Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Course of Ed Reform

The Globe has a story on the direction some are pushing for a new overhaul of the education system.

Massachusetts would prod high school students to take a set of rigorous classes to graduate, under a new proposal that is less aggressive than in other states that mandate college preparatory courses.

The proposed statewide curriculum, called MassCore, recommends four years of English; four years of math, including Algebra II; three years of lab science; three years of history; two years of the same foreign language; and electives.

The changes would be voluntary for now - and at first I thought it was a great idea. After all, most graduates who go to college are already taking 4 years of math and english and at least 3 years of a foreign language, why not strengthen requirements to bridge educational gaps? However, none of this proposed reform is truly earth-shattering. Should college-bound students be taking these classes? Yes, but what about students going to technical, agricultural or other specialty schools? I'm sure their curriculum could be strengthened too, but advanced stoichiometry isn't exactly going to fix a car.

Most importantly, the proposed reform doesn't do anything to address the fact that not all students learn in the same way. Real education reform can never happen unless we address how people learn - differently. To some, people strive when writing papers. Other people prefer oral presentations. Still, others get the most out of in class examinations. No method of grading or learning is better or worse than another: they all involve intense preparation and research. They all teach skills that students will take with them to "the real world."

Every human has a different head on their shoulders and it's time society address that fact. It's great that the state wants to push for a stronger curriculum - at least for students attending traditional high schools. However, let's have real reform that addresses how students learn. Forcing them to go to more and more specific classes is anything but a cure and does little to solve the actual problems of the system. Massachusetts doesn't need another Ed Reform movement, we already have the best educational system in the country - what we need is an educational revolution, one that the rest of the country could follow and would best serve the proposed goals of MassCore.

1 comment:

MassParent said...

An issue not mentioned in the Globe article on Masscore is what was left OUT of the core. Arts have always been considered a core curriculm, but the state has made few explicit course requirements up to now.

In calling for a fairly detailed set of courses, we risk getting to the place where anything that isn't mandatory is forbidden, or at least unfunded.

Arts are already at risk because they don't fit well into a standardized testing paradigm. The direction of MCAS has been to add tests for any essential subjects. We're risking a literal teaching to the test - that is, only teaching things that can be tested by the state in a standardized test format.

It's funny to me that standardized test advocates always put global economic competitiveness as the rationale for testing. One of the few things the United States sucessfully exports is media - which relies fundamentally on the arts. The internet is now primarily a creative design medium, not a technical medium. Content is king - and content is art. But we're at risk of losing that creative edge.

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