The big domestic story that we try to cover here at Via Meadia has two dimensions: the breakdown of our old social model, and the construction of something that can one day replace it. We track that story in many fields: education is one of the most important. From K to PhD the old system is expensive, cumbersome and, too often, produces mediocrity or worse.
Yet we don’t need less education in this country. Americans need to learn more, and learn it faster, and learn it in schools that don’t cost more than they can reasonably afford to pay.
A lot of our coverage is necessarily downbeat, as we chronicle the woes of an increasingly dysfunctional system—but we believe that the American story is ultimately one of renewal and innovation rather than of stagnation and decline. All over the country, institutions and organizations are trying new ideas, changing the way they work, cutting unnecessary costs and red tape, and inventing the future on the wreckage of the past.
Charter schools are one example. They are not a panacea, and some work better than others, but they have accomplished some great things, and they are an excellent example of the reconstruction process at work.
Mike Feinberg, the co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), the country’s largest public charter school network, shares some ideas for American education over at the Atlantic:
At KIPP, one of our founding principles is “Power to Lead”—giving principals the autonomy to adapt and innovate within their own schools. They are also able to recruit and hire teachers on their own, and to give those teachers the leeway to teach the way they see fit. In exchange, they have to demonstrate that their approach is producing results for students—through a combination of standards-based testing and other measures—or risk having their charter revoked.
Freeing teachers and principals to do what they do best is a big step. It takes enormous dedication to students and a clear commitment to accountability in order to work. But when all these elements are combined—a clear goal and achievable standards, authority at the school level, and flexibility in the classroom—the results are powerful and transformative. A 2010 independent report by Mathematica found that the vast majority of KIPP schools produced academic gains in math and reading that are significant and substantial…
In the end, all public schools, district and charter, have the same mandate: prepare students to succeed in a knowledge-based economy, not simply to pass an annual basic skills exam. If we are to see that mandate fulfilled on the large scale, school systems will have to return much of the decision-making power to where it needs to be: inside the school walls.
The future is springing up all around us.