John Merrow here examines the public purpose of public schools, which has been corrupted by forty years of treating standardized tests as the measure of school success.

He writes:

What exactly is the public purpose of school?  Why do communities invest in the education of all their young, instead of simply leaving the task of education to families?  We know that parents send children to school for a host of reasons, but the larger purpose–the communal goal–is worth considering.

Let me assert my hypothesis: the public education system has been highjacked by people obsessed with measurement,  so much so that children are reduced to their test scores.  For about 40 years most school reform efforts have been directed at symptoms, such as low graduation rates, low test scores, or “the achievement gap.” While these s0-called reforms sound great and may even produce temporary improvements, they inevitably fail because they are not addressing the root cause of our educational problems: an approach to schooling that is mired in the past and cannot fulfill the needs of the twenty-first century…

It’s not clear to me that Secretary of  Education Betsy DeVos believes that schools have a public purpose; her actions suggest that she believes a child’s education is the family’s responsibility–full stop, end of story.

Despite that, it’s my hope that, even in these sharply polarized times, we can agree that the purpose of schools is to help grow American citizens. Consider the four key words: help, grow, American, and citizens.

Help”: This acknowledges that schools are junior partners in this. They exist to help—not replace—families.

Grow”: Schooling is a process, sometimes two steps forward, one back. It’s akin to a family business, not a publicly traded stock company that lives and dies by quarterly reports.

American”: E Pluribus Unum. We are Americans….an observation that bears emphasizing today, as we see Donald Trump playing racial politics with a vengeance.

Citizens”: Here we need to put flesh on that term and figure out what we want our children to be as adults. Good parents and neighbors? Thoughtful voters? Reliable workers? And what else?