Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Educational Reform in The US Never Works

Politicians from both political parties spend a lot of time talking about how to improve education.  It makes sense to propose plans for improving education because the great majority of parents care about the quality of education. However, most of the policy changes that have managed to get through the political maze, have been shortsighted and unproductive.  This is the best article that I have read about public education because it offers no simple solution to a complex problem.  One of the simple solutions, that is always on the political agenda, is to improve teacher effectiveness.  The problem with that solution is that teacher effectiveness cannot be separated from school effectiveness.  A simple thought experiment illustrates the connection between school effectiveness and teacher effectiveness.

Suppose we recruited teachers from Finland, which has a well earned reputation for turning out effective teachers, and did a teacher exchange program between the state of Indiana and Finland.  What results might we expect from that exchange? The most likely outcome after five years would be that the teachers from Finland would have decided to seek an alternative career in the US, and that the US teachers would be very successful and committed to a career in teaching.  It is easier to be an effective teacher in an effective school and it is very difficult to succeed in ineffective schools.

Our little thought experiment shifted our attention from teacher effectiveness to school effectiveness.  That is much more complex problem that goes well beyond the simple problem of teacher effectiveness. This article describes some of the factors that contribute to effective schools, and it explains why it easy to recruit good teachers in Finland and provide them with an opportunity to be successful teachers.  Political leaders in Finland are not any smarter than politicians in the US who care more about winning elections than they do about improving the education system.  Wasting human resources in the US is very expensive in the long run.  We are paying for it in many ways.

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