Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Flawed 'Solutions.' (School Reform) (Editorial)

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Flawed 'Solutions.' (School Reform) (Editorial)

Article excerpt

HUMANKIND has always had a penchant for applying inappropriate -- if not downright deleterious -- "solutions" to serious problems. In the late 1340s, for example, when the Black Death was sweeping across Europe and threatening human survival, the common people could come up with but one explanation for this scourge: the wrath of God.

And, as historian Barbara Tuchman noted in A Distant Mirror, "Efforts to appease Divine wrath took many forms, as when the city of Rouen ordered that everything that could anger God, such as gambling, cursing, and drinking must be stopped." But far more widespread, she noted, "were the penitent processions authorized at first by the Pope, some lasting as long as three days, some attended by as many as 2,000, which everywhere accompanied the plague and helped to spread it."

The commoners of the 14th century can be excused for their flawed "solutions" to the plague, because they did not understand the mystery of contagion and were therefore grasping at straws. But those who would reform the schools in the late 20th century through the application of national goals, standards, and assessments are far less easily forgiven.

Everyone these days is calling for "systemic" school reform, but the word systemic seems to have acquired dual meanings. For those in favor of goals, standards, and assessment, systemic has come to mean systemwide uniformity -- teaching the same things, in the same ways, to children in North Dakota as to children in Florida. By contrast, for those who see school reform as a building-by-building and community-by-community endeavor, "systemic" school reform has come to mean rocking the very foundations of the traditional system of schooling, giving up old mindsets, and trying out radically new programs, schedules, and strategies -- all of them developed collaboratively at the building level. …

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