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Here are two contrasting views about what happens when (if?) children return to school in the fall.
In an article in the Washington Post, Mike Petrilli, president of the rightwing Thomas B. Fordham Institute, proposes that all students be held back a grade to make up for the ground they lost when schools closed in March. He also suggests that this is a good time to embrace distance learning.
Jan Resseger, retired social justice director for a religious group, says that this is the right time to recognize the failure of the standards-tests-accountability regime of the past two decades and to develop fresh ideas about children and learning.
Petrilli does not address the many studies (such as CREDO 2015) that show the abject failure of cyber schools. That study found that students lost 44 days in reading and 180 days in math when they were schooled online. Nor does he consider that being “held back” is universally seen as failure. The students haven’t failed. Why should they be punished? Expect a parent revolution if any state or district tries this.
Conceptualizing public education as students climbing ladders of curricular standards without missing a rung is only one way to think about education. And while such a theory has been drilled into all of us as a sort of “standards-based accountability conventional wisdom,” it isn’t really how most of us learn. If we want to understand something new, and there is some background we need, most of us look to experts or do some research to fill in the holes. School curriculum is better conceptualized as a spiral instead of a ladder. Children learn some processes and then as they move on to more advanced material, teachers are taught to spiral back—to review and even provide new and previously missed background. Sometimes people apply what they have learned in one discipline to help them understand or enhance what they have learned in another discipline. Remedial classes worry educators because too frequently they trap students in the most basic material—material skillful teachers can introduce and reinforce as children learn more complex material. After schools reopen, acceleration will be preferable to remediation.
To use a different metaphor, the advocates for the status quo see each grade as a measuring cup that must be filled. Some students will get the full measure, some will get less. The standardized tests, they think, can gelll is how much of the cup was filled. This is all nonsense, an outgrowth of a vapid, mechanistic approach to education that explains the failed regime of standards and testing. After twenty years, can anyone seriously claim that NCLB and Race to the Top succeeded? Seriously.
Due to the blinders tightly strapped on our policy makers, we are stuck in a pointless, soul-deadening approach to schooling that kills the joy of teaching and learning, except for those few subversive educators who have found devious ways to escape the dead cold hand of the status quo.