Why School Reform Advocates Aren’t So Businesslike After All

Rick Wartzman
Rick Wartzman

In his latest online column for Time magazine, Drucker Institute Executive Director Rick Wartzman writes about how schools are trying to be more businesslike by measuring student and teacher performance.

But he questions whether “our current obsession with standardized test scores, one-size-fits-all teaching techniques and teacher-performance rankings amounts to anything genuinely useful.”

In analyzing what happens in the classroom, Wartzman cites “a remarkable blog” called Gatsby in L.A. Written by a former charter high school teacher named Ellie Herman, the blog chronicles her yearlong journey into a series of Los Angeles area classrooms, as she endeavors to discover what makes a great educator.

In one post, titled “The Day I Taught to the Test,” Herman recounts how deep discussion of a poem once brought her composition class to a halt, derailing her lesson plan.

“If my goal that day was to get them to be better writers of academic, AP-style essays . . . I’d have to say I totally failed,” Herman says. “If anyone had been observing, I couldn’t have said what I accomplished, except that I didn’t achieve my day’s objective. I wouldn’t have even scored a ‘2’ in questioning, or, for that matter probably, in anything.”

What Herman and her students had created was “a moment when a whole classroom of people stopped still, dazzled, thinking. As we talk about what teaching means, is there a space for wonder?”

“Wonder is, of course, difficult to measure,” Wartzman writes. “But it’s not impossible. Could we not, for instance, devise a more flexible and nuanced system in which we give as much credence to how much a particular teacher inspires her students to love to learn as we do to a hard-and-fast test score?”

He then quotes Peter Drucker, who noted that there are always “important results that are incapable of being measured” at all.