The Changeless Face of Education in America

Our schools today greatly resemble those of a generation ago. Reform and revolutionary change have been tired, but have failed to fundamentally alter the way education is done in America. What reform there is tends to be peripheral, unsystemic, and isolated. Despite a lack of research to indicate that the increasing time and resources being expended on education in America are truly beneficial, and a lack of true change, our educational institutions consistently fail to articulate a consistent philosophy of education.

The dominant paradigm in education is that the current methods of delivery (lectures, textbooks, and tests) and the current structure (large schools dominated by a non-teaching administrators) are working. All that the model needs, one might suggest, is a few more resources and a few less incompetent teachers. This view continues to dominate educational thought and practice, despite evidence that no amount of additonal resources "fix" the current system of education. (Ciotti, 1998)

However, the evidence is also clear that other models of education are more effective in raising the level of student achievement than the traditional teacher-centered model. (Jennings B Nathan, 1977). In the "Eight Year Study", longitudinal research was conducted on a group of schools in the 1930s, the results of the study, the most comprehensive in the history of educational research, showed that experimental schools and multidiscilpliary curriculum greatly improved student success.

There is also ample evidence that shows that the less traditional the aproach, the greater the level of student achievement will be. The Sudbury Valley School, for example, teaches nothing -- it's students are entirely self-directed. Yet, their students are among the most successful (measured in reading ability, college entrance scores, and career success). (Greenbery, 1992)

This message is well-known in most teaching colleges, where progressive and contructivist concepts are shared with emerging teachers. The clash between educational philosphy taught in college, and that practiced in most classrooms, is shown by the massive dropoff in new teachers. By the end of five years, between 25-50% of all new teachers will leave the profession. (Hare B Heap, 2001) Here also, more effective methods are known and available, but are simply not utilized.

The rigidity of our dominant mode of education is pervasive and well-documented. Yet, there is very little evidence to support the current system of large schools, non-teaching administrators, teacher-directed learning and discrete curricular subjects. There is even less evidence to support the continued buildup of our educational institutions, as the results produced by them continue to grow more and more disappointing. On this score, John Taylor Gatto compares the views of scholars of education across 140 years and writes:

[Insert quote, page 312] (Gatto, 2000-2001, 312)

Schools are not uinique in this lack of progress in meeting goals. Other social services, like welfare agencies and hospitals, have been shown to offer little improvement through the addition of resources (Illich, 1976). Indeed, these institutions can become so detrimental to progress that the very abolition of the institution becomes the most effective way to accomplish the goal set for that institution in the first place.

Measuring the success or failure of an organization, in absolute terms, is very difficult. Most change that is measured is marginal change, isolated from the outside world and the rest of the organization. In ecomonic terms, only the marginal benefit of a change or a new program is measured. The opportunity costs -- or, what it lost -- are seldom considered.

John McKnight tackles this problem, stating that:

[Quote, page 101] (McKnight, 1995, 101).
The problem, according to McKnight, is that these institutions pre-empt other possibilities to emerge and tackle the problem. Are our schools so fundamentally incapable of change that they have become iatrogenic, by preventing other alternatives from taking their place?