Covering education is like covering the environment: we know the subject is packed with problems, we know a lot of people are trying to do something to make it better—but how often can we hear of all those problems before we become numb? Which is why Mother Jones’ piece by Kristina Rizga, posted last week, is refreshing. Rizga submerges herself in a “failing” school for a year and a half:
I was looking for a grassroots view of America’s latest run at school reform: How do we know when schools are failing, and why is it so hard to turn them around? Is the close to $4.4 billion spent on testing since 2002—with scores now used for everything from deciding teacher pay to allocating education budgets—getting results? Is all that data helping us figure out what really works, or seducing us into focusing only on what the tests can measure?
If you wonder why you haven’t read many accounts of how these questions are playing out in real life, there’s a reason: It’s easier for a journalist to embed with the Army or the Marines than to go behind the scenes at a public school. It took months to find one that would let me play fly on the wall. Once Guthertz opened the door at Mission, it took months more for some teachers, wary of distortion and stereotyping, to warm to me.
In coming days, we’ll post our article “Do We Still Segregate Students?,” from our September/October print issue. Detroit-based writer Julie Halpert went into the public schools to find out if the movement to “de-track” certain classes, and put all levels of achievers into the same room, was making a difference. She talks to those who believe de-tracking classes is the only way to educate our kids, and she talks to people who feel its punishment for high-achievers.