Much in today’s educational world defies common sense. Cutting through the public rhetoric of “romantic progressivism” and “edu-babble” to get at what is really happening can be frustrating for parents and supporters of our publicly-funded school system. It can also leave you in what might be called a “school daze.”
A few startling examples come immediately to mind.
We claim to be teaching children to think, but often give them little of substance to think about. School systems professing higher standards now allow virtually everyone to pass their grades. School taxes and teacher salaries rise at the same time as student enrolments shrink and schools close.
Good teaching is critical to student learning, but teachers are rarely, if ever, evaluated on the quality of their instruction. Special needs children are mainstreamed, even when they might benefit from more intensive, individualized learning. High school graduation rates rise, yet universities regularly claim that graduates are ill-prepared for post-secondary studies.
Whatever happened to common sense in education? That’s the fundamental question asked and answered in a stimulating new book with the alluring title What’s Wrong with Our Schools.. and How We Can Fix Them. Co-authored by Michael C. Zwaagstra, Rodney A. Clifton, and John C. Long, policy analysts linked with Manitoba’s Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the book’s a real rarity. Although written by Canadians, it’s actually aimed at a much wider North American audience.
One of the authors, Michael Zwaagstra will be speaking on Saturday December 4, 2010 at Toronto’s Metro Hall, at 12:30 pm, at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Quality Education. That promises to be a great event for education reformers in Toronto and southern Ontario. http://societyforqualityeducation.org
What’s Wrong with Our Schools promises straight talk and it certainly delivers on that commitment. Zwaagstra, Clifton, and Long have the courage to state, in plain, understandable language, what really matters to them in education:
- Learning subject matter comes first.
- Testing is good for students and so is a little homework.
- Students do need some periodic discipline.
- Special needs children cannot always swim in the mainstream.
- Public schools are still falling short in teaching literacy and preparing students for the academic rigours of university.
It’s a bracing and most refreshing education book. Concerned parents and students of education will find it far more satisfying that Charles Ungerleider’s vastly overrated 2003 book, Failing Our Kids. Where Ungerleider defends mediocrity, serves up rationalizations, and pays careful homage to teachers, this book cuts right to the chase. No Canadian education book since the mid-1990s has packed such a punch.
Zwaagstra, Clifton, and Long are all well-known educational researchers fiercely committed to raising public school standards. The mere appearance of their book has been hailed as a triumph by leading American educational conservatives such as E.D. Hirsch, Jr. of the Core Knowledge Foundation, Chester E. Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Jay Mathews of the Washington Post.
The book’s release in Canada will likely provoke a dramatically different reaction. Manitoba social studies teacher Zwaagstra has worked on the AIMS High School Report Card project and is a staunch supporter of standardized testing and the ranking of schools. Hearing the names of Zwaagstra, Clifton, and Long will be enough to send a chill through the upper echelons of education. Their earlier AIMS study, “Getting the Fox out of the Schoolhouse”(2007), still causes mass indigestion among members and allies of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
What’s Wrong with Our Schools will stir controversy because it challenges the “romantic progressivism” deeply ingrained in the Canadian educational establishment. It is written by three acknowledged experts, but provides some clear, unambiguous answers to the most perplexing issues confronted by parents and students in our P to 12 education system.
The Big Question is a hardy perennial: What’s really ailing our Public Schools? Whatever happened to common sense in education? To what extent have the authors of What’s Wrong with Our Schools pointed us in the right direction?