The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: August 11, 2011

Schools are…

I tried a little experiment today with Google. I started by typing "learning is " into Google and waiting to see what the auto-suggest feature would come up with.

Learning is fun

 

Next, I typed "Teaching is " into the auto-suggest.

Teaching is fun

 

Finally, I typed "Schools are " into Google.com.

Schools are prisons

 

As I understand it, Google pulls the auto-suggest phrases from the most commonly typed search phrases people use. In other words, the auto-suggest phrases represent the opinions of people using the Google search engine.

Now while I think lots of schools are fun, and it would be wrong to characterize most schools as prisons, at the very least we have a marketing problem. One would assume that if people think learning is fun, and teachers think teaching is fun, then the institutions where both of these things happen should be fun, right?

Why then do the search results above come up? Is everyone searching for the song "Schools are prisons" by the Sex Pistols? Or do we have a larger problem?

 

Update: @sjhughes shared this one. Google "school makes me" and you’ll see some more opinions of students about school.

School makes me

A really free market approach to schools

I read a great post this morning from Mary Beth Hertz ( @mbteach ) where she shares her insight on her problem with the KIPP and Mastery charter schools. In her article she says:

OK, I get it. KIPP works, Mastery works. But are they really offering the choices they claim they offer to students and families in Philadelphia? If they’re so similar, what’s the choice there? ~ Mary Beth Hertz

The problem is, when you only use one way to judge the success of a school (external test scores), you prevent real innovation from happening. Every school starts to look more similar rather than having freedom to try out different solutions to the "education problem", because each school has to turn out the same product. There are only so many ways you can produce kids when you have single measure of the quality of their education.

In a true market approach to schools, you would let the market decide what accountability measures the consumers want. Since this seems so obvious to me, it is clear that the reformers pushing standardized tests as the only effective measures of schools do not actually want a free market approach to schooling. In fact, the very notion that we should think of kids as being products produced by a factory-like system is nauseating to me.

This problem is exasperated by the fact that in almost all school districts in Canada (and the US, UK, and Australia), the curriculum the kids are expected to cover looks exactly the same. Again, if you want schools to have the freedom to experiment with different models of education, standardizing the curriculum means they have much less choice on what they offer.

At my school we are fortunate. For our 11th and 12th grades, our students are essentially exempt from covering the British Columbia curriculum. We’ve gotten this waiver because we use the International Baccalaureate curriculum, and the BC Ministry of Education presumably considers this curriculum rigorous enough. We do have a couple of requirements from the BC Ministry for our students, but these are easily covered through our program.

In British Columbia overall, we actually have a tremendous amount of choice for our students. When we were looking around for schools for my son, we found Montessori schools, democratic schools, unschools,  fine arts schools, and lots of other types of schools, which are all publicly funded.

When organizations like the Fraser Institute started ranking schools by their standardized test scores, and then further suggest that teachers should be judged by these same scores, and then in the same breath recommend school choice, you have to start wondering what their real aim is.

Standardized curriculum, and standardized testing are the antidote to school choice, not the solution.