Why Most Attempts at Traditional School Reform Fail

Issues surrounding charter schools and high-stakes testing make headlines around the country as school reform continues to take center-stage in many education circles and debates. Indeed, Rasmussen polling showed education was a top voter concern in the 2014 midterm elections. The talk about school reform continues because most attempts at traditional school reform actually fail.

What Is the Goal of Traditional School Reform?

Today’s top education leaders, including United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, want to close the gap between underperforming and successful schools and make it possible for all students to succeed in college and careers. School reformers believe that more rigorous standards and learning opportunities will prepare the nation’s youth for college and career success.

Education reformers promote a series of high-quality standardized tests for students to demonstrate their knowledge and give parents and teachers information about their abilities. School reformers also support using the assessments to evaluate teachers and hold schools accountable.

The Profile of a Traditional School Reformer

Jack Schneider, the assistant professor of education at the College of Holy Cross and author of two books, explains why school reform fails. He argues that school reformers think they know what is best for public schools because they oversimplify what it truly means to be an educator. He states, “Unlike working educators, most leaders in the reform movement have never taught a five-period day, felt the joy of an unquantifiable classroom victory, lost instructional time to a standardized test, or been evaluated by a computer.” For Schneider, education reformers do not know enough about education to reform it successfully.

Schneider also says education reformers are unfamiliar with educational research. “Most do not know much about test construction, cut scores, or measurement error. Most are not steeped in the literature on cognition, memory, or motivation.” While admitting education itself can be simple, Schneider argues true educational reform is not because schools are “thriving ecosystems” produced by “strong relationships, high levels of trust, robust systems for knowledge-sharing, and a collective pursuit of personal growth.” The ingredients for successful schools cannot be quantified or mandated, so subjecting them to standards and assessments is not the best course of action for reform.

Learning from Failed Reform in Urban Areas 

An article published by two New York University professors explains school reform failure differently. Upon studying reforms from the last twenty to thirty years, the authors concluded that prior school reform failed because it did not “address the numerous ways in which poverty influences student academic outcomes and school performance.” They contend school reform must address poverty in order to succeed.

A study by the University of Southern Maine supports the NYU professors’ conclusion: high school seniors from low-income families are, on average, four years behind their higher-income peers, and only one out of two students from low-income families graduate high school.

In Summary

The debate over traditional school reform likely will go on for quite some time. One thing is certain, K12 has done its part to offer quality education to parents and students through its Online Public Schools, Online Private Schools, K-8 Program, and High School Program. Check out K12.com or sign up to receive free info.

Image via Flickr by cybrarian77

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