The New York Times’ Nick Kristof, in Beyond Education Wars, does what Babe Ruth supposedly did, and more. He points to where he'll hit a home run and then delivers a grand slam. Kristof articulates the best single suggestion for improving schools, and he offers the wisest political message I’ve heard.
Although Kristof still identifies himself as a reformer, he wonders whether the reform movement has peaked. We’ve seen a dozen years of an idealistic movement where “armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.”
But, now, the education reform “brawls have left everyone battered and bloodied, from reformers to teachers unions.” Kristof observes that “the zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. … The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity." Those expensive campaigns have left K-12 education "an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after.”
Kristof provides three reasons why we should, “Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.” He starts with the scientific evidence that “early childhood is a crucial period when the brain is most malleable, when interventions are most cost-effective for at-risk kids.” He writes:
Growing evidence suggests what does work to break the poverty cycle: Start early in life, and coach parents to stimulate their children. Randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evidence, have shown this with programs like Nurse-Family Partnership, Reach Out and Read, and high-quality preschool. These kinds of interventions typically produce cognitive gains that last a few years and then fade — but, more important, also produce better life outcomes, such as less crime, fewer teenage pregnancies, higher high school graduation rates, and higher incomes.
Second, Kristof notes that reformers picked “the low-hanging fruit” of the K-12 world.