Robert Pondiscio: Building a better Edsel

Down the street on the Core Knowledge Blog, Robert Pondiscio reports on an email he received from a strong supporter of charters. She told him that she had visited a Big Name “no-excuses” charter school and discovered, to her dismay, that the curriculum was “all fuzzery all the time,” with minimal direct instruction:

Teachers aren’t allowed to use direct instruction for longer than a few minutes; then the students must repair to their pods and discover knowledge. After they discover knowledge, which means solving ONE problem, they return to the rug and explain their “strategies” to each other. Although the school prides itself on efficient use of time, the students I saw were spending a lot of time doing nothing at all while they waited for the other kids to finish so the whole group could migrate back to the rug.

And yet, as far as available data go, this school is doing “very, very well,” reports Pondiscio. What is going on here? Short-term data do not necessarily translate into long-term achievement. This seems to be the upshot of a recent report by KIPP, which states that “only 33 percent of students who completed a KIPP middle school 10 or more years ago have graduated from a four-year college.” That’s much better than the average rate for low-income minority students. All the same, Pondiscio notes, it shows how much work lies ahead.

Perhaps the data reflect temporary results, suggests Pondiscio, not the sort of learning that will last. Perhaps we’re putting all our energy into building the best possible Edsel–that is, bringing everyone up to a familiar level of mediocrity.

Pondiscio writes, “The long view may be slowly, quietly emerging–as it should and must–as the question in education reform.”

Read the whole piece.