Two pieces in the Washington Post and the New York Times emphasize one of the core features of the education reform movement: while almost everybody wants big changes in American education, nobody is sure yet what will work. The two articles profile two very different visions of education reform:The Washington Post discusses a new group of schools named “Rocketship” that are currently the hottest new thing in the charter school movement and receiving interest from Mayor Bloomberg, Washington, DC, and the Obama administration. Founded by Silicon Valley tech whiz John Danner, Rocketship’s program intelligently uses computers to handle rote teaching, freeing up human teachers to focus on the areas requiring creativity. Combined with a rigorous work environment and a school culture that emphasizes achievement and success, these schools have been able to significantly boost the achievement of children in lower-income communities. Perhaps most impressively, Rocketship has been able to accomplish this with minimal outside funding, relying on private donors only for startup costs, not regular operations.There are still plenty of questions about the program. It’s too new to have reliable measurements in standardized testing, and success in a handful of schools does not automatically translate into a national breakthrough:
Already, Rocketship has experienced some growth pains. Standardized test scores for its oldest schools dipped slightly last year and the chain has been slowing its expansion schedule in California because it has had trouble finding enough principals.
But something is happening, and it is certainly worth seeing whether or not Rocketship can live up to its reputation.Meanwhile, the New York Times profiles a completely different approach to improving education: tightening standards for entering teachers. Half of the 50 states are now planning to increase graduation requirements for schools of education, which have often been derided for emphasizing subjects like education history and theory over practical classroom experience. This new system, which makes use of the Teacher Performance Assessment developed at Stanford University, hopes to ensure that teachers enter the workplace with the experience they need to succeed:
“It is very analogous to authentic assessments in other professions, in nursing, in medical residencies, in architecture,” said Raymond L. Pecheone, a professor of practice at Stanford who leads the center that developed the new assessment. “In its most basic form, we collect authentic artifacts of teaching that all teachers use on the job.”Under the system, a teacher’s daily lesson plans, handouts and assignments will be reviewed, in addition to their logs about what works, what does not and why. Videos of student teachers will be scrutinized for moments when critical topics — ratios and proportions in math, for instance — are discussed. Teachers will also be judged on their ability to deepen reasoning and problem-solving skills, to gauge how students are learning and to coax their class to cooperate in tackling learning challenges.
We don’t know whether these two approaches are complementary or not. We don’t know which of the two is more promising. But American education needs to innovate and experiment, and the enthusiasm for both of these approaches suggest that this experimentation is happening.The status quo is unacceptable, and more and more Americans are unwilling to accept it. That is the good news in education.