Embedded with teachers on the front lines of education, Mother Jones education reporter Rizga delivers a firsthand report on a “failing” school system.
Whether your stance is that the American school system needs more accountability through standardized testing or you see such data-driven restrictions as harmful to actual education, the reality is somewhere in between. Rizga accepted an assignment to go behind the scenes at Mission High School in San Francisco—though it’s more appropriate to say that she fought to go behind the scenes. Schools are notorious for stonewalling reporters, in part because there are minors to protect and in part because the full story never really gets told. This was decidedly not the case for Rizga, who was allowed in for eight months and ended up staying for four years. The author’s extended stretch enabled her to not only get an in-depth look at the effects of emphasizing the importance of individual student test scores, but to also essentially “follow” a group of students as they made their way through their high school years. This, Rizga asserts, enabled her to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t over a period of time that defied easy answers, the elusive “silver bullets” of education reform. This assertion holds up under scrutiny. Rizga introduces us to students from a range of backgrounds, dealing with common (and less common) stressors and finding their ways through the system. Mission High’s educators struggle to balance the Common Core requirements with a forward-thinking approach that evaluates students on how they apply the skills being taught—much like adults are evaluated in the workplace.
For a country that uses standardized testing more than any other in the world, this skills-based model represents a shift in thinking that could very well establish a shift in results.