Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Is this really our education model?

A. Barton Hinkle at the Richmond Times Dispatch had an interesting article last week, and while its primary focus was on NCLB, it did make some very good points that shed some light on the government's role in K-12 education generally.

First, a story:

Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov was a Russian coal-miner in the 1930s. The Five-Year Plans of Soviet Communism set quotas for industrial production, and one day Stakhanov not only met his quota, he exceeded it 14 times over by digging 102 tons of coal in under six hours. Pravda noted the feat the next day, and (with a little help from the Communist Party) a movement was launched. Workers across the land were encouraged to emulate the heroic laborers who had reached new heights in the completion of their scheduled tasks. Industries quickly began reporting astounding feats of individual production. Stalin boasted of socialism's advance in the realm of productive capacity.

It was, of course, a sham.

Stakhanov did not set his remarkable record through super-human energy and diligence, or because of his great love for the workers' paradise Stalin supposedly was building. The mine's bosses shifted Stakhanov's usual tasks to other workers, freeing him to do nothing but dig. They rigged the system to present a false picture of performance.

Which leads to this insight from Mr. Hinkle:

…America's public school system looks a lot like the old Soviet economic model: The state controls the means of production, determines what the output should be, decides who should work, and assigns a quota of students per teacher. There is no competition, and not much reward for performance. In most places concepts such as merit pay are anathema. School choice is condemned as practically obscene; charter schools are viewed with suspicion, and even ability grouping is controversial.

Not surprisingly, performance remains mediocre -- despite enormous increases in school spending. In 1960 the average per-pupil expenditure was $375 -- about $2,376 in today's dollars. The per-pupil expenditure in 2005 was $8,554 -- a 260 percent increase in constant dollars. Yet every few years Washington rolls out another reform aimed at correcting the lamentable fact that Johnny can't read.

So the question is, do we really want to trust our children’s future to a failed Soviet model?



  • If that is truly our model, then no.

    However, I see other problems. VDOE and the schools of education, make policy choices about requirements for becoming teachers. They actually make these fact, they make changes to current criteria for enrolling in teacher ed programs or completing such programs, multiple times a year. Basically each new group of students in teacher ed face different requirements.

    This would be okay if there was sound reason for the changes. The reality is that neither party have real data on student outcomes as teachers to really know what is right. SCHEV is building a system to help address this, but unfortunately VDOE makes decisions based on fads...not on data.

    By Blogger Frank, at 4/26/2006 10:17 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home