Let's learn the lessons of education reform at last, author says

'The Allure of Order' by Jal Mehta
Book cover courtesy of publisher

Education reform is being pursued today by education reformers who were themselves in school during periods of education reform. Author Jal Mehta points out that the schools keep being asked to do the same thing, over and over — that is, prove by quantifiable measurement that they are achieving progress. The approach hasn't worked before, he says, and it isn't working now.

Rather, Mehta says, schools should be trying something new: creating a genuinely different system that attracts the best teachers and gives them the skills and resources they need to do the job.

"Here's what the old debates have overlooked: How schools are organized, and what happens in classrooms, hasn't changed much in the century since the Progressive Era," Mehta wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. "On the whole, we still have the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support. ...

"Teaching requires a professional model, like we have in medicine, law, engineering, accounting, architecture and many other fields. In these professions, consistency of quality is created less by holding individual practitioners accountable and more by building a body of knowledge, carefully training people in that knowledge, requiring them to show expertise before they become licensed, and then using their professions' standards to guide their work."

Mehta's new book, "The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling," looks back at previous attempts to improve public education and offers his own ideas on how to proceed.


The futures of school reform: Five pathways to fundamentally reshaping American schooling
"For almost 30 years, since the publication of 'A Nation at Risk,' the United States has been seized by a blizzard of school reform strategies: Standards. Vouchers. Charters. Merit pay. Alternative teacher certification. More money, more data, and more accountability. These strategies have been embraced by districts, states, and, eventually, even the federal government with great gusto. But if we were to honestly appraise all of this activity, we would have to conclude that the results have not been what we had hoped." (American Enterprise Institute)

Study: School reform in 3 major cities brings few benefits, some harm
"Many people paying attention to corporate-based school reform in recent years will not be surprised by this, but a new study on the effects of this movement in Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago concludes that little has been accomplished and some harm has been done to students, especially the underprivileged." (Washington Post)

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