You say that "it is unlikely any effective change will occur if we continue to think along the lines that have brought us to where we find ourselves," and I (as someone working within education) say that improvements are unlikely as long as the federal government continues to exercise such massive control of local educational systems. Sometimes older is better, and it is time to return to older models (as you have suggested), which means an abandonment of the notion that we ought to place our faith in a centralized federal bureaucracy that is driven by political and social reform ideology. Over the past half century, we have homogenized education into a bland, useless concoction intent upon "leaving no child behind." We have instead left all children behind. Only older, classical models can protect us from ourselves.
Ravitch, to her credit, very much favors a return to neighborhood schools.
Ah, if only neighborhoods could actually control their schools. In Florida, a system with which I am familiar, local schools are paralyzed by mandates imposed by state and federal agencies; curricula are driven by conformity to outcome-based testing imposed by the state (which can affect funding for schools), and they are driven by federal mandates (so that no child is "left behind"). At the same time students along the way are sold the myth that everyone deserves to go to college, and those students arrive poorly prepared at universities (especially state universities where admissions standards have be lowered to accommodate more customers in an ill conceived business model). The students may have done well on the state mandated and federally required testing, but most of these admitted students--if placed in a time-machine and sent back half a century--could not pass final exams in junior high school subjects. That is not overstatement. That is observable fact. Now, however, I must go shopping for a copy of Ravitch's book. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.
The real root of this is the business-model assumption that all people are interchangeable parts in a vast system. In other words, replaceable commodities. The attitude about testing as the final arbiter of success is of course something that would make Plato's school of philosophy feel horror and disgust. But if we look at the assumption that testing is the final arbiter of success what we find is school policies driven by the ideology of commerce: tangible testing scores over intangible evaluation essays; assembly-line teaching of management-approved materials (leaving no room for the individual teachers' creative flair); the idea that everyone is destined to go to college in order to achieve their personal profit motive and be able to make a living (a bachelor's degree is now equivalent to the high school diploma of a generation or two ago, as is seen as essential in the same way); and so forth.This is all about the lack of trust that cultural forces driven by pragmatic forces have towards the intangible aspects of life. I'm not the first to suggest that the triumph of big business (materialism uber alles) and the fading away of spiritual cultural centeredness (the idea that what cannot be tested or seen is just as real nonetheless) are closely related. The problem isn't the schools. The problem is that the schools' policies are being driven by the late-capitalist ideologies of growth, production, and profit. All of which are based on the ideology of pragmatic materialism.Changing school policies wont' change a thing, because what needs to be changed is the basic assumptions about the nature of reality of the culture in which the schools exist.And the federal centralization of school policy under NCLB was proof that the neo-conservatives who put that policy into place were traitors to their own "small government" ideologies. Proving again that their real ideology was "small governance for me, big governance for everyone else."
Perhaps the following unpleasant reality is also a related factor in the problem: We have convinced ourselves that all people are equal (in the sense that no person can be regarded as inferior from another, either intellectually, physically, or socially); therefore, by extension, all people deserve equal opportunities for unlimited access to the potential for maximum rewards. Our educational system now functions on this premise. And--as every honest teacher will tell you--that premise is fatally flawed. All people are not equal. All people cannot perform equally well at intellectual, physical, or social challenges. Therefore, all individuals do not deserve the same opportunities for the same rewards.
His Art:My only objection to what you say is that I think my article makes it pretty plain that this problem long pre-dates late capitalism (which I see as just the usual corporate-state collusion), though that has surely exacerbated it.