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The false dichotomy of the education debate

 Since the movie Waiting for Superman came out two years ago, a deep debate has emerged about how to improve public education in the United States.

As with all debates, there are two sides.

Some people — like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Bill Gates — think that the problem lies with teaching, and if we improve teaching, students will do better.

Other people — like Diane Ravitch and Stephen Krashen — think that the problem lies with poverty, and if we deal with poverty, students will do better.

With the election coming, the debate is heating up. Here’s a PBS NewsHour segment featuring Diane Ravitch from just a few days ago. In addition to poverty, Ms. Ravitch argues that growing racial isolation has also contributed to the problems of public education.

As with all debates, the problem is that there are two sides fighting it out, and instead of having an honest discussion — that actually, the problem is both things, the solution is dealing with both things — the two sides are clinging to their arguments because listening would mean weakness, yielding to the other side, losing the debate.

And losing the debate means millions and millions of dollars in funding. And it means huge ramifications for our public school system and for the lives of our young people.

I am hopeful that schools and local school districts can have more meaningful conversations, even if the national ones are strident. But maybe that’s not possible. What do you think? 

One comment

  1. John at TestSoup

    Sensible.

    I think it’s a good rule of thumb that if there are two sides to an issue and both sides have some good points to make (when judged from an outside perspective), it’s probably a good idea to incorporate both of them into the final solution.

    Instead, people are more than happy to tell themselves that there are heroes and there are villains.

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