In Why Choice is Good for Teachers, David Ferrero of the Gates Foundation proposes a “truce in the ideological holy wars of education. Let teachers choose the school that fits their philosophy. Pluralism works in religion. Why not in education?
Despite moving toward a greater appreciation for pluralism in other spheres of life, American educators and policymakers persist in their attempts to impose a uniform doctrine of education on the entire institution of schooling. Consider the attempts to develop national or even state-level content standards. Or the efforts to establish a uniform canon of “best practices.” Reformers of all stripes seem to want to create what educational historian David Tyack has termed “the one best system.” Yet as Tyackís Stanford University colleague Larry Cuban has recently argued, there are many different ways for a school to be “good.”
For instance, Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (“the Met”) in Providence, and the Oakland School for Social Justice and Community Development are all very different urban high schools that enroll mostly low-income black and Hispanic students. Students at Douglass wear uniforms and study a traditional college preparatory curriculum, whereas students at the Met pursue individual projects built around their interests in an environment notably less formal than found at Douglass. The School for Social Justice, meanwhile, comes closest to Freire’s ideal. There students take courses in “culture and resistance” where they learn about “systems of oppression” and are taught to organize political action in their communities. Despite these differences, all three schools graduate students who are literate, competent citizens. And all three outperform nearby comprehensive high schools enrolling similar student populations. In short, students seem to thrive in a broad range of schools.
Schools with a coherent set of values, attracting teachers and parents who share those values, are likely to succeed.