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Nonfiction Matters
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Race to the Top

Where We Fit In the Push to Reform Education

Yesterday afternoon I sat in on a webinar in which the Department of Education explained what it will be looking for in Innovation in Education grant proposals. As you may have read, the Department of Education is offering billions of dollars to improve education — most goes to states, but $650 million is available to nonprofit organizations The team seemed experienced, focused, and clear about what the want: new ideas that can be evaluated and tested, and could be expanded to work on a larger scale. But it was equally evident, if not directly stated, that improving education meant improving reading and math — and in ways that can be shown in tests. And that made we wonder, where does Social Studies — or, for that matter, science, fit in this world of change?
       Perhaps the ed reform folks think that we need to raise the skills level first — get everyone up to some norm of reading and math — then we deal with content. I have two problems with that — for one, does that mean a generation of kids goes through the motions of content classes while we wait for the skills level to rise? Can we afford that — a generation of new voting citizens who don’t know much? But my othe problem is the matter of bad faith. If we as a nation said only reading and math counted, we’d stop teaching content classes. Why hold classes, assign reading, hire teachers, when none of it matters? As you surely know, social studies is only tested twice — is that 4th and 8th grade? — while reading and math come every year. If we spend time teaching something we have to believe it matters, otherwise we are wasting everyone’s time.
        I feel puzzled, shut out — like a kid who has just moved into a new neighborhood and finds out he doesn’t know the rules for the games all of his classmates are playing. Can someone help me to understand why we have defined educational reform in this so terribly narrow fashion? And what can we do about it?