By Shantanu Sinha
The opinions expressed are his own.
Reuters invited leaders in education to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. Below is Sinha’s reply. Here are responses from Joel Klein, Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch and others.
Steve Brill makes a compelling case that many issues in the educational debate are not actually debatable, but rather easily known facts. Too many people are simply denying the obvious.
Clearly, public education in America is failing. While the vitriolic debate rages on, millions of children are the undeniable victims. Steve pointedly demonstrates how common sense is not sufficiently applied in many hotly contested topics like rubber rooms, teacher merit pay, or tenure rules. However, while these are all issues worthy of discussion, solving them still won’t necessarily move the dial in a meaningful way.
I think the entire conversation has been hi-jacked by issues surrounding the adults and little has been done to address the needs of students. If we spent more time thinking about what the students are actually experiencing, we would realize that we designed a very impersonal system that horribly misses their individual needs.
Many of the basic tenets of education seem strange if you really think about them. Students are sorted into classrooms by their age (is it possible that students are actually different and not every 10-year-old needs to be taught the same thing?) They sit in classes of 25+ students, while the teacher is expected to say magical words that keep them all engaged (how many of us weren’t lost or bored during large portions of our schooling?). If a student doesn’t understand 20% of the material, we congratulate him, tell him he passes, and push him to the next topic with swiss-cheese gaps in his understanding (how well can you master Trigonometry, if you don’t understand 20% of 6th grade math?)