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School Reform: Predicted and Praised, But Seldom Practiced
By David W. Kirkpatrick (July 10, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

         Perhaps no field of endeavor praises reform as much and practices it as little, as public education.  Here are some rhetorical examples:
         "Technology may eventually revolutionize formal education by taking much of it out of the school building and putting it in the home." p. 76, Continuity and Discontinuity, the Carnegie on Higher Education, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Co., August 1973.
         "...television may bring an end to the careers of school teachers, since school itself was an invention of the printing  press and must stand or fall on the issue of how much importance the printed world will have in the future" p 118, Neil Postman, Conscientious Objections, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988
         "...three conditions are necessary for change.  The first condition is that the old gods have to have failed. The old gods have failed in education...The second condition is that there must be examples in research to show that another way is possible.  We have examples from east Harlem and many other places. The third condition is that there must be leadership that is bold enough to make those changes occur.  That is what we need.;'‘' pp 77-78 Jack Klenk, in "Strategies For Education Reform, Harrisburg, PA: The Commonwealth Foundation, 1990
         In Louisiana: "Over the 10 year period, ending in 1987, more than 50 major education reform laws and policies were adopted...most reforms had been watered down, ignored, not implemented properly, taken to court by the teacher unions and others, mired down in political turf battles, or not funded (often not because the money was not there, but because that was just another way to scuttle an unwanted program.)...piecemeal attempts to change the present system haven't worked and won't work because the present system is a monopoly.  It has a captive clientele and guaranteed funding regardless of results." pp 83-84, Jackie Ducote, in "Strategies For Education Reform, op. cit.
         "People generally are far more willing to discuss reforming schools than to seriously ponder the reality that school is an obsolete institution whose time has come and gone, and that is ready for extinction and replacement." p 157, Lewis J. Perelman, School's Out, NY: "Avon Books, 1992
         "When educators were invited to design schools of the future for a nationwide competition...the most striking thing about the results was not their diversity but their similarity.  Ungraded multi-age classrooms; assessments based on performance, not guesswork; students who graduate based on what they know and can do rather than the time spent in class; activities that engage children's hands as well as their heads; and leaning done in teams instead of alone at desks...much of what passes for education in schools violates what both research and common sense tell us about how people learn best –and contradicts the way we expect them to live and work as adults." p.28, Lynn Olson, "Designs for Change, Teacher Magazine, May/June 1993
         Irving Kristol's first law of educational reform is, "Any reform that is acceptable to the educational establishment, and that can gain a majority in a legislature, federal or state, is bound to be worse than nothing." Irving Kristol, the Inevitable Outcome of ‘Outcomes," The Wall Street Journal, April 18, 1994
         "Now that I'm off the board and able to think more calmly, it is even clearer to me that the system can't be rehabilitated, only replaced." p. 59,  Howard Good, ‘Losing It, The Confessions of an Ex-School "Board President," Education Week, March 74, 2004
         On a positive note, Diane Ravitch noted in the June 27, 1994 New York Times that "...four reforms, taken together, would allow better schools to flourish and would close the doors of bad ones.  "Good schools should be allowed to become independent...(school boards) should be permitted to award contracts to run schools and create new ones...children in educationally bankrupt schools should be offered scholarships to use in any accredited school...Instead of running everything, the educational authorities would evaluate the quality of education provided by others."
         She was recommending not predicting, but reforms such as charter schools, tuition tax credits, and choice are becoming reality.
         If the system won't be reformed, it will be replaced.

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         "Long before reform of the educational system comes to any conclusion, the system itself will have collapsed." Lewis Perelman, "Barnstorming with Lewis," Education Review, March/April 1997

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
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Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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