Tucked in at the end of Elizabeth Green’s Sun story about Obama’s education orientation, Obama advisor Jonathan Schnur argues that dividing education policy into two camps — those who side with the “Broader, Bolder” platform and those who prefer the Education Equality Project’s — “presents a ‘false choice.’” Philissa hinted at the same point in her post about “total schools.” The more I read posts accusing "Broader, Bolder" supporters of making excuses or "Education Equality" supporters of scapegoating schools and teachers, the more I tend to agree.
As an educator, it makes no sense to sit around and wait for society to level the playing field so that all your kids come into school healthy, prepared to learn, and fully supported at home. You see that you have kids who didn't benefit from good prenatal care, nutrition, early childhood education, or clean air, and who face physical and developmental challenges as a result - but what are you going to do about it? You throw yourself into your teaching, and, if you're lucky, your school comes together to tackle the other issues to the extent possible. You can work some wonders this way, but you know, deep down, that while it's not an excuse, you could do more if the background issues were addressed.
As a policymaker evaluating schools, it makes no sense to ignore context.
The education blogosphere is abuzz this week with responses to Jay Mathews' most recent Washington Post column, in which he issued a call for a term other than "paternalistic schools" to describe the wave of schools, mostly charters, featured in "Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism," a new book out of the Fordham Institute. Mathews considers several terms — including "tough love schools," "achievement-focus schools," "high-intensity schools," and "tough little schools" — but says none of them successfully conveys to parent and policymakers alike all of the schools' characteristics. Other suggestions have popped up around the internet, from "relentless schools" to "elite charters."
Over on her blog, Joanne Jacobs is toying with "total schooling," suggesting that the term comprises both the academic and "values" approach these schools employ. I have to take issue with Jacobs' nomenclature, because I've actually been thinking recently about the term as well, but in a somewhat different way: as an education counterpart to the notion of "total war." Total war is a modern iteration of warfare in which one side marshals all of its resources, both military and civilian, to defeat the enemy. World War II is widely considered a total war, for example, because civilians contributed to the war effort and were considered legitimate targets for military action.
The theory translates imperfectly to the education world, of course, but in my mind, "total schools" would be those that marshal all of the resources of the community to defeat the "enemy" of low achievement.