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Daniel Powell

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Why isn't REAL reform taking place in our education systems? Education is broken, but do any of the current reforms really change anything?

Of the 34 developed countries in the OECD, the United States ranks in the bottom one-third in math and science scores and graduation rate. Our nation isn’t catching up, either, it’s falling further behind. At least 11 countries are making academic gains at double and even triple the rate of American students. Despite nearly 30 years of reform efforts, little has changed. None of the proposed reforms by President Obama (listed on the White House page for education reform) fundamentally change the educational system.

“…overall, the United States has the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, teaching in the same schools, with the school day organized the same way, with much the same set of tracked courses, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support.” –Jal Mehta, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In making this comment, Mehta urges us to look at educational reforms that will upend the current system. Education reform is needed, we all agree. If we’re going to change education in America, then we need to be serious about making real changes that fundamentally reshape our educational institutions. I challenge educators in America to join the conversation, and to propose profound changes to the system that will disrupt the status quo and challenge traditional education.


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  • Jul 19 2013: Your problem isn't limited to a complex interconnected legislation, bureaucracy, politics, unions and economics (if you can call such a broad field of issues limited...). Its also cultural.
    A successful educational system needs strong cultural support and tradition. Unfortunately, a tradition can be even harder to set up than a physical infrastructure.

    While I haven't been to the US in some years, my own country has the same problem with its educational system on the grade school level (the academies at least, are fine thankfully, largely due to different cultural norms).
    You can see it in the culture--most people see and view teaching schools as an undesirable position. Teachers aren't given much respect, and the pay reflects it. As a reason, quality people stay away from teaching, perpetuating the stereotype.
    Once you start hearing the expression "those who can't, teach", you know you've got a problem, especially with mathematics and hard science, where those truly proficient will usually prefer to find other sources of employment. (less of a problem with history or literature, were you're usually stuck teaching anyway).

    The problem doesn't end with the teachers though. If the children aren't pressured to study properly by the society around them, sometimes even the best teachers in the world won't help. In the US for example, the people being idolized aren't doctors, engineers or scientists. They're reality TV stars, celebrities, and billionaires. This is the natural result of communications technology + lowest common denominator I know, but its harmful non the less.

    So to sum things up, the problem is deeply rooted in the culture as well as the infrastructure and the politics around it.
    Anyone trying to fix the problem truly has their work cut out for them. I'm not saying its not worth doing, on the contrary. I can only guarantee one thing, and that it will be a long, grueling process.
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      Jul 19 2013: Nadav,

      Thank you for the reflection. Do you have any ideas on how to change this problem?
      • Jul 20 2013: Honestly, not in all but the most general sense.
        I'm not an educator myself (a lot due to the reasons I've mentioned above actually), and diagnosing the problem is easier then solving it. Especially when any cultural change has to ironically enough, come from the very educational system you need it to fix.

        You can build a ship in three years, but building a tradition takes three hundred...

        It doesn't help that this being a deep, and very complex issue, its hard to get specifics into an election campaign.

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