2010: What I Learned About Education Reform In America

As I write my final blog post of 2010, I wanted to first and foremost thank my loyal readers for their support of my blog.   The Internet has allowed consumers to become content creators, and to voice their own opinions and expertise for the world to see.   Open source collaboration can make a difference in the world, and I am deeply grateful for your attention to my blog.  Together, we CAN make a difference!

I felt that the most appropriate way to conclude the year was to offer my readers a summary at what I learned over the past year.   From all of the research, the communications, the interactions and the debates, I feel confident that I can boil my key learnings down to a few, powerful, salient points.  Maybe some of the educators, politicians, parents, and fellow reformers will find value in what I share below.

So what did I learn?


1. I learned that EVERY educator and politician should read Disrupting Class.   Why?   Because the theory of disruptive innovation is 100% accurate and that NO ONE in the education reform movement understands its principles.   Folks like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee learned the hard way that disruptive innovation happens in the areas of “non-consumption,” and you cant expect to be successful if you go head-on against the establishment, especially in public education.   For real change to take place in America’s public schools, the system must be completely dismantled and rebuilt.   And most importantly, let the innovative trials occur below the radar, in new school designs and conducive learning environments.

2. I learned that documentaries and media focus on education reform will not stir the public to take action as swiftly as it did with “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Perhaps 2011 will prove me wrong, but I truly expected the combination of “Waiting for Superman” along with the efforts of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey would make a difference.   I was wrong.   The documentary hasn’t even reached $7 million on domestic box office receipts, despite the aggressive social media push and mainstream media campaign.   While I did not agree with parts of the film, what will it take for the American people to get angry about our public education system?

3.  I learned that teachers are being unfairly singled out as the root cause of our public school woes.  Reformers are demanding performance based compensation and evaluation, but they are coming to the table with high-level platitudes and not a specific set of criteria for now to evaluate teacher performance.   Should teachers be evaluated on the performance of how a student does on a particular test?  Doesn’t this wrongly assume that the test is designed to measure the appropriate skills needed by 21st century students?   There are other ways to measure teacher effectiveness, and if administrators and teachers unions would sit down in good faith and reach an agreement on the criteria, maybe we can then find a “win-win” solution?

4.  I learned that teachers need to be given more autonomy in the classroom.   There are MANY great teachers out there.   And while I find most of the commentary on the education websites to be a defense of the “status quo,” I read some great teacher blogs who have seen first-hand how the arts lay a foundation for learning.   When will our politicians and administrators realize that we cannot look at subjects in discrete silos anymore?   We must look at interdisciplinary approaches to learning and also shift the focus from “STEM” to “STEAM.”

5. Finally, I learned that we have to remember that it’s the “quality,” not “quantity” of learning that matters.  Longer school days is NOT  the answer, despite the results that charter schools like KIPP may be generating.   If we made school an intrinsically motivating experience for teachers and students, then kids would get much, much more out of the time they’re in class.   And most importantly, ALL kids need sufficient time for socialization and play.    Let kids be kids.

There are many, many other things I have learned this year, but these were by far, my top five.   My New Year’s wish?   That we’ll start seeing disruptive innovative approaches to education begin to gain meaningful traction, and that the funding models will shift in favor of alternative approaches to learning environments.  

Fingers crossed, everyone.   And a happy new year to all of you.


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