The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform

Over the last few years, fund manager and edu-eBlaster Whitney Tilson developed and refined the most compelling data-driven case for school reform, The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform. Warning: it’s about 170 pages plus appendices, but if you haven’t read it you really should.  At least take 15 minutes and flip through it.  Here’s a few highlights you shouldn’t miss.
Page 50 concludes an analysis of achievement gap data, “In summary, the color of your skin and your zip code are almost entirely determinative of the quality of the public education this nation provides.”
Page 57 suggests that we must simultaneously attempt to fix our broken system while creating alternatives outside the system. If you’re serious about equity and excellence, this is the only conclusion.
Jobs, money, power, and politics are barriers to improving the system (page 85).  Pages 128-154 debunk 7 big myths  Page 165 outlines the Democrat’s Dilemma–the reason that DFERs work is so important to all of us regardless of political persuasion.
Bob Compton, producer of 2 million Minutes, turned Whitney’s powerpoint into a 2 hour documentary.  Order it here.
Editorial comment: I agree with Whitney’s analysis and conclusions. However, I worry about our ability to execute quickly and successfully against an aggressive reform agenda (but RttT is a good start).  That’s why I believe so strongly in the innovation agenda–we need new tools and new schools to solve this problem.  The opportunity to create engaging and effective personalized learning pathways and scalable school models is right in front of us.  I love KIPP but think we can create models that are as good and easier to scale.  I’m going to keep working on that challenge.
Thanks Whitney.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Marsha Cornell

I spent over 25 years at a program improvement, 100% free lunch, 60% limited English school. We tried all the programs and gimmicks including Open Court and Reading First. Though our standardized test scores did not improve drastically, we saw huge successes including former students achieving their college degrees.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to teach former first grade students in the sixth grade and I also taught children of my former students. I was able to monitor programs that worked and didn't. Those motivated in the 20 to 1 primary grades were better prepared for intermediate grades. Small class sizes do make a difference. The smaller the size the more efficient the practice. Classes bigger than twenty-five become crowd control situations with serious over stimulation potential.
Students are smart, they want to learn and their parents want them to be successful.
There is a big difference in how they develop, what they learn, want to learn and how they perform on standardized tests.
The biggest problem is not class size and teacher "quality". It is meeting individual needs. Our children face a different world and come to school with unique experiences. Technology must be used. Layering of para professionals, media experts, librarians, personal trainers, coaches need to be part of the team. Students need authentic testing, tutoring, and tracking. The idea of one teacher dispensing an assembly line education format was never totally successful and certainly isn't now. Students do not want to sit and wait for their turn. Unlike many other countries, our society values individual accomplishments and our children are no longer willing to continue chanting something they already know.
Time on task means growth. Time on task means appropriate practice without continuous stimulus. Students shouldn't be expected to sit all day in class doing the same things over and over.
Non experienced persons are comparing standardized test scores and concluding more control is needed. Forcing control and more time in school without motivation is not going to get discouraged learners to be successful. Our country needs problem solvers and finishers. Don't stifle creativity.
Public school leaders need to analyze the success of home schooled students that are able to practice what they are interested in doing in an uninterrupted environment. Behavior and discipline issues are minimalized by clear focused instruction in a comprehensible format with individually monitored practice. We need to cue into what is working over the long haul. Safe educational opportunities are available throughout the community. Teachers and their teams need supportive working conditions and job security. Not everyone works best multitasking through hours and hours of overly stimulated children with a huge span of abilities in a tiny little space.
Democrats have believed in and pushed for equal opportunity and safe working conditions. Those core values need to be driving the education of our students. .

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