What The Secret Service Teaches Us About the Government’s Approach to Ed Reform

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Reposted from the Talking Points Memo:

The challenges of fixing schools and classrooms is generally tackled by means of systems. We spend tons of time building systems to build procedures and protocols around important decisions. Sometimes they’re designed to prevent superintendents from using early education funds to build football stadiums. Sometimes they’re aimed at incentivizing teachers to set certain priorities or instruct a particular way.

This is a serious challenge for the No Child Left Behind-era of American education reform, which generally seeks to collect more data on schools and use it to apply consequences to poor-performers. While the education reform movement is hardly monolithic, most reformers are enthusiastic systems-builders. There are good reasons to build systems. They can give us valid, reliable information and perhaps a sort of objective fairness. They can guard against abuse and formally incorporate more data into how schools are run. They prevent public schools from becoming the province of any one individual. But there are limits to what we can achieve by building more protocols, more evaluations, more oversight, more checks and balances…more systems. As the Secret Service recently found out, they’re still run, designed, and staffed by humans.

I think that meaningful data and accountability systems have their place in future education reform. And since those are still relatively rare, there’s some value in continuing to push for improvements on both. We just shouldn’t overestimate that potential. More comprehensive systems might improve American education somewhat, just like more fences and guns might make the White House a bit safer. At some point, though, the costs of adding more protocols, procedures, and oversight outweigh the benefits. Systems designed to guard against the weaknesses of our humanity still need to be inherently humane.

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