December 15, 2013

Tom Friedman's bullet list of reasons for why a Chinese school succeeded where American schools failed could have been ripped right from AFT President Randi Weingarten's speech transcripts about ways to improve public education in this country.

Friedman appeared on Fareed Zakaria's show this morning as part of a "we're very concerned about American school's low performance on global tests" panel with Teach for America's Wendy Kopp, Murdoch stooge Joel Klein and privatization advocate Salman Khan, Friedman excitedly declared he finally gets it now! Here is his magic bullet list for American students:

  1. Give teachers lots of time for collaboration and professional development
  2. Lots of interaction between teachers and parents - This implies manageable class sizes.
  3. Kids who come to school ready to learn

Friedman even makes the point that this school isn't "some elite school" but is instead just a normal public school with a 40 percent migrant population.

Compare those features with AFT President Randi Weingarten's vision for American schools, as articulated in a 2010 speech:

  • Our vision is that every neighborhood school should be an excellent school that all families know they can count on, every year, for all of their children.
  • Our vision is to build on what works, and replicate it for all kids, in all schools, in all communities.
  • Our vision is of schools where good teachers can work together to meet each child’s individual needs, where students develop their unique talents through a well-rounded curriculum, where all children have the support they need to reach their full potential.
  • Our vision is for teachers to get the necessary support to constantly improve, in an environment in which students have what they need to succeed.

Friedman wrote in greater detail about his visit to this school in October. The school he visited has one teacher for 13 students. That's a remarkable and effective student-teacher ratio. Teachers across this country have been fighting for smaller class sizes, too, so they can actually focus on teaching.

China does cook their PISA results a bit by only reporting Shanghai's scores, implying they may place more of their resources into schools that can report the highest result. It's also true that Chinese education is not focused on creative thinking as much as rote learning. Some allege that the Chinese are training teachers to be excellent in teaching to the test while students learn to be excellent in test-taking, but lacking in creative thinking or problem-solving skills.

Perhaps these things are true, but they are curriculum issues, not resource issues. What Friedman correctly emphasizes is that China's formula for 'reform' is to respect teachers, reduce class sizes, and place value on collaboration with the parent, student and other teachers.

Our 'reformers' in this country would do well to pay attention to what teachers recommend to improve our education system, rather than the venture capitalists waiting to profit from it.

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