Everything must change

Almost no institution is more lambasted and praised, prodded and slighted, than public schools.

Most any school administrator can deliver a quick soliloquy on the subject if you're interested. But a simpler approach might be simply to look at the ways many of those who run the schools are spending their summer.

Just as everyone else "shuts them books and throws them away," superintendents and other administrators are cracking open a manual that came into play with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. No more doing things the old way – and that would include this past year. New school year, new mandates, as you can see in our lead story. It's a tune that has a familiar ring for many educators, even if the specifics are different.

In many ways, the 1980s fired Americans up about improving (changing) education. The 1990s brought new mechanisms (more change): state curriculum standards, graduation exams, small classes. Student self-esteem was deemed passé; testing became a watchword.

Much of this has been to good effect, and what once seemed radical is now part of the vocabulary. But the push and pull can deaden the ear to cries for legitimate change – and weaken public support for the schools. Even as Congress presses schools to deliver more, for example, a panel of New York judges ruled last month that an eighth-grade education is all the city is obligated to provide. An Ohio school that gets a blue ribbon last year is told it's failing this year. And small classes? Sorry, budget cuts.

Even as schools move to reform in significant ways, the news about it can sound worn. That makes you wonder how long the changes – even the good ones – can last.

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