rising from the ashes: the genesis of true education reform

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a staunch believer in implementing and enforcing higher education standards, as well as making sure our students understand the material being taught to them. I’ve been critical of such reform movements as No Child Left Behind – and more recently, the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” competitive grant program – because I felt they placed too much emphasis on standardized testing and charter schools; while such is necessary, my concern was (and still is) the lack of emphasis on the strength of curricula in traditional public schools.

After listening to a news story, however, I now have more hope – hope that true education reform, focusing on preparing our students for the future instead of a few exams, will come to pass.

The story focused on the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP); when I researched KIPP, I became convinced that there is still hope for our nation’s students – no matter how disadvantaged they are. A program that doesn’t teach to the test? A program that establishes – and maintains – connections with real world professionals to guide students through primary, secondary, and post-secondary schooling? A program that offers enhanced curricula designed to tap into students’ potential?

Methinks it’s about time!!

Now, I’m not saying that KIPP and programs like it are perfect – but if such programs were a barometer by which one could gauge education reform, then I’d say we’ve a chance.

If this is what Obama’s Race to the Top truly aims to do, then it probably isn’t a race to mediocrity after all.

Notwithstanding, the issue once again returns to sub-par public school education and lowered standards, as well as the strength of curricula. One of the elements KIPP adopts is longer school days – and longer school years, with some Saturday and summer schooling. Now, one can easily look at other nations with long school days and years (i.e. Japan and China) and correlate length of curriculum with improved success among KIPP students. However, as I noted here, there are other nations that produce well-educated students with less instructional time than the U.S., such as Finland; also, there is stronger correlation between length of school days and academic performance than length of the school year and same.

What this leads me to believe is that KIPP schools and those like it don’t add instructional time for its own sake – but actually focus on teaching for understanding’s sake; this way the knowledge imparted unto the students lasts, enabling them to succeed in college and beyond. This is the example that municipalities ought to note when tackling sub-par primary school education – especially in “disadvantaged” (read: high-poverty, low-opportunity) neighborhoods.

The other problem stems from mindless politicking at students’ expense – lowering standards to comply with NCLB guidelines is simply reprehensible. This, I believe, arises from excessive focus on standardized testing; this also adversely affects curricula since one could conceivably “cut out” enriching aspects of education (such as music and the arts) under the guise of “improvement.” Mind you, such was already done in many areas, and budget cuts in today’s lean times further threaten education’s integrity across the U.S.

But wait a minute – KIPP is a network of charter schools! What is more, students are randomly selected from a pool of prospectives, so enrollment in a KIPP school is not guaranteed. What then? Does this mean students (and parents) who want quality educations get the shaft if they can’t find a decent charter school to attend? God forbid, but it’s not looking good on the traditional public school front. Race to the Top or not, something’s gotta be done – and reducing education to the bare-bones for a standardized test’s sake is not the way to go.

Here’s to hoping that some of the tenets of KIPP find their way in public schools so that we achieve true education reform. After all, a positive start toward a bright future is far better than accelerating toward a dismal failure – a fate I’d not want any student to have.

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