Starting Over in U.S. Education: Author of New Book Aims to Flip a Broken K-12 School System
American public education is in deep crisis, and current reforms are not working. Enough is enough, says Joanne Larson, professor of education at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education and author of the new book Radical Equality in Education: Starting Over in U.S. Schooling (Routledge, February 2014).
“We cannot continue schooling the way it is today,” says Larson, who believes that the K-12 school system needs a radical transformation. “It is a crisis when children are being harmed, and they are harmed by high-stakes testing and culturally-irrelevant curriculum and pedagogy. Given that damage and trying for years to tinker with the current system from within, starting over is the only viable option now.”
Dedicated to the children and youth of the future, Radical Equality in Education chronicles how the United States has reached a crisis point in public education and offers suggestions for a complete reboot of the current K-12 educational system that the author claims has been broken for decades. Larson closely examines flaws in the K-12 education system and lays out a plan for fundamental change in schools, while presenting examples of what these ideas might look like in the classroom and community.
According to Larson, public schools have been damaging children and youth—particularly poor students, immigrant and refugee students, students from non-dominant racial and cultural groups, and students with disabilities in urban areas—for years. She attributes the already-broken system to schools failing to provide equitable and just learning spaces for all children, failing to keep up with Internet communication technologies and social media, and failing to prepare children for productive and successful lives due to an overemphasis on producing efficient workers for a competitive workforce.
The traditional purposes of schooling and views of learning, which have historically focused on achievement and achievement scores, economic competition and, most recently, new policies linking student test scores to teacher evaluations, the author says, have not resulted in better teaching and learning.
In the book, Larson proposes to approach education with a primary goal of equity and justice. Under this approach, the new purpose of schooling, she suggests, should be to facilitate human learning, meaning making, and knowledge production toward just and equitable education in order for schools to serve a meaningful role in shaping children and youth. Schools would shift to a ‘produsage’ model, one that assumes that knowledge and information are constantly developing and evolving, especially in a variety of new and emerging online environments. Teachers and students would move away from a model that has traditionally relied heavily on the consumption of knowledge to a model that supports the creation of knowledge. A new focus of schooling would align with modern ways of how people learn, interact, and produce knowledge—all of which, Larson believes, are relevant and valuable educational goals that embrace the mentality that every student can learn and deserves an opportunity to learn.
Shifting away from standardized testing is also important to the radical starting over process that Larson advocates for in this book. Larson suggests moving away from a narrow focus on high-stakes tests, which have corrupted schools for years, to ongoing authentic assessments that measure learning and development. Teachers and students would be better served by these more authentic assessments, Larson explains, which have been successfully implemented in other parts of the world.
New curriculum and instruction, determined collaboratively by teams of teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community members, would allow schools and communities to collaborate on solving real-world problems with useful, meaningful outcomes, as illustrated by the two examples, the “Lunch is Gross” project and the Freedom Market project, highlighted throughout Larson’s book. Both projects, she says, clearly exemplify how all of these concepts work together.
Among the reviews for Radical Equality in Education, James Paul Gee, professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University, writes: “Joanne Larson’s Radical Equality in Education presents a timely and truly paradigm-changing approach to education. It is a must read for all those who realize schools should not exist to produce service workers but to produce proactive citizens capable of transforming the world they live in.”
Larson, who joined the Warner School faculty in 1995, serves as chair of teaching and curriculum; teaches courses on literacy, teaching and change, and qualitative research methods; and serves as the director of the Genesee Valley Writing Project. She currently collaborates with Rochester community residents on a participatory action research project examining changes associated with transforming a local corner store into a cornerstone of healthy living. She serves on the editorial board of several peer-review journals, including Research in the Teaching of English, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Journal of Literacy Research, and Reading Research Quarterly. She is also the editor of Literacy as Snake Oil: Beyond the Quick Fix, Second Edition (Lang, 2007) and co-authored Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy, Second Edition (Sage, 2013) and Making Literacy Real: Theories and Practices in Learning and Teaching (Sage, second edition in production). Larson, a former American Educational Research Association (AERA) program chair for the 2011 conference and chair of the National Council of Teachers of English’s Standing Committee on Research, received her doctorate in curriculum from the University of California.
About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education (www.warner.rochester.edu) offers master’s and doctoral degree programs in teaching and curriculum, school leadership, higher education, educational policy, counseling, human development, and health professions education. The Warner School of Education offers a new accelerated option for its EdD programs that allows eligible students to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while holding a professional job in the same field. The Warner School of Education is recognized both regionally and nationally for its tradition of preparing practitioners and researchers to become leaders and agents of change in schools, universities, and community agencies; generating and disseminating research; and actively participating in education reform.
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