WYSIWYG in the schools?

At first blush, education reform seems a prime example for the principle of WYSIWYG. That's the geeky acronym for "what you see is what you get" - that the party invitation that emerges from your printer, for example, will accurately reflect the text and photos you've organized on your computer screen. Just assemble the right components and you'll get results.

It's appealingly straightforward - just like current promises that the right battery of tests, tougher curriculum, and better-trained teachers will yield kids who can read, write, and add with skill.

But changing the ways of educators and schools, as anyone knows who has watched fads come and go, is a messy process. And even a reform effort like the current one, which started with missionary zeal and seemingly unstoppable momentum, is running headlong into lawsuits and questions about jamming all students into a one-size-fits-all approach.

Not that one effort - even if it tries to measure most kids with a limited set of gauges - can do that. Many iffy practices still lurk in US classrooms (see story on multiple-choice tests, page 15).

But increasingly, parents and others are asking, Will it work? How do you tell if it's yielding results? And being impatient Americans, they want answers and definitive proof yesterday.

Texas, a bellwether state for reform, is facing such questions, as you'll see in our cover story. Signs of progress, as well as a recent ruling that state tests do not discriminate against minorities, give impetus to staying the course. But those looking for WYSIWYG clarity - an output that matches the blueprint - are in for disappointment.

* E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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