To the Editor:
It is unusual to find two Commentaries in the same issue of Education Week, in this case your May 16, 2007, edition, that so thoroughly contradict each other. Ellen Condliffe Lagemann (“Public Rhetoric, Public Responsibility, and the Public Schools”) makes a plea for consideration of “the social failures that often surround the public schools.” She argues that we are asking too much of our education system under present circumstances, and that we will not be able to achieve reform until we address the underlying environmental problems. She recommends that we change the tenor of the debate.
Then along come Mike Schmoker and Richard Allington (“The Gift of Bleak Research”), who reference Robert C. Pianta’s study showing that in the 2,500 classrooms he and his colleagues observed, the majority of teaching was at best “mediocre,” and that 75 percent of these classrooms were “dull, bleak” places lacking instruction in higher-order skills. Included among Messrs. Schmoker and Allington’s recommendations are the creation of an inspectorate that would assess teaching effectively, and more collegiality among teachers to enhance and reinforce their teaching skills.
In addition to ignoring the impact of shoddy teaching that is demonstrably going on in a depressing number of our public schools, Ms. Lagemann does not take into account the remarkable results that have been achieved with the very same children, in the very same circumstances, by public charter schools like those operated by the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and others.
In calibrating our public rhetoric and our public policy with regard to education, it is much easier, more realistic, and infinitely faster to address the problem at its core: Improve teaching, and children will learn. Changing the other ills of the world is not part of our urgent core mission.
San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2007 edition of Education Week as ‘Improve Teaching, and Children Will Learn’