Useless Education Reform Efforts

In light of worries about competition from abroad, the United States is in the midst of several education innovation efforts. Back in July 2009 President Obama pledged to make America the country the leads the world in the percent of citizens with college degrees by 2020.

Innovation efforts include the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort to bring state public school curricula into alignment. There’s the Race to the Top program, a $4.35 billion Department of Education fund that provides money to states in return for the states agreeing to implement specific reforms at the K-12 and college level. There’s also the still extant No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s education initiative, which requires all public schools to administer examinations every year to ensure that students are making progress on state-wide standardized tests.

The problem is that none of this stuff will work. According to a recent study by the National Center on Education and the Economy, recent reform efforts are disjointed and won’t lead to significant improvement in the country’s educational outcomes.

As Stephen Sawchuk at Education Week explains:

The NCEE report is the latest salvo in a flurry of national interest in what can be gleaned from education systems in top-performing or rapidly improving countries. It pushes further than other recent reports on the topic by laying out an ambitious agenda for the United States it says reflects the education practices in countries that are among the highest-performing on international assessments.

Among other measures, the report outlines a less-frequent system of standardized student testing; a statewide funding-equity model that prioritizes the neediest students, rather than local distribution of resources; and greater emphasis on the professionalization of teaching that would overhaul most elements of the current model of training, professional development, and compensation.

Right, if we want to be like high-performing nations, we should do what high performing nations do educationally.

Incremental reforms using additional funding competitions glommed on to current systems won’t make much difference, though such reform efforts might cost a lot of money.

NCEE recommends less frequent testing and also reforming the teaching profession. It notes that some high performing countries also have highly unionized teachers like in the United States but, according to Sawchuk, foreign teachers:

work in a “professional” rather than “industrial” mode. The report says that U.S. teachers must give up blue-collar work rules like seniority rights and recognize difference in performance in exchange for being treated as professional partners, who are given autonomy and trusted to diagnose and solve instructional problems on their own.

Read the NCEE report here.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer