“School reform” is such a misunderstood concept in the education world. That misunderstanding, of course, leads many people to dismiss useful improvements. But we need those changes, and quick, because nothing can so profoundly impact our children’s lives as much as receiving a good education. Any parent could agree with that. Sometimes, though, I worry that our attempts to make schools better come across as “just trying to change everything,” as one parent once told me. But this is not about change for change’s sake. The approaches that work best in one school or district won’t always work across the board. We need to think critically about the changes we could make to ensure that all children—regardless of race, income or zip code—receive a great education. There are different ways that we have tried to achieve that under the umbrella phrase of “school reform.” We have implemented new standards, changed the way schools are held accountable and opened charter schools, among other things. Conversations about school reform matter because we all want our children to learn and be successful, but we may need to try new things to get them there.
There’s this great quote that’s often (and incorrectly) attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In life, we delude ourselves if we keep making the same decisions and taking the same actions while expecting a different outcome each time. Why would education be any different? There are a lot of students out there who still have yet to really “click” with a traditional school environment. Educators and policymakers are still seeking solutions to engage and motivate many low income, minority and English-as-a-second language (ESL) students because their academic performance continues to underperform what we would like to see. We’re insane if we keep expecting to see improvement without actually changing anything about our approach to educating young people.
So How Do We Do It, and Why Does It Matter?
Even when talking heads make school reform seem like a sea of endless policy changes, we must remember that our schools have a lasting, important influence upon our young people’s lives. Naturally, we want that to be the best influence it can possibly be—so it’s important to engage in conversations about how we can actually make our schools better.
[pullquote position="left"]None of us want to watch the world burn. We just want to see some effective changes being made so that our schools work better for everyone. It matters because for too long, our schools haven’t been effective for all students, especially those who are already the most vulnerable. Maybe the reforms we need take the form of challenging the curriculum that our schools are teaching, or fighting for effective schools that can close gaps or providing parents with choices for their kids’ education—there is no one right approach to school reform. There are, however, thousands of students who have been underserved by our schools, and that’s not going to change unless we do, too.
Garris Stroud is an award-winning educator and writer from Greenville, Kentucky whose advocacy and scholarship have been recognized by USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, Education Post, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and The Lexington Herald-Leader. He served as a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow from 2017-2019 and became chair of the organization’s editorial board in 2018. ...