Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education: Court decision whiffs on an important point.

Early in its opinion upholding a lower court ruling to dismiss the “adequacy suit” in which the plaintiffs claimed that Florida was not meeting its constitutional obligation to educate the state’s students properly, the First District Court of Appeals said this:

The most effective manner in which to teach students science, mathematics,
history, language, culture, classics, economics, trade skills, poetry, literature and
civic virtue have been debated since at least the time of ancient Greece. Brilliant
philosophers, thinkers, writers, poets and teachers over the past twenty-five
centuries have dedicated their talents to identifying the best means of providing a
proper education to help each child reach his or her highest potential in a just society.

Educators argue about the details, but we’ve known – certainly back to Socrates – how students learn best.  It’s why we still use the phrase “Socratic method” across disciplines to describe best teaching practices.

Students learn best when they interactively engage their peers and, ultimately, an expert in the subject they are trying to learn.  Passively watching a lecturer – whether that lecturer is in the same room (even if there are only a dozen students in the room) or on a computer or TV screen – is a recipe for “fluency illusion”.  Planting an isolated student in front of a workbook, or the equivalent on a computer screen, is equally ineffective.

The real point is this:  We know how students learn best.  What we have disagreed about is whether to provide students the opportunities to do so.  The problem is that providing students with optimum learning environments is expensive – in terms of both money and energy.

There have been plenty of failures to provide optimum learning environments at all levels and in all sectors.  We never seem to start from the basic question about how to provide the best learning environment for each child and then work up from there to the organizational and budget level.  Instead, we start from non-negotiable assertions like “We already spend enough money on schools”, or “Parents always know best”, or a determination to resist change in the public schools.  Educators and leaders who are willing to fight through normal human inertia to better prepare students for the world in which they are growing up are much too rare.

I will hope that the end of 2017 and the dawn of 2018 gives everyone who wants to do the right thing for Florida’s children a time to take a deep breath and reflect on the best way forward, even if the pause is brief.

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