenuated and perversely symbolic of the national political impasse as a whole: That is to say, the right relentlessly and often unscrupulously savages and undermines public education in every way possible; the “reformers” Matt alludes to almost perfectly fit the neoliberal template of the “even the liberal TNR” variety; and the locus of debate centers on the intramural fracas between them and the all-too-often self-wounding stances of the teachers’ unions and those who defend the shortcomings of the status quo as the result not of moral failings and evil intentions but of systemic deficits and neglect and the general lack of will amongst the polity to deal with our deepening educational crisis. Notice how the latter position is actually self-evidently accurate, and the neoliberal position, while seeming so “fresh” and “nonideological,” actually plays into the hands of the cynical right. It’s all so interminably boring that I long ago lost interest (and hope).
3. The only real reforms worth contemplating would be a national reconstruction and equalization of educational funding and a shift to a model of schools as community youth institutions, at-need food kitchens, medical clinics, and youth activity centers open as much as 16 hours per day. Until anyone manages to bring front and center this obvious, common-sense agenda for our society’s needs, I’m going to mostly skip these discussions, as they are tantamount to the proverbial bickering over the placement of deck chairs on the Titanic.
Matt Yglesias Should Opt Out
A comment for Matt: