Whoa on “Reforms”

The following story was anonymously left in the mailbox of Dr. Emory Cowen of the University of Rochester and relayed to us through Dr. Seymour Sarason:

Common advice from knowledgeable horse trainers includes the adage, “If the horse you’re riding dies, get off.” Seems simple enough, yet, in the education business we don’t always follow that advice. Instead, we often choose from an array of alternatives which include:

Stop the "reforms."

Stop the “reforms.” They failed and are killing US.

1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Trying a new bit or bridle.
3. Switching riders.
4. Moving the horse to a new location.
5. Riding the horse for longer periods of time.
6. Saying things like, “This is the way we’ve always ridden this horse.”
7. Appointing a committee to study horses.
8. Arranging to visit other sites where they ride dead horses efficiently.
9. Increasing the standards for riding dead horses.
10. Creating a test for measuring our riding ability.
11. Comparing how we’re riding now with how we did it 10 or 20 years ago.
12. Complaining about the state of horses these days.
13. Coming up with new styles of riding.
14. Blaming the horse’s parents. The problem is in the breeding.

Dismount! As Dr. Sarason wrote: “Instead of doing any of these, we decided to dismount. We began to look at what we needed to do for kids and their families to help them help themselves.”

Real Education Reform

To understand real education reform, we have to understand the real problem.

Those that think education reform will come about through standards, testing, labeling, and degrading schools obviously don’t understand what “reform” is and is not.

Reform requires a problem be identified and the faulty practice creating the problem be replaced with a better one. When we tack on “education” in front of the word reform, it implies we are talking about a reform of the education system.

Systemically, did every school set low standards and miserably under-educate children? No, we have some very highly performing public schools; they are in the majority. Does any school under-test their students? Not that I’m aware of. Is the whole system to the point where there is no hope for it and it should be dismantled and privatized? Absolutely not! That is what reform is not. That is a simple transfer of control from public to private hands. It’s a costly shell game.

Real education reform requires that the public come to an understanding of what proven effective education reform really is and develop the drive and unyielding determination to establish all the elements of success in every school.

We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” Ronald Edmonds

Edmonds (1935-1983) was the lead researcher for what became known as Effective Schools Research.