Class Warfare Blog

July 13, 2013

Can Anybody Name One Educational “Reform” That Worked?

Filed under: Education,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:17 pm
Tags: , , , ,

As a teacher, I went through several periods as a “reformer” of public education. In other words “I knew how to do it better.” I was wrong each time. I have read histories of public education and public education reform efforts and am left with this question:

Can you name an educational reform that worked?

My guess is that you can’t. Sure there have been little tweaks to the system that succeeded  but they don’t qualify as “reforms.” To be a reform you must re-form the system, that is change it substantially.

Now, with this kind of track record, why is it we bite on every cockamamie reform agenda that is floated as a trial balloon. I give for your consideration: charter schools, school vouchers, No Child Left Behind, self-paced education, mastery learning, etc.

It is as if we are desperate to lose weight and are willing to do anything . . . well, anything but eat less and exercise more.

Here’s an approach that might work. Imagine we had a military that was woefully inadequate to the task at hand, say like we had just before World War II. What did we do? Well, we spent a shitload of money, we drafted people, and trained the bejesus out of them, gave them somewhat good leadership, established objectives, and set them loose to do what they were trained to do. What if we were to do the same for our teachers?

Currently, teachers are “evaluated,” that is their performance is assessed, on a frequent basis and they are threatened with repercussions if they don’t meet goals that are pretty much beyond their control.

What would you expect if you told soldiers that their pay was going to be determined by how many enemy ears they brought back? What if you had a lieutenant with a clipboard behind every grunt? I think what you would have is a lot of dead lieutenants and a lot of people walking around with missing ears.

If we want teachers to behave like professionals, why are we not treating them like professionals. The idiots currently in charge of educational reform efforts seem to be getting their ideas from nineteenth century factories.

We can do better by stopping all reform efforts currently in motion and declare a moratorium on stupid ideas for a decade (renewable for another ten years by vote of the teachers).



  1. Firstly, teachers have to be paid more than bankers. We must get serious about we value most.

    Secondly, i present you this wonderful short film on addressing education:


    Comment by john zande — July 13, 2013 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  2. I suppose it would depend on your definition of “worked”. I think the desegregation of public schools required by the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, a very big deal in 1954, worked. Title 1 (1965), the school funding part of LBJ’s war on poverty worked. Laws that allow students to attend any public school they can get to, not just what’s in your neighborhood, work. Minnesota tried that first. Reductions in class size work. But you’re right too. Lots of dumb ideas have also been tried that don’t work.


    Comment by Invisible Mikey — July 13, 2013 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

    • Mostly those “innovayions were to allow access to the system as it should be. Good points, though.



      Comment by stephenpruis — July 13, 2013 @ 8:33 pm | Reply

  3. The charter schools suggested by the GOP are not so much true reforms as they are yet another vehicle to allow the so-called “free markets” to play itself out, allowing a few to get rich while many children get left behind. Nice post Stephen


    Comment by lbwoodgate — July 13, 2013 @ 7:33 pm | Reply

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