Suzanne Fields

I wish them luck, though anyone who has ever watched Mr. Chips in the classroom could easily summarize his success as concentrating on three simple principles -- think deeply, teach rigorously and demand excellence. Instead, a new study by the Government Accountability Office reveals that taxpayers currently fund 82 overlapping programs administered by 10 different federal agencies looking for ways to improve teacher quality.

Frederick Hess, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, argues that schools rely too much on standardization and efficiency, repeating the same brand-name mistakes by merely freshening up the label.

"Time and time again attempts to scientifically identify the 'right' teacher or pedagogy can stifle problem-solving and yield troubling consequences," he writes in "The Same Thing Over and Over: How School Reformers Get Stuck in Yesterday's Ideas."

We think that all our children should achieve high standards in a variety of subjects no matter their abilities. That's a mistake, and as a result teachers often spend excessive time with remedial students and neglect students who need to be pushed forward.

In most cities, only the well-to-do (and the well-enough-to-do) can afford to send their children to private schools, and the rest are consigned to inferior public schools. President and Mrs. Obama live in a city that spends almost as much on each public school student as they spend on each of their daughters at one of the most expensive private schools in Washington.

Congressmen with school-age children invariably retreat to the nearby suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, where schools are better. They can afford to deny school choice to others because they've already exercised a choice for their own children.

Hess wants to reconsider everything, including changing school hours and the length of the school year and providing online teaching and tutoring.

"Our schools are not a solid foundation for 21st century schooling," he writes, "but a rickety structure that wobbles under the weight of each new addition."

It's too late to renovate. We've got to rebuild.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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