In this month’s Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch poses the question: “Suppose I told you that I knew of an education reform guaranteed to raise the achievement levels of American students; that this reform would cost next to nothing and would require no political body’s approval; and that it could be implemented overnight by anybody of a mind of undertake it. You would jump at it, right?” As it turns out, no. Educators, school administrators, and parents increasingly discourage the one education reform that has proven results at no cost (other than students’ time): homework. This despite the evidence that, on average, American students do very little homework. Yes, we know the stories of the Ivy-bound elite who spend hours slaving over homework each night, but they are decidedly the exception. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, “two-thirds of 17-year-olds did less than an hour of homework on a typical night . . . [and] 40 percent did no homework at all.”
Students admit they’re not working very hard: In a 2001 survey, 71 percent of high school and middle school students agreed with that most students in their school did “the bare minimum to get by.” Yet adults don’t push for more.
Also on Gadfly: The new superintendent in Washington, D.C. has his priorities in order, but can he overcome bureaucratic inertia? The Washington Post interviewed Clifford B. Janey, the District’s fifth superintendent in nine years.
He said he would consider contracting out “those operations that affect the quality of life of students” until the school system’s “internal capacity” to run those operations is improved.
Janey wants D.C. to adopt learning standards, a core curriculum and possibly high school graduation exams.
He called for raising teacher certification standards and said he is likely to push for new clauses in the next teachers’ contract to hold them more accountable for student performance. Regarding relations with principals, he said they need more authority over hiring teachers but may have too much leeway in determining curriculum.
. . . Janey said he would consider shutting schools that have low or declining enrollment and in some cases sharing the buildings with space-strapped charter schools, which have soared in popularity since they were first authorized in 1995.
He said he would like to use some of the buildings to create “parent education centers” that would offer classes on effective parenting and information on special and bilingual education and other services.
Janey also called for collaborating with charter schools rather than fighting “a new civil war.”
Finally, England’s chief schools inspector, David Bell, calls trendy education ideas of the ’60s and ’70s incoherent and sometimes “plain crackers.”
Speaking in Chester-le-Street, Mr Bell said pupils needed a well-rounded curriculum, including basic skills.
And he rejected the “incoherent” approach of over-liberal teaching.
In a lecture at the Hermitage School, Mr Bell defended the importance of a “broad and rich” national curriculum, spelling out what pupils should be expected to learn.
Bell singled out “the notion that children learn to read by osmosis” as crackers.