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Thursday, May 14, 2009

On Reading Jal Mehta

I have had some fun recently reading a little bit of Jal Mehta. I was struck by some quotes of his.

"We need to rethink of each school as a kind of puzzle that needs to be continuously solved by the people in it."
Now this quote certainly says the opposite of our practice. Ever since the end of the last century, school districts have become more centralized and more top down with an emphasis on standards and making all schools the same. Mehta's advice won't work for the likes of Sec Duncan and Chancellor Klein and the current school policy. Ever since I started teaching in 1974, I knew this and so did everyone with whom I worked did too. In fact NYC went through a huge de-centralization of the schools, because the powers at be knew that education was a local thing. That is why states run the schools and not the federal government. It has gotten horrendous since NCLB and the negative influence of the federal government on education. The concept of national standards is scary. Consider how watered down they would have to be to meet every state's requirements and to find a common denominator in standards. It would be the lowest common denominator of course.

Senge was perhaps the loudest voice followed by educational administration that has gotten us to our current malaise in education. Mehta is a refreshing voice of intelligence in education because he gets it, understands it, and says it.

"Here a higher power asks a lower power to do something that neither the higher power nor the lower power knows how to do, and then the higher power proceeds to publicly embarrass the lower power for failing to do it. Coupled with the narrow metrics of success and the rapid expectations for improvement, the result has been predictable demoralization and resistance at the school level, and little of the desired widespread improvement in practice."
This most definitely describes the current state of education in America. We have seen since NCLB, that the US government has no clue about education and I don't see it changing much in the current administration. We need educators in administrative positions, not business people. Business in America isn't necessarily the correct model for education, we know that, so let's stop repeating the same mistake again.

Mehta offers an intelligent model:

"Good Schools do this: they are determined to serve their students well, and they hold themselves accountable for ways that they are failing in their mission. Students who don't go to college, or who don't write well, spark these schools to reexamine their practice, to think about what they might do differently to improve outcomes. In my view, one of the most heartening educational developments of the past twenty years has been this embrace of internal accountability, as some good schools have tried to move from the 'individual discretion' view of professionalism that has traditionally characterized the field to the more 'collective view' of professionalism that internal accountability implies."

Education is local or should be and it is not. Each teacher, each school knows its population and knows how to adjust to each situation. The problem we have right now is that some one is sitting in a seat far from the school and classroom and making policy for all schools. Trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole is futile and yet this is what our current educational policy in America is trying to do. It is like our health care problem, accountants are determining what is covered and what is not covered, not the doctors.

As I was reading Mehta I was reminded about an old friend, Ron Edmonds when I read this from Mehta:

"For many schools and districts, the central school reform question has changed. For us, it remains what it has always been. Our question is NOT 'can schools overcome the effects of poverty and social and economic inequality?' BUT rather, 'Are we willing to go to the lengths that many schools go to in order to help our students overcome the effects of poverty and social and economic inequality."

Mehta is a refreshing voice, one like Dewey, Freire, Edmonds in his cry for us to return to the purpose of edcuation and that is the democracy of education.

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