Bill Gates might be the most notable celebrity wanting to reform education, but he’s certainly not alone.
Campbell Brown, former CNN news anchor, has joined the celebrity reformers by filing a lawsuit in New York to overturn teacher tenure laws.
Considering the publicity these celebrity reformers receive, it seems like the little guys in public schools need their own big name to speak for them.
I nominate Captain Obvious. Who better to serve as spokesman for the issues of public education since most issues are, well, rather obvious?
Among the obvious realities of public schools:
1. A disadvantaged family life negatively affects educational achievement.
“A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories,” says Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander, whose research tracked nearly 800 Baltimore schoolchildren for 25 years. “This view is at odds with the popular ethos that we are makers of our own fortune.”
Another recent study from the Washington University School of Medicine found that “children who are exposed to poverty at a young age often have trouble academically later in life” since poverty “appears to be associated with smaller brain volumes in areas involved in emotion processing and memory.”
Brain scans of 145 children between 6 and 12 showed that “poverty also appears to alter the physical makeup of a child’s brain; those children exposed to poverty at an early age had smaller volumes of white and cortical gray matter, as well as hippocampal and amygdala volumes.”
This is especially bad news for Connecticut, as poverty among children has increased by 50 percent since 1990, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
I can hear Captain Obvious now: “The better off a child’s family, the better she will do in school.”
2. Measuring schools and teachers with an annual standardized test can be misleading and limiting.
Journalist Ron Berler spent the 2010-11 school year (before the onset of the Common Core) observing students and teachers at Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, just one of thousands of “failing schools” as classified by standardized test results. Berler chronicled his observations in the book “Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools.”
In a U.S. News and World Report interview, Berler said that “we’re doing way too much of this testing, and it is changing the way in which we educate our children.”
According to research reported in Educational Leadership, “standardized tests can only assess a small portion of the curriculum.” In the end, “it’s more likely that what’s missing from the tests will disappear from the curriculum, especially in schools with low-performing students.”
As Captain Obvious might say, “Standardized tests do not improve the overall education process.”
3. Charter schools’ effectiveness is directly related to their exclusive student population.
Parents with kids in charter schools absolutely love charter schools. And why not, considering the anecdotal and statistical success of those schools? But a closer look at charters is quite telling.
“An analysis of [charter schools’] enrollment by the Connecticut Mirror shows that students who speak limited English or have special education needs have been largely left out of most of the state’s charters.”
Specifically, “Public schools (in Connecticut) serve twice the percentage of limited-English students in the districts where 12 of the 17 charter schools are located, the data show. No charter in the state has a higher percentage of ELL students than their local district, and only four enroll more special education students.”
Captain Obvious’ interpretation? “Schools that serve fewer special-needs students face fewer challenges.”
The obvious realities of public education are endless. Unfortunately, the solutions that receive the most attention often disregard these issues because they are proposed by education-reform celebrities like Bill Gates and Campbell Brown. And, like it or not, people tend to see such celebrities as the “Wizards of Educational Oz.”
But not Captain Obvious. He says, “Pay no attention to those celebrities behind the curtain.”
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.