Monday, October 31, 2016

THE SCHOOL REFORM FOLLIES: AN EXAMPLE FROM OKLAHOMA

In the 1990’s the Oklahoma State Board of Education imperiously declared that by the year 2000: "All schools will focus instruction on the needs of each individual student at all levels within the framework of an integrated curriculum."
How could a secondary teacher assigned an average of, say, 110 students per day, possibly individualize instruction for each and every one of them? This was plainly impossible. And teachers had to accomplish this within the framework of a newly “integrated curriculum” — whatever that meant. This was even more impossible.
This “reform” was also borderline impossible for elementary teachers as well. Designing and implementing instruction for small groups of, say, 5 or 6 youngsters is demanding but doable. But truly individualizing newly integrated subject matter for each of 20 or more children is just about impossible — particularly when the teacher had to keep the rest of the children orderly and learning. [1]
This alleged “reform” actually was a mind-numbing combination of wishful thinking and political hot air. But Oklahoma educators had to appear to comply. This doubtless gave rise to dozens of mind-numbing meetings and vast amounts of useless paperwork. Meanwhile, from Kenton in the panhandle to Sallisaw on the Arkansas border, this top-down  “reform” greatly interfered with educators actually doing their job.
Years have passed since the Oklahoma “reform” deadline. Was the state’s public education improved? No, of course it wasn’t. The whole “reform” effort was an odious, time-wasting, paper project inspired by a hollow slogan — “integrating the curriculum.” Worse, it was forced on educators by self-important political hacks that either didn’t have a clue about the day-to-day realities of classroom teaching, or didn’t give a damn.
One day, far in the future, a janitor will be tidying up the Oklahoma Department of Education’s back offices. In a musty corner he or she will stumble across yellowed old curriculum integration documents submitted by every one of the state’s 520 school districts in order to document how they had managed to accomplish the impossible.
“What is all of this?” the janitor will wonder as he or she struggles to carry the overflowing boxes to the trash. Meanwhile, in State Education Department board-rooms across the country, and the Department of Education in Washington, a new crop of clueless political appointees will be crafting still other top-down reforms to convince gullible voters that their particular administration really does care about children — provided it isn’t costly.



[1] These numbers are based on 2016 Oklahoma averages as compiled by the National Center for Educational Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/SASS/tables/sass0708_2009324_t1s_08.asp

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