Why school reform fails…

“The larger cause of [reform] failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If the the students aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a “good” college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure…. Motivation has weakened because students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard, and don’t do well.”

When I first read the above I was stunned — stunned that Newsweek would include such a dated argument in a recent edition. Robert Samuelson discusses  Why School ‘Reform’ Fails in the Sept. 13th issue. Maybe Samuelson should stick to writing about economics and business.

Samuelson writes that talking about this argument is “almost unmentionable.” It is unmentionable because it is incorrect. I support healthy debate, but Samuelson obviously needs to spend some time in one of the “drop out factories” across the country to truly understand the reality that these children live every day.

Yes, some students do lack motivation. And yes, some students drop out of school because they “just don’t feel like going anymore.”

But, is it a child’s fault that he’s had unmotivated, uncaring or unqualified teachers year after year? Is it a child’s fault that she didn’t have breakfast and is so hungry during the day that concentration is impossible? Is it a single mother’s fault that she struggles to keep food on the table and a roof overhead? Is it a child’s fault that he fears being shot walking to school? Is it a child’s fault that she’s given subpar curricular materials and if she makes it into college, remedial classes will be necessary? Is it a child’s fault that he’s lost hope that he’ll get into college, be able to afford college, and be able to get a job in the current economic climate?

Schools should not be designed to remedy every social or economic problem in our  society. But, schools must recognize the reality that students endure and work with other organizations and agencies to combat all of the constraints that are placed on these children. Student motivation isn’t the cause of failed reforms, but it is instead a symptom of a failed education system.


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