I’m more of a doubter than an enthusiast.
Governor Deval Patrick’s plan is too vague to be a plan or a vision. I’m not sure anyone on Beacon Hill knows how to react to it. With that said, Patrick may have the right idea by tossing out a bold conglomeration of ideas. If there’s one thing conservatism and neo-liberalism have done in the last 25 years, it’s wear our down our imagination. Keeping government spending down is a recipe for the way things are. It’s not just Republicans either. Neo-liberals, represented by Robert Rubin, Clinton’s Secretary of Treasury, have argued for balanced budgets as a source of economic growth. In the process, they’ve stopped us from thinking about how we can improve our country. If Patrick can rekindle our political imaginations, he will have accomplished a lot.
Doubts enter the picture when I start to consider how much Patrick knows about education (based on his ideas, not much) and how many stock issues, the generic issues involved in serious policy debate, he simply ignores. To argue for a new policy, the would-be policy maker should prove the inadequacies of the status quo, propose an acceptable plan for fixing things, and demonstrate that the plan actually works. An example? There’s been enough news to suggest a problem with the number of people we’re graduating with two-year degrees. But the plan to make community college free begs the question of whether this plan will address this need. Is it money that prevents people from graduating from Holyoke Community College? My suspicion is that for many students, cultural and personal, not financial reasons, cause them not to matriculate.
Lengthening the school day is a solution in search of a problem. It’s the baby of former gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli, and it’s unsupported by research. A longer school day may be the solution to the problems of some of our children, but it is by no means all. Although some parents would like to see two hours of free child care after school, I’ve been witnessing a maternal backlash against the lack of leisure time children have today. My children have 15 minutes of recess a day. Older children plays sports and work after school. There may be a good argument for an extended day, but it has yet to be made empirically.
Regardless of political party, there’s little chance anyone will give serious reconsideration to the concept of standards and “accountability.” See my earlier post quoting Michael Apple for an idea of the theoretical issues involved in the standards movement. If the Governor really wanted to make a splash in education, he could convene a panel on the issue of standards and accountability and hear the opposition to them.