IN SCHOOLS WE TRUST: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization
While policy makers agree that big city public schools are failing to meet children's needs, their solutions usually involve shifting responsibility to distant figures—chancellors, mayors—and relying on abstract performance evaluation tools, like standardized tests. From her own experience designing and operating various "alternative" public schools, progressive educator Meier (The Power of Their Ideas) has a different assessment: schools must be smaller, more self-governed and "places of choice," so kids and their families feel they are truly part of these "communities of learning." Students need to spend more time around adults who are doing adult work, which builds familiarity, trust and respect, as well as exposure to new skills. Families also need to be brought into the mix, so they're comfortable with the school, the teachers and the educational agenda. Teachers need time and space to develop collegial relations with each other, both to improve educational practices and to model responsible critical behavior for students. According to Meier, the currently fashionable educational panacea—increased standardized testing—is either irrelevant to academic excellence or an actual deterrent, as teachers teach to the test and ignore everything that's not on it. Likewise, teaching children test-taking techniques trains them to distrust their own intuition about what's right or wrong. Reliance on test results (which are largely meaningless, Meier says) denies parents' and teachers' ability to assess learning. This is a passionate, jargon-free plea for a rerouting of educational reform, sure to energize committed parents, progressive educators and maybe even a politician or two. Agent, Milly Marmur. (Aug. 1)
Forecast:Meier's name recognition (she is the MacArthur Award–winning founder of the Central Park East School in East Harlem and the Mission Hill School in Boston), a nine-city author tour and a national print and broadcast campaign should help her book make some waves.