Friday, September 16, 2011

Good Ideas and Unintended Consequences

I support the American Jobs Act and the $25B it allocates to school construction, but when I hear about what it’s intended to accomplish I do see a negative consequence.  This consequence is the perpetuation of obsolete schools. 
Sure, students need a safe, dry, and warm place to learn, but investing in school infrastructure should also enable schools to be better places for learning.  Research has shown that learning does improve in schools with better environments.  If a school is cold, drafty, poorly lit, has leaks in the roof and mold problems improvements simply have to be made.  When they are, students in these sorts of schools will have a marked improvement in achievement.  But what about students in schools that are already in better condition?  If the warm-safe-dry conditions are met, money is likely to go to energy improvement and deferred maintenance, items that do not have as great an impact.
If the school being renovated is arranged as an egg crate double loaded corridor, if teachers work in isolation, and the skills being taught are for the 19th century not the 21st, aren’t we just perpetuating obsolescence by renovating such a school?  The goal of the Jobs Act is to create jobs quickly.  These will mainly be construction and manufacturing jobs.  The rush to create them means that using the money quickly will be more important than using the money wisely. 
A better approach might be to fund innovation.  Funding school projects that are trying new things and are changing the status quo rather than perpetuating it would be a better tactic, but would not create the jobs at the rate the country needs.
Making an obsolete school last longer doesn’t mean it is less obsolete.

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