In a recent article in The New York Times, David Kirp wrote in opposition to “business models” being applied to education: Assessments, accountability, charters, vouchers, technology, and competition. In place of these, he notes that truly effective programs that have stood the test of time focus not on charters or vouchers or technology alone, but on building strong personal bonds between teachers and students. He gives as examples our Success for All model, Diplomas Now, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and YouthBuild. All of these help teachers, administrators, and community members to build positive, caring environments for children in high-poverty elementary and secondary schools. At the same time, all have been rigorously evaluated and found to improve such key outcomes as achievement and high school graduation.
Kirp is not arguing that approaches emphasizing charters or technology cannot work. However, his point is that unless they also intentionally improve teacher-student bonds, they are unlikely to make a lasting difference. We have enough evidence today to indicate that charters and technology are not magic, and that it matters a great deal what programs and practices they incorporate. I believe that Kirp is right in identifying teacher-student relationships as a key component of effective and sustainable reform. Further, building positive teacher-student relationships is valuable in itself.
Children are social beings who want and need to be loved and supported, and want to please teachers who give them love and support. Love and support are not enough to ensure that students can read or succeed in math, science, or other subjects. Teaching skill and effective practices and programs are also essential. One expression of love and support is the use of exciting, engaging teaching methods and communicating high expectations for all students. But even the best of programs and practices are empty and futile if they do not flow from love and support for children. No new form of governance, no new technology, no program of any kind can make a lasting difference without love and support at their core.