Reform is More Than a Four-Letter Word

OK, I’ll go first.  My name is Eduflack, and I’m an NCLB-aholic.  That was never my intention.  It just seems that every time I look for information on education reform and how we can improve the schools, I’m sucked in by the flashing lights and attractive packaging of NCLB stories.  Even when I try to get away from it, someone is offering me a taste of NCLB.  Some HQT here, some accountability there, and a whole lot of SBRR just about everywhere.  I admit it, I’m hooked.  And I like it.

And as much as I am an unapologetic supporter of the law and its goals, I also realize there is far more to education reform than NCLB.  Some of those topics — like high school reform and STEM — are already being discussed as additions to NCLB 2.0.  But there has to be more to school improvement than our federal elementary and secondary education act.

Leave it to Checker Finn and Diane Ravitch to remind us of what else is out there.  In a Wall Street Journal commentary yesterday (, the two focus on their desire to protect liberal arts education in the K-12 curriculum.  Their goal: to ensure we continue to teach history, civics, literature, and such subjects alongside our math and science requirements.

During a time when we are so focused on our “world is flat” economy and competition with India, China, and other nations around the globe, Ravitch and Finn’s piece makes one take pause.  They argue that to truly be competitive, students not only need technical skills, but they need to understand people, need to be thoughtful, and need to be equipped to question authority and ask, “why?” 

Ultimately, they raise the issue of whether it needs to be all or nothing.  Successful schools can focus on STEM and core subject assessments.  But they can also teach the Great Books and Western Civ.

For two individuals who are best known for their research, they deserve credit for personalizing their cause.  Citing the “academic” paths that made Steve Jobs, Alan Greenspan, and Warren Buffett successes helps most doubters see that it is not the academic major on the diploma, but what one does with their knowledge that really matters.  And their turn of the phrase, calling for “leaves and flowers” to be added to STEM, definitely leaves it mark. 

The great rhetorical challenge now is how one keeps focus on the NCLB building blocks necessary to provide the path to high-quality liberal arts education.  Or more simply, how do you say we are spending too much time and money and effort on NCLB, when the reading skills NCLB provides under Reading First are essential to any student understanding Shakespeare or the great philosophers? 

Regardless, with their think piece, Finn and Ravitch have definitely thrown the opening pitch in what could be a very interesting ed reform ballgame.  If they can continue to talk about it, outside of the context of NCLB, it could also be one that fills the stands. 

2 thoughts on “Reform is More Than a Four-Letter Word

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