A perennial, frustrating blind spot among ed reformers, with their monomaniacal focus on systems, structures and accountability, is curriculum. Trying to build good schools without looking at curriculum is like trying to build a winning baseball team by focusing on the parking lot, the stadium and the vendors and assuming the “baseball people” are the experts on the game. My new hero Mr. Petrilli gets this. Read his take in the Fordham Foundation’s Gadfly on the NY Times piece How Many Billionaires Does It Take to Fix a School System?
“In a 5,000 word forum on education, these words did not appear once: instruction, curriculum, reading, math, history, literature,” sayeth Mr. Petrilli, with the clarity of the child pointing out the Emperor is naked. “This ‘incentivist’ thinking is a fair reflection of the state of the ‘new’ education philanthropy. Staffed mostly by smart MBAs and obsessed with structures and systems and processes, their ignorance about the stuff of education leads to agnosticism. And, predictably, to trouble. (See Joel Klein’s embrace of Diana Lam and Lucy Calkins as Exhibits 1 and 2.).” As Petrilli sees it, to remain agnostic on curriculum and pedagogy is “like sending in nation-builders who can’t speak Arabic and never studied Iraqi history.”
He wraps up with a thought exercise. What if a billionaire wants to focus his philanthropy on smart instructionist investments? Petrilli offers three: Support the development of national standards and tests; create a voluntary national curriculum; and fund thousands of high-quality summer workshops.
Not a bad start. Bravo, sir! Discuss among yourselves, billionaires.