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Which Way for Education Reform?

National Day of Action in Defense of Public Education by Fibonacci Blue (Flickr Commons)
What’s the best way to fix America’s education system? Conservatives push for things like voucher programs and charter schools. Liberals say, no, no, no — the real way to fix schools is to give them more money and to reduce class sizes. But, argues Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, a preponderance of research strongly indicates that neither side has the right answers. Chapman cites a recent study that looks at nearly 20 years of voucher programs — a method he admits he supported — and concluded that their student achievement gains were “similar to the public schools.” It’s also far from clear that charter schools do much better, he writes. One study found that they performed well in New York City, but it was unclear if the improvement resulted from better teaching methods. Chapman also cites studies that cast doubts on the efficacy of smaller classes and showering more money onto schools.

It is not that nothing works, he writes, “but few if any remedies work consistently.” That’s something to bear in mind, Chapman says, as the Obama administration pushes for broad, one-size-fits-all fixes for the U.S. education system. “…humility, caution and open-mindedness are in order. Because right now, the main thing we know about improving schools is that we don’t know very much.”

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