Quality Education?

Amber Arellano, director of Education-Trust Midwest is concerned about educational achievement in Michigan, especially among African Americans. For that reason she is understandably looking forward to the Governor’s State of the State address tonight, outlining ten “buzz worthy” education issues for the coming year. First up on her list,

1. Who defines “quality” education?
Back in 2011, some Lansing leaders were puzzled when we demanded quality standards for charter school operators wanting to expand in Michigan. Today, lots of folks talk about education “quality.”
Everyone wants to own the “quality” school badge, but few will attach sound research-based strategies to improve student achievement to the label.

What she is looking for, obviously, are the policy, the proven steps we can take. Quality, here, represents  the measurable. Nonetheless, the first question is central: who exactly does define quality education? Will it be measured by the standards of the educrat, be it from the left like Ms. Arellano, or the right like Mr. McLellan? Behind this are the questions of ownership: are the schools the property of the state house, the governor, a particular party? Or do they belong to their communities?

Quality is not simply a policy term but points us to the issue of ownership. As Left Back, Diane Ravitch’s own history of educational reform makes clear, often the agenda of the reformers and educrat exists in tension with that of the desires of the community itself. “Reform” is not a new problem.

When it comes to the African-American community, it is still pretty shocking that reformers do bring  minority communities to the discussion. Instead, the Lansing approach has been to take their schools from them, provide computer programs and implement other nostrums, all because we know what is good for the poor and minority child. Reform absent community input and engagement is simply not reform, but a form of patronizing. Here, the rise of charter schools continues to point to real interest in our urban communities for better answers.

And finally, we should note  two items  missing in Arellano’s essay. First, no mention of early childhood education, this, despite the fact the studies keep pointing to the early years as the key to long-term student success (this plays a large role in the Governor’s State of the State address). Second, if the question is about minority achievement, then a second source may be that of simply having more minorities in as teachers. We are not likely to build solid, stable educational communities if the teachers and the sending populations are widely different.

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