It all comes down to what happens in the classroom. Virtually everyone agrees that we have a low performing school system; that not enough student engagement in important content occurs in our current school system’s public school classrooms. Note that the appropriate perspective for school system reform is that a region’s school system is the full menu of schooling options, public and private, that serves 100% of the region’s schoolchildren. Since public school classrooms enroll nearly 90% of schoolchildren, and since public school system governance and funding policies impact nearly all schoolchildren, problematic public school classroom conditions that have survived decades of reform efforts will explain why we desperately need new, systemic reform strategies.
There have been five authoritative ‘Nation at Risk’ declarations, and the latest edition of the ‘Nation’s Report Card’, the National Assessment of Education Progress test scores, shows that only 38% of 17-year-olds are proficient in reading, with 27% lacking even basic skills!!!! There has been frenzied activity since the first, 1983 Nation at Risk declaration, but also near universal failure to adequately address the core reasons for insufficient, properly focused engagement in high-value academics. It’s not that the reasons are hard to grasp. They’ve all been noted in a piecemeal fashion; some widely noted.
1. Weak, often poorly targeted incentives, including difficulty defining and rewarding merit; much talk of accountability; little actual, meaningful accountability.
2. Classroom composition policy that maximizes learning issue diversity; minimizes engagement. One size does not fit all.
3. High rates of out-of-subject-field teaching; for example, coaches ‘teaching’ math.
4. Frustration with persistent low performance has produced educator micro-management.
5. Teacher tenure, combined with high rates of teacher burnout.
6. Misleading, boring, politically correct curricula and textbooks.
7. Difficulty maintaining discipline; regulation and lawsuit fear (click for example).