Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Future Schlock: Using Fabricated Data and Politically Correct Platitudes in the Name of Education Reform

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Future Schlock: Using Fabricated Data and Politically Correct Platitudes in the Name of Education Reform

Article excerpt

Today, in the areas of technology, inclusion, multiculturalism, and money, mythologizing data on behalf of education reform has become quite popular, Mr. Baines points out. The evidence in support of education reforms must be scrutinized to ascertain the degree to which those reforms will really benefit students.

From all regions of the country, one hears of the changes on the near horizon for public schools. In the exhortations for the reinvention of education, many reformers use politically correct platitudes or play fast and loose with statistics in order to present a more persuasive case for their particular agenda. If left unchallenged, such platitudes and fabrications could lead to actual changes in education policy that are based on erroneous assumptions, cooked data, and outright propaganda.

A Lesson from the Open Classroom

Before considering the hot items on today's reform agenda, let's look at an example from the not-too-distant past. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the concept of the "open classroom" was the education reform of the moment, though the evidence of its effectiveness was quite scant.

Lillian Stephens defined open education as an approach that is "open to change, to new ideas, to curriculum, to scheduling, to use of space, to honest expressions of feeling between teacher and pupil and between pupil and pupil, and open to children's participation in significant decision-making in the classroom."(1) On the surface, such a definition would seem to warrant little concern. However, in the same book, Stephens proclaimed, "Open education is now recognized as the major educational innovation of this decade. It has survived the attacks of its critics and the overzealousness of its friends, and emerged as a significant force."(2)

Around the same time, Joseph Hassett and Arline Weisberg asserted that open classrooms had "been tested and found to be educationally sound, appealing, and effective with young children of all backgrounds and in all the familiar educational categories: high achiever, average, low achiever, disciplinary problem, turned off, truant, highly motivated, slow learner, exceptional."(3)

Roland Barth gave a more honest appraisal of the research base supporting the open classroom.

Although there is little hard evidence, in theory or in practice, that open education is good for children; although these ideas have been tested by few teachers with few children in few schools for few years; and although it is not clear that children who attend open classrooms develop . . . important qualities in ways which are superior to those who do not, nevertheless, I am convinced that open education both places priority on these qualities of human life and can provide the means most likely to result in their development.(4)

While Barth's assessment of the open classroom is to be commended for its truthfulness, his honesty would not convince most of us that a move to the open classroom would be educationally sound. Still, school districts and universities nationwide scurried to spend millions of dollars on the latest innovation in education - the classroom without walls. Typically, a year or so after schools of the period were built in all their wall-less glory, construction crews returned to put up partitions.

The open classroom became a reality in no small measure through the enthusiastic, uncritical acceptance of the academic community. As the cries for education reform build to a frantic pitch in the remaining years of the 20th century, the millions of dollars spent for buildings that became obsolete the very day that they opened to students seem especially relevant. Today, in the areas of technology, inclusion, multiculturalism, and money, mythologizing data on behalf of education reform has become quite popular.

Technology

Fabrication 1. Technology is a moral imperative that will increase student achievement and make American students globally competitive. …

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