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A Guide to Pursuing Meaningful Education Reform

A Guide to Pursuing Meaningful Education Reform
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When you hear the words “education reform” what do you think of? Ensuring that there is equity in schooling? That kids are becoming proficient in foundational subjects like reading, math, and science? That they are being prepared for 21st century challenges? That they learn to be critical and creative thinkers ready for a rapidly changing world? That they have excellent, inspiring teachers whom they respect and admire? That they graduate as compassionate, honest, knowledgeable, thoughtful global citizens ready and able to be solutionaries no matter what careers they pursue?

I think most of us would say yes to all of these goals.

Yet education reform in the U.S. has become so polarized, with many camps pitted against one another, as if our purposes were terribly divergent. What feeds this divergence and conflict among so many fair-minded, caring people? I believe it’s a too narrow focus on one or two of the above goals, which prevents crafting better solutions that help to achieve the whole.

Imagine someone coming to an emergency room having been in a car accident. Her bones are broken; she’s bleeding internally; she’s gone into shock; her wounds are in danger of infection. Imagine that instead of being treated comprehensively, the doctor addresses just one of the problems. The trauma specialist stabilizes her with fluids and transfusions and stops there. The orthopedist decides only to set her broken bones. The infectious disease doctor simply prescribes antibiotics. The surgeon tackles solely the internal bleeding. None of these actions on its own would be good enough.

Addressing the myriad problems we face in education without a comprehensive approach isn’t good enough either. A focus on one area may inadvertently delay progress in another. There are numerous impediments to achieving the educational goals mentioned above and they must be addressed simultaneously. Here are a few:


What are the Impediments?

  • Without good teachers, we will not have good schooling. Unfortunately, in the U.S. the teaching profession comes with little status and a modest salary, but requires tremendous work – work that has become less autonomous and creative as educators have been required to teach to standardized bubble tests. So it should not be surprising that the profession does not generally attract America’s best and brightest (though, thankfully, it sometimes does). Without giving too much weight to standardized tests, only 23% of new teachers in the U.S. scored in the top third of SAT and ACT tests. Until we attract only smart, creative, committed people to the teaching profession and give them the autonomy, respect, and flexibility to meet the needs of their students, we should not expect to achieve our educational goals.
  • Standardized No Child Left Behind (NCLB) tests, meant to ensure that students receive foundational knowledge and skills, primarily in math and reading, have not actually produced the hoped-for advances. In fact, they have unwittingly resulted in more demoralized teachers (with the most creative ones too often leaving the profession); students who are ever more bored and frustrated; lack of innovation for 21st century skill-building, because there simply isn’t time for it; and reduced time for students to learn and employ critical and creative thinking for today’s real world issues. Until we devise flexible and meaningful assessment tools that evaluate the array of skills and knowledge we hope to impart, we should not expect to achieve our educational goals.
  • We’ve created straw men and turned a terribly complex array of educational issues into a battle between “sides.” Whether the straw man is teachers’ unions, NCLB and Race to the Top, vouchers, privatization, Teach for America, charter schools, or iconic figures like Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan, side-taking is preventing thoughtful problem-solving. Until we stop our either/or thinking and commit to listening to the best ideas from all stakeholders in every quarter, we should not expect to find comprehensive solutions that meet all of our educational goals.
  • We lack equity in school funding. Because property taxes provide much of local school resources, wealthier communities have more money to spend per pupil than poor communities. Until we address inequity and consider new and creative approaches to funding our schools, we should not expect to develop truly equitable education.

Next page: solutions!

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8:11AM PDT on Apr 17, 2013

One side or the other, two conflicting views, good or bad ... all in the eyes of the beholder. Nothing ever changes and so on and one it goes, unresolved on any and all fronts. What's new?

11:37AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

Marianne C, Mary B, Maureen H, Ad D... you all provided excellent comments and I would wholeheartedly support a return to the 'textbooks of the past' that truly challenged young minds to grow and expand. I agree that is an issue with regard to the exercise of the "political will" which has been greatly weakened with our current political model with particular emphasis upon the 'right-winged conservative' world. The attempt to 'dumb-down' and somewhat 'evangelize' has been a huge corruptive experience. Hopefully more folks will wake up...

Mike have grossly misunderstood the reality of teaching. Besides being GREATLY undervalued in this country (we love our wars and sports), teachers don't work a 40-hour week as you implied with your work life. Typical workload for a teacher ranges from 50 to 75 hours per week as many are involved in other school activities (after school programs, arts, tutoring, athletics, etc). Do you work that much and what is your profession that you could make a direct comparison? Being a 'good' teacher is highly skilled process. The issues in education are systemic...

6:17AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

Start with getting rid of NCLB altogether.

9:04AM PDT on Mar 11, 2013

Oh yeah, 'taking sides' as in getting into conflict is not the same as haveing a preference for something like an on line course. Of course people have to see what's out there and choose what appeals to them. You don't have to defend your choice.

8:55AM PDT on Mar 11, 2013

The only learning that sticks with people is what has meaning to them that they can apply to everyday situations. This is what makes the difference between on-the-ground type intelligence and memorized, academic ideas.Computers can be programed with exquisit mathimatical formulas that come together perfectly, and still be untranslatable 'on the ground' for anything usable.
You can't homeschool unless you can aford to stay home.
Unions can be used for good or ill depending on whether the leaders are in it for self profit or protecting of the teachers.
In my opinion, teachers are some of the best all around people I know. Who else would pick a job of baby sitting and trying to teach other peoples kids, many of whom are spoiled brats, endoctrinated dumbies, fearful, abused, often neglected, and sometimes no-it-all show offs who are bigger and stronger than the teacher. What fun.

7:11AM PST on Mar 9, 2013

Thank you Zoe, for Sharing this!

3:33AM PST on Mar 9, 2013

Too many schools in America just plain waste the money they receive for education........

6:23PM PST on Mar 8, 2013

Home schooling is where its at.

1:31PM PST on Mar 8, 2013

Grammar, oops: Finland's history and culture ARE quite distant from USA's in myriads of ways... Larry: You've said some interesting things but it looks as though you're claiming children will learn all things out of the classroom. Maybe so, but in what place, in what community, with what behavioral code? Could you provide us with info as to the Applied Scholastic ptogram?

6:10AM PST on Mar 8, 2013

Applied Scholastics has been around for over 50 years, it can put a child through school in half the time, guarantee that they can apply the material they have learned and costs very little in comparison to the current system. The system was offered this solution and they refused it.

The current system of teaching will eventually collapse on itself as it cannot keep producing dumbed down kids without wrecking our society. Learning to think on one's own is the result of good education, that does not mean setting up the learning process so that the person learning is forced into becoming same as another. People are not the same, they require individual control over learning and life, and it is all possible with little cost.

Our society is afraid that if we give responsibility and responsible learning to our kids they will turn out bad. In fact it works the other way ...responsible kids turn out responsible, happy and literate. I cannot say that about the last 4 generations of people in America. Most learned more out of school.

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