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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: I'm afraid I don't have time to read all 87 comments so far, but the emphasis seems to be on finding better ways to teach children, with the emphasis still on teaching rather than learning. I now believe the real revolution will come from shifting this perspective and giving children the freedom to educate themselves (providing adult facilitation and assistance, but making the learning completely self-directed).

    Peter Gray's new book, Free to Learn, is an excellent book that explains why this is the most effective approach: http://www.amazon.com/Free-Learn-Unleashing-Instinct-Self-Reliant/dp/0465025994/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374504135&sr=8-1&keywords=free+to+learn

    His website also has a lot of information: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn. See "The Education Revolution comments section for great examples of what people are doing already).

    This organization also has great resources: http://www.educationrevolution.org
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      Jul 23 2013: Why do you say the emphasis is on teaching rather than learning? Whose emphasis? Would you say something like core standards of what children should understand and be able to do is a learning-based or a teaching-based emphasis?
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        Jul 23 2013: There are a few basic skills that all young adults should acquire. I still maintain that teaching is selling. Children as buyers have their ideas, needs, and desire that they are looking to satisfy.
        If a child desires to be a carpenter, he has no interest in Pythagoras's theory, but he will learn how to use a carpenter's square which is needed to cut the triangles to form stairs and trusses, he will learn how to read contracts, the math to do estimates and learn to read blueprints for takeoffs... He could learn extensive math and never open an arithmetic book. My problem has been that supposedly highly educated and skilled educators rather fall into the idea of one education fits all promoted by the Feds for the money rather then provide young people with the education they would need to be successful adults.
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          Jul 23 2013: I am absolutely with you, Mike, that children's learning needs are different and that one-size-fits-all models are not best practice in advancing student learning.

          My question to Laura was a different one. When choices of how to set up the learning environment are to be guided by what children should come to understand or be able to do rather than how teachers should teach, normally that would be considered a focus on what kids learn (not teacher-based but learning-based). When you aim for certain learning outcomes rather than specifying how services should be delivered, that would normally not be considered a teacher-based emphasis.

          As another example, if a principal evaluates a teacher on what she seems to do in class, that is teacher-based. If a principal looks, rather, at what her students are doing and what they show they understand and are able to do, that is student-based. The latter is much more common now, I believe.

          I think the charge that the emphasis is teacher-based rather than learning-based may be somewhat behind the times, at least in my experience.
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        Jul 23 2013: I only have a minor in education, so, I am not the expert to directly address a model of effective instruction except to say that I see raw material going into K and I expect a fully functional young adult coming out at 12. I am not one to say that every child should go to college, those who want to should. Young people should not go to college because it is expected of them nor they are made to feel compelled to attend. .
        One extreme problem, a major manufacturer in our city has to train high school graduates on how to work. Many quit after a few days because they have to arrive on time and work for the day. That is the output of our public school system..
        The saddest story I've heard is that students who are not superior and have not indicated that they would like to go to college are most often shunted to the rear of the room and pretty much ignored, College bound students seem to bring great honor on a school , others are barely tolerated if not outright ignored and many just drop out.... nearly one of four children going into K never graduate from 12 and another fourth graduate are functionally illiterate. Need proof? Go to McDonalds and ask any worker who finished school and ask what was their experiences.
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          Jul 23 2013: It is interesting that in Texas, by your report "College bound students seem to bring great honor on a school, others are barely tolerated if not outright ignored..." I am much more accustomed to seeing by far the most energy and resources focused on the struggling student.

          This must be different in different states.
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        Jul 24 2013: If the student is handicapped or special needs... Energy and resources are focused.
        But, just a young student who maybe average, is interested in cars and is not planning on college...
        or a young man who is from a poorer family who works nights and weekends with his family landscaping business... and the list goes on...
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          Jul 24 2013: I wasn't referring to special needs. It must be different in different states.

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