Looking back, I’m not sure what prompted me to pick this one up. Now, even the title disturbs me. Building?
I get the impulse. We need teachers. A lot of them. But there is such a wide variety of quality – from state-to-state, even within a building. We lack, Green argues persuasively, a coherent infrastructure for national education. And when we get into words like infrastructure, we get into the world of business – people who look at education as a problem to be solved, as a place for future workers, and as a place for profit. Not only that, once we have an idea – even a successful one – we try, in the true American spirit, to replicate it. Enter the likes for Doug Lemov who wants us to know how to Teach Like a Champion so we can manage behavior. There’s another one of those economic words – “manage.”
Green spends much of her time on alternatives to public schools. I’d be the last to claim that there are no problems with public schools, but they are one of our last remaining remnants of democracy. And even now, they under assault from those who would proft from them, and under attack, from those – for no real reason (attention, Mr. Gates) – think they can do better. Still others use them as an excuse to try to break down unions.
Whose responsibility is public education? Our founders left it to the states. And the states need money, so they try to leave no child behind as they race to the top. Certainly, we all want to know what ‘works,’ but we can’t even seem to agree what that means. There are some interesting possibilities here, particularly when it comes to the work done at Michigan State and on math.
Though Green does seem aware of moves made by other countries, she focuses on Singapore and Japan. What about the work being done in Finland? Why are there so many education schools? Why is it so easy to get admitted? Why do teachers get paid so poorly? How do we shift a system that has been entrenched, sometimes in corruption and certainly in mismanagement, for so long (without sacrificing still more children)? How do we work both at the federal and local level? Do we need a Department of Education? And can’t we do better than all of this testing? How do we establish and maintain meaningful mentorship arrangements? How do we give teachers the time to get better?
If you want to know your priorities, someone once said, look at your checkbook. To that, I would add (for schools), look at your schedule. What are schools spending their time and money on? I recently had the opportunity to visit some schools in New York City. They were not allowed to open until they had some provision (staffing, a partnership) for wraparound services. That’s establishing priorities.
So there’s much to consider here. But after 200 or so pages, Green’s bias shows through. And mine probably shows through in this piece (less a review than a rant). Teaching will always be hard. There are ways we can prepare people to teach and help them get better. There is help that those outside education can give (and there’s also interference). But with human beings at the center and so much history to contend with, there will always be challenges. I agree with the argument for coherency. Let us start it, though, with one school at a time and go, slowly, from there.