Yet the complacency of most Americans regarding the performance of our K–12 system has long been noted, as have the many structural, institutional, and contractual obstacles to changing that system in ways that might actually alter performance. This dates back at least to 1983’s Nation at Risk report. One reform effort after another gets opposed, diluted, or repealed—or turns out to be sorely incomplete because, for example, it fails to address the school-and-classroom implementation changes that are also essential if it’s to succeed.
Covid-related learning losses and what (if anything) to do about them are the latest example. Despite being flush with federal “recovery” dollars, most places aren’t doing much or doing “more of the same” or using the “lite” version or making it optional. They’re proving unable or unwilling to agree to actions that would truly alter behavior.
As the MacGillis piece makes clear, we shouldn’t dismiss this failure as mere structural rigidities or lack of leadership, although those definitely play roles almost everywhere. But the Richmond example is one of visionary leadership and what appear to be workable plans to retool the school year in ways that would facilitate recovery, especially among students who would get additional learning time, while also tackling such enduring problems as “summer learning loss” and kids getting into trouble due to endless weeks of no school.
What killed the year-round plan in Richmond (save for a tiny pilot version that finally slipped through, affecting just two of the districts’ fifty-four schools and potentially one thousand out of 22,000 pupils) was a witch’s brew of complacency, timidity, resignation, incomprehension, union resistance, and school board politics, plus a soupcon of condescension or obviousness among elites to the true circumstances of disadvantaged families.
Related: Harrison Bergeron: