Is k-12 Education reform in the offing?

Ask any educator and they will silently endorse the need for reforms in K-12 education. But to decide on a single best idea for reforming K-12 education, it is first important to discover the biggest problem that the system currently faces.


As per my understanding, the biggest problem is the preoccupation with and the application of the factory model of the management to education, where everything is meant for the efficiency and scalability of “the system” to which the teachers, the parents, the students and the administrators have to adjust. Demotivating teachers, students and parents alike, the system grinds forward, at ever increasing cost and declining efficiency.


Now it is a well-documented fact that the factory model of management bites the dust even in factories and at the workplace, so it should not come as a surprise that it is failing utterly in education as well.


But given that education system is seen to be in trouble, we tend to think, we need “stronger management”, “better management “or “tougher management” where “management” is assumed to be the factory model of management. It is assumed to mean more carrots and sticks, tighter controls and more top-down management. It counts on hammering the non-performing teachers and ruthlessly eliminate the “dead wood”. The thinking has found its origin in the philosophy “Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind”.


These methods are seen to be failing in the private sector, as they stop employees to put their creativity and imagination to use, they frustrate customers and eventually, they are zapping the very organizations that are relying on them. So it cannot yield fruitful results in the education sector as well.


Introduction of such flawed practices of management and then a more rigorous pursuit of this type of management only buggers up the things at last. It is just like medieval doctors who try to cure their patients by bloodletting, using leeches which only worsens their condition.


Changes in the economy further aggravate the inapplicability of these methods. Not so long ago, you could precisely predict what careers and jobs might be available for children in their adult life. The education system could tell little Sam or Rita what to study and if he or she mastered that, he or she was set for life. Not anymore. We simply do not know what future holds for them in twenty years of time. Today, apart from a few core skills like reading, writing, thinking, math, creating and imagining, we cannot know what knowledge or skills will be required when Sam or Rita grows up.


The best single idea for reforming education.

Given this context, reform in K -12 education will be evidently related to change in goal. Presently, the goal is to make a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently which must be shifted to making a system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students so that they can make their lives productive in a rapidly shifting economy.


Implications of accepting the shift in goal

You must champion this thought that new goal formulation becomes essential when our efforts stop yielding results following old goals. Without right goals, getting positive results is a distant dream. The same is true in education industry as well and all parties (administrators, unions, teacher’s students and parents) need to embrace the new goal. The new goal without traces of old law should focus on inspiring our students to become life-long learners with a love of education so that their learning process could go on all their lives and they could be able to learn whatever they have to. This will be possible with casting aside fallacious belief that students should learn what, when and how they are asked to learn. Even the tempo of their learning is also not left to them.


Once we embrace this goal, many things will have to change to achieve this goal. We can also cotton on to the fact that in truth most of the thinking underlying current “reforms” can be compared with schemes and devices that are actually making things worse.

Some of the implications include:

  1.  The role of the teachers and parents: The ultimate goal of education should be to empower students to bring forth knowledge and deploy skills to new situations, whatever they turn out to be and not only imparting a static package of knowledge.

In this world, considering teaching synonymous to the dissemination of information is actually a wrongly-held belief. Instead, the role of teachers (and parents) becomes one of motivating and enabling the students to learn, so as to spark their energies and talents.

  1.  The role of administrators: Administrators need to realize that carrots and sticks policy is not going to work any better than it does in industry. Self-motivated teachers can bring windfall gains in terms of education to their students. The positive energies and talents of teachers can be liberated once the administrator turns into enabler from the controller.
  2.   Respecting Goodhart’s law: According to Goodhart’s Law, when measures become the goal, it ceases to be an effective measure. The present education system tends to make test results the goal of the system, rather than a measure that is actually ruining the spirit of education.
  3. The mode of accountability: The education system must be linked dynamically to self-driven learning of the students themselves, instead of measuring progress through bureaucracy and top-down tests. Education must do away with accountability through the use of detailed plans, processes, rules, and reports, which specify both the goal and the means of achieving that goal.
  4.  An implementable agenda: Shift in goals will not be through painstaking efforts, neither has it involved reinventing the wheel. It does not require armies of consultants, years of research or vast funding. Thousands of Montessori schools have been on this track for many years, with extraordinary results.


Read More, about K-12 educational reforms at BEYOND TEACHING.