Is Education Reform Even Possible?

I like thinking about education, talking about education, educating myself, and preaching on the importance of education. The world is rapidly changing. People, business, and governments need to be adaptable and nimble to remain competitive and innovative.

I worry about the state of education in the United States. Bureaucracies, especially Democratically-driven bureaucracies are notoriously slow to adapt. Large corporations, like General Motors and Chrysler, are not only notoriously slow to change, but do not learn from previous mistakes.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is the classic “too many chefs spoil the pot” debacle.

If you don’t like my numbers, you should visit the National Center for Education Statistics, and go right to the source.

I think on a topic and form beliefs based on my internal reason and circumstance. Then, I have to call those beliefs into question. I don’t want to fall victim to drinking my own Kool-Aid, or being my own counsel. In other words, I want to avoid confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias occurs when one only favors source materials that support a favored position. For example, many people think returning to the Gold Standard is a good idea. These people then read all the material on “Why the Gold Standard is Great” without reading about the history of the Gold Standard, and why the Gold Standard was replaced by Central Banking Systems and fiat currency. They fail to remember ownership of gold was severely restricted until 1972 or so. But you can read about all of that mess in a previous essay.

I read about many educational efforts across the country. Lots of different plans, some that use technology to promote learning, some that promote teaching of new languages, or re-designed classrooms. Lots and lots of plans.

I get the sense that current Primary and Secondary Education efforts have ADHD – yes, in that sense, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Why would I say that?

OK – entertain me for a couple minutes.

The United States of America has 50 states. 50 different State Boards of Education. In the United States, we have about 13,600 public school districts, which include about 5,000 charter schools. Add to that number the 33,300 private schools. Thus, across the United States there are theoretically 46,900 different implementations of academic curricula.

Holy Homework, Batman!

The question I have is, How can the United States effectively manage the education of 49 million students with 46,900 versions of academic curricula floating around?”

With 46,900 learning permutations at work, I imagine the $525 billion dollars per year spent on education gets used with various degrees of success.

46,900 different groups, working with various degrees of discretion, rings remotely of anarchy. Mind you, anarchy is not chaos. Anarchy is basically lots of small groups, acting autonomously, with each group adhering to their own self-defined set of rules. Anarchy is not chaos like most people think. However, in the absence of an overseeing authority, anarchy can devolve into chaos, especially when two or more groups have conflicting methods working towards a common goal.

All of these different efforts at work, trying to educate 49 million kids, seems impossible to effectively monitor and manage, ergo “attention deficit.” Every single one of these efforts has a Board of Education, administrators, principals, parent-teacher organizations, the “hyperactivity disorder.” Too many chefs adding their spices to the Pot of Education.

Am I wrong?

I submit as evidence the Kansas Board of Education, writing and re-writing efforts to control the teaching of Evolution v Creationism. And, the numerous Boards of Education that ban books from school libraries. And, the numerous parent and church organizations that complain about the teaching of Arabic, or Chinese, or Spanish. Then, we have movements to reduce or altogether eliminate homework. Parents fight over whether kids should be allowed to pray at school, or not. Now, the current hot education topic is “bullying.”

When I consider all of the efforts of educating American kids, I wonder how we even manage to educate a single kid. Then, the memories of conversations I’ve had with college faculty regarding the poor writing and critical thinking skills of most incoming Freshman, how we nearly have to re-train them, and break them of bad habits, occur to me. Maybe we aren’t doing a good job, considering the effort and money we are spending. Really. Why are we having to teach writing and composition, again, in college after the student has spent the previous 12 years supposedly learning how to read and comprehend? Just seems wrong to me.

In the meantime, countries like India, China, and Brazil are struggling to educate their kids to speak English, write English, and increase math literacy. And, our America kids struggle to learn their own native language.

Hopefully, you see my argument. Yes, we live in a free country, more or less, and yes, we do have a say in how are children are educated. Could all of this freedom work to our disadvantage? To me all of these disparate energies seem confused, multiple efforts with parallel trajectories aimed at a single goal. But, how many actually make the target?

With parents, teachers, administrators, and legislatures all working for and against each other, how can we develop a unified plan, a unified concerted effort, a set unified mutually agreeable objectives that serve the dual purpose of actually producing educated adults and that can be empirically measured?

In future essays, I hope to offer more food for thought. I do not like to compare the United States to other countries. Why? Because the United States is unique in geographic size and population diversity. For example, Germany has a population of 88 million people, and mostly German. The number of people living in Germany is about 2x’s the number of kids the United States has in K-12. Kids representing many different ethnicities. However, we can look abroad for examples of good practices.

I think I will introduce some of those practices here, beginning with Germany.


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