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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 22 2013: We are seeing reforms ... however, they are directed at Command and Control by the federal government. Those who are seeking change remind me of the "Hard to drain the water while the gators are biting at you." Each year there are new and shifting demands and requirements accompanied with decreasing budgets.

    Our administrators and teachers are doing well staying afloat while the amount of chain around their necks is being increased.

    Do current reforms really change anything? Yes. They centralize the power in Washington over the states.

    The problem as I see it is that some are fighting a war for education .... while the war is about power and control. Perhaps we should understand the problem better in order to level the battlefield.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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      Jul 22 2013: You point is well taken. The Feds dangle funds to entice the public school managers who sell their educational souls for green and their students suffer so.

      I have heard of school systems telling the Feds to go Fed themselves... those districts don't do fancy but the kids get schooled and isn't that what it should be all about.
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      Jul 22 2013: I guess the question is, then, do you think the reforms will help anything?

      My argument is that the current reforms will do nothing to change the fact that our children are increasingly under-educated to succeed in a globally technical marketplace, and soon we will see the U.S. falling significantly behind innovative and technologically well-adapted countries across the globe.

      I believe we should largely decentralize education and put it in the hands of well placed, well-paid, effective educators in a more locally regulated fashion (e.g. Finland). I also stress the importance of removing our dependence on standardized testing to format our curriculum, which creates a teaching method that 'teaches to the test' and eliminates the more logical 'thoughtful teaching' methods that gears more towards intuitive, resourceful thinking for the students.

      Are we heading in the wrong direction with our reforms?
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        Jul 22 2013: Absolutely. Arne Duncan has made no bones about it .... he wants to socialize education completely under government control ... he has stated that the fed should write all texts, devise all syllabus, write and grade all tests, which would also include teachers guides with daily assignments. Based on the current fed push to teach only CORE and STEM to the exclusion of any arts, trades, or crafts we are destined to repeat a "Dark Age".

        I repeat that the concern is Command and Control at the federal level and remove the states from the equation. This is a direct result of big government, Keynesian economics, and a direct route to socialism / communism.

        The promise of transparency, open government, accountability, etc ... has either been forgotten or ignored. We are more divided politically, racially and in all other ways than I have ever seen in my 70 years.

        The issue here is not education .... it is politics. As long as we are told it is about education the march to ultimate federal power will continue while we are looking at the classroom. The war will be over without our knowledge or a shot fired (figuratively).

        Sorry about the soap box. Thank you for your reply. I wish you well. Bob.
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        Jul 22 2013: The tide fifteen or twenty years ago was moving toward decentralization, with districts talking about building-based decision-making with the principal like a CEO, organizing his building with teachers to meet the needs of students.

        To the degree that building capacities allowed it, families could choose among schools, as things like test scores and program descriptions were provided in a centralized location online so families could compare and choose. Places at over-subscribed schools would be assigned by lottery, with some factors possibly weighing in ahead of lottery, like sibling preference..

        What has happened since? A few things. With recession and tighter budgets, districts have sometimes narrowed the range of choice to reduce the costs of school bus services to take kids across town, encouraging kids to attend their neighborhood schools. Further moving the system in this direction are the families who want their kids to walk to the neighborhood school but whose kids could not go there because students who lived farther away had chosen the school and the school was at capacity. You can't just expand and contract schools willy-nilly.

        Another quite different factor was that giving teachers the freedom to serve their students as they thought best meant that some classrooms, the ones with better teachers, for example, would have quite different outcomes for students than those with weaker teachers. To many district decision-makers, the most important goal is for all students to have the SAME outcomes rather than for some to do much better than others.

        This goal is perhaps the central factor leading to standardization of curriculum and centralized enforcement of that. What used to be called "differentiated instruction," which is to say choosing pedagogies tailored to the best pace and style of learning of individual students, is out of vogue in practice, though I doubt school administrations would necessarily admit to this.

        Look up Eric Hanushek's work.
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        Jul 22 2013: I think your points are well taken. And most of the current reforms will only make matters worse. To put in in the simplest terms, Every child is an unique individual, Every young adult has a need for common knowledge and that knowledge that will give him/her the ability to excel in what ever their endeavors .Public schools here were founded on the basis that new citizens of the USA need a knowledge of their new government and a few related skills that would come in handy. Our system evolved to local schools that would conceivably has students meet the local needs for skills.... Young people in Nebraska learned about cattle ranching, those in Boston learned about fishing.. The system seem to work well for awhile, where did it go wrong?

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