On School Reform: The Difficulties

The topic of school reform has been around for some time. A Nation at Risk served as the focus in the early 1980s. National standards came forward as a result in the late 80s, to be followed by state standards and state-mandated tests. Today, school reform still gets focused air time from presidential candidates every four years. With the election in the past, President Obama now seeks educational reform.

Meanwhile, how much has it changed? Is the change in the direction of reform or reinforcement of the status quo? This post focuses on why educational reform is more about rhetoric than substance, thus why they won’t change.

Schools are too busy aiming at perfecting the outdated Industrial Age model. The school calendar, curriculum, credit system, daily schedule, and many instructional methods are Industrial Age products. For those who don’t know, the Industrial Age is long gone.

Reason 1
If school developed a new idea that is against the norm, the community forces within the public will act to undo the change; thus returning it to the norm because an “it was good enough for me” attitude.

Reason 2
The public desires higher academic standards and expectations, as well as tougher discipline. Well, at least until it effects them.

Reason 3
As a group, educators are not agents of change. It’s their inability to think outside of the Industrial Age model that will help keep schools with their current rut. Much change with schools is illusionary, insignificant, or based to reinforce the Industrial Age model.

Reason 4
Unquestionably, and supported by law, conditions of work are subject to the collective bargaining table. Therefore, in order for change to occur, the teacher union must not only be involved, it must be willing to change.

Reason 5
For change to occur, educational leadership must be willing to take risk and simultaneously challenge the public. Since such a combination jeopardizes their job security, the chance of this happening is slim.

Reason 6
Schools are currently on a paper chase with publicized, mandatory-testing programs. Interestingly, the majority of the tests are based on content standards from the Industrial Age. Schools have spent much time and energy to align their curriculum to these tests/standards, thus any deviation away into something new would be at the risk of scores.

Reason 7
Meaningful change involves a pronounced period of chaos, which would probably be accompanied by lower test scores. Although going through this phase could lead to high standards and results, schools have a tendency to retreat during these situations.

Reason 8
With the ongoing race to score well and be acclaimed to the public, schools work hard to place a positive spin on anything and everything. If schools are as good as the claim, why should they change?

Reason 9
Picture a school hallway as a large conglomerate with each room representing individual companies. As teachers focus on their own classroom, fewer focus outside the box: about the grade level or department; and even fewer address a bigger school-wide mentality.

Reason 10
With a shedding of responsibilities to others, education current lacks balanced accountability. Parents, students, and school administrators shift some of their responsibility to teachers. Surprise! They also have legitimate responsibilities.

Closing Thought

Years ago I heard a member of a state Department of Education say something like this: “Given the system we have, there’s no doubt in my mind that the teacher’s in this state are doing better. After all, I have the stats to prove it. The real question is, is this the system we want to perfect?”