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Is Education Reform Really Possible?

In watching several talks on education reform here in the United States, I began to wonder, is this reform actually possible? I ask this because currently in order to enact any reform one must be a certified teacher, attempting to reform a failed system, but in order to do so one must be a product of this failed education system. So I am curious to hear other takes on this issue. Keep in mind I am not a teacher, merely a philosophy student who finds the circular issue of reform coming from within an already failed system troublesome.


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    May 16 2013: I would like to think that reform is possible. The whole idea of public education was to provide functional adults with understanding on how our government works... more or less. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic were bonuses. One could make the argument that there has been a dumbing down of the nation in the last 50 years. Civics is almost not taught. History is a has been reduced to a recounting of every horrific act perpetrated on every minority group or another. Discipline such as learned by cursive writing is gone. Most graduates know so little arithmetic that balancing a checkbook is advanced mathematics. Reforms by current educators are usually only differing approaches to the same old problems.
    Real reform will come when society understands the problems. It's not the manner in the way children are taught (although a lot of work is needed in this area) it's about management. Schools districts (read Corporations) have become huge conglomerates that do almost everything except teach. Most today have overhead nearing or at 50% non teaching employees. Transportation, food service, police, medical service, social workers, psychologists, all were supposed to improve the educational outcome. All have failed. All have increased the cost of eduction to exceed funds generated by property school tax, state taxes including proceeds from lottery's, and federal funding. Educators come hat in hand to plead for more funds to educate children (how can you deny children). " We have a new plan if we can get more funds to implement it. New testing, no testing, more teachers, less teachers. etc., etc.".
    My reform? School Boards---- principals, everything in between is gone.
    • May 19 2013: Hi Cary,

      I think it would help to define what "reform" means before we discuss whether it is possible. It's been my experience that many of the people who champion a reform agenda are a lot more interested in reallocating education funding than impacting academic results and student achievement.

      Look no further than the Arizona legislature to see what I mean. There has been over a decade of libertarian-leaning leadership in the state legislature, and the state now ranks between 47th-50th on every national education funding survey. Although total costs have gone up along with enrollment numbers, when you adjust for inflation, Arizona's government now invests less per pupil than they did in the early 1980's.

      Like many other places, Arizona schools are also having to address a number of policy mandates that come with little or no funding. Additional testing, security measures, reporting, etc. may be beneficial, but unfunded (or inadequately funded) mandates ultimately have a negative impact on other areas of service delivery. I see the calls for additional civics classes, philosophy, creative arts and vocational ed in the comments below...and what school wouldn't want to offer these great classes to their children? But do not forget that it is the legislature that primarily dictates what will be tested and what services schools MUST provide before any 'extras' can be considered.

      One more thing to add before even thinking critically about what successful 'reform' would look like. 47% of Arizona children live in poverty (defined as income below 200% of the federal poverty level). All of those psychologists, social workers and special education aides that Mike bemoaned above come courtesy of poverty-related legislative mandates. Not because teachers (or school administrators) decided to just add some more positions. Public schools have to address special education needs, health and mental welfare. And none of that is cheap.

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