There are two things wrong with Michelle Rhee’s recent oped, “In Budget Crises, an Opening for School Reform,” in the Wall Street Journal. First, it isn’t about the students, and second, it isn’t about saving money.

Having founded an organization she calls “StudentsFirst,” Ms. Rhee seems to be steeped in the adults’ side of the equation when she discusses school reform. Two of her three main concerns are centered on teachers and parents and her answers encompass teacher effectiveness and parent choice. If Ms. Rhee concentrated on students instead, she would realize that no matter what our 20th-century education system does, short of entering into the 21st century, it will never get to the root of the problem: the students aren’t listening.

If you have small children now or have observed them, you know that even at the age of two, they are already using computing devices of all kinds to learn things, to play, to explore, to entertain themselves. What do you think will happen to those children when they enter kindergarten and are faced with an adult who is talking at them? What do you think happens now to our high school students in the same situation when teaching is inevitably geared to the middling student, leaving behind both the straggler and the over-achiever?

None of Ms. Rhee’s solutions will move the achievement needle as urgently as this country needs it to move if it is to remain competitive. Our comparative advantage is that we have more resources and are further along in technology than our competitors. We have to transform the way our children learn. Using the immense power of technology to individualize education, students have to be enabled to reach their potential in the context of the 21st century. That’s putting students first.

And if you want to face the budgetary crisis head on, you have to find solutions that streamline the process, increase productivity, and improve the product all at the same time. Only technology can make that happen. Better teachers (3.5 million of them?), empowered parents – those represent inputs, not outcomes. The reforms Ms. Rhee suggests are not money savers; they only reshuffle the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.


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