No one-size fits all school system

US News and World Report asked readers to consider an important question this year, “What kind of education system do we want?” The article posed the question in response to ed reformers arguing about recent research studies on test scores. Contributor, Robert Pondiscio, said this question should be the linchpin in our debates about education. But is it?

By asking about the type education we want as a country, Pondiscio challenges those invested in education to take a hard look at what their arguments and debates are centered on. He states that many in the debate seem to argue as if schooling is entirely about test scores.

But for many parents and students, decisions about schooling focus on cultural values or student-specific needs, factors not captured by test scores. For example, take the Holcombe children - of the 3 children, all test as dyslexic learners. And after several rough elementary school years, fights about going school, and sheer unhappiness from their children, Paul and Emily Holcombe knew their family had to make a change. That was when Emily decided to begin driving her children an hour and fifteen minutes every day to a school whose curriculum is designed especially for dyslexic kids.

Now, her children’s relationship with school has taken a complete 180. Even her Instagram feed is full of little moments where she’s caught her kids enjoying learning. My personal favorite is a photo of her son hiding under the covers with a headlamp, trying not to get caught reading after lights out, a moment Emily thought she would never see. Talking with Emily, she would describe the change in their learning environment after two years not only as positive academically but also as benefiting in their social and emotional wellbeing.

The Holcombes’ experience begs the same question, “What type system do we want - and need - for our children?” Or as Pondisco said it, “Deciding whether or not to permit parents to choose based on test-based evidence is presumptuous. It says, in effect, that one's values, aspirations and priorities for one's child amount to nothing. Worse, our evidence-based debate presumes that a single, uniform school structure is and ought to be the norm, and that every departure from that system must justify itself in terms of a narrow set of outcomes that may not reflect parents' – or society's – priorities.”

US News and World Report discusses this topic and includes a description of America as an education outlier for having a default district school (from a recently published book, Pluralism and American Public Education: No One Way to School by Ashley Berner). Think hard about the ways you are framing your discussions around the “right way to school,” and check out this article for further details.

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