Education Reform Needs a Paradigm Shift

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Like the majority of our societal systems in the 21st century, the educational system is undergoing dramatic changes. Our educational system was built by the same people who built assembly lines to mass produce automobiles – teachers add one more unit of “knowledge and skills” to the student – year after year. At the end of 12 years of school, all the kids graduate with the same skill set.

Some will argue this is an oversimplification, but this is our expectation of how our system should work. We treat all  kids the same by molding them into a product over a 12 year period. It’s an assembly line.

When we observe education from this stance, it should raise red flags. I immediately think to myself, all kids are not the same. They don’t develop in linear fashion in nice one year increments – imagine a child maturing mentally, physically and emotionally along a calendar continuum. Humans aren’t widgets, so why are we treating them this way?

I agree the end product isn’t producing the results we want, but please don’t blame the assembly line workers. Learning isn’t a linear process. As opposed to empowering teachers, we’ve used them as scapegoats.

Like we’ve pointed out many times, these old thought processes won’t work. We have scientific studies which have proven that once you leave the repetitive assembly line floor and need cognitive thinking to solve more complex problems, “stick and carrot” motivators produce negative results.

Daniel Pink produced a nice RSA animated illustration to go with his book, Drive.  He used existing studies to illustrate that business has not adopted scientific evidence about what really motivates humans. It only takes a few minutes and is well worth your time. If you haven’t read his book, I would strongly recommend it.

The United States is part of the Global Education Reform Movement developed by politicians and business leaders. It is driven by competition, standardization, test-based accountability, and school choice. We are using a model for business to fix a broken educational system even though business models ignore scientific evidence.

Due to globalization, high technology, and the end of consumerism, our industrialized era has ended in the United States. Traditional hierarchies flattened overnight – welcome to the information age. The educational system is broken because we aren’t producing cars down an assembly line.

Albert Einstein realized this false line of thinking decades ago when he said, “You cannot solve the problem with the same level of consciousness that created it.”

We have a broken system, but we have acquired new ideas indicating why they failed – a paradigm shift – fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.

Back to the education model, we are introducing a charter system which duplicates the existing mechanical model of educating a child, but in a for-profit world. We are literally saying we need to keep the assembly line approach, but “double-down” on the “one-size-fits-all-mentality”, by replacing high cost union teachers with lower cost non-union teachers. We are using a failed economic system (capitalism) to fix our broken educational system.

Can’t we already predict how badly this will turn out?

We just experienced a decades long healthcare debauch where costs outgrew personal income and became a huge burden on our federal government. Outcomes showed we paid more than any other country, but received only mediocre results. What makes people think the education results won’t be exactly the same. In Indiana, we literally have to fudge charter test scores to produce the results to support our faulty designed models.

Pasi Sahlberg is a Finnish educator and scholar. He worked as a schoolteacher, teacher educator and policy adviser in Finland and has analyzed educational systems and reforms around the world. His expertise includes international education policies, educational change, future of schooling, and classroom teaching and learning. Pasi created the following slide presentation (Chicago-HF-2013) which presents the model Finland is already using with superior results over the USA.

As opposed to competition, standardization, test-based accountability, and school choice; Finland focuses on collaboration, personalization, trust-based responsibility, equity and education as human right. As a student of leadership, Finland’s model even sounds more appealing.

Instead of treating teachers like assembly line workers who simply force students through a mechanistic system of standardized tests by receiving “sticks or carrots”, it empowers and trusts teachers to use their skills to personalize student instruction and collaborate with other teachers and professionals delivering a more holistic learning experience.

The Finnish model treats students like human beings, complex social beings who develop differently over time. Both teacher and student are left alone which motivate them intrinsically versus rewards and punishment. While Pasi and Daniel Pink did not collaborate, they both arrive at similar conclusions.

However, we can’t expect any student to be motivated to learn at school if they are hungry, feel insecure, or fear going home after school. As a society, we have to solve these societal issues first. Let’s end the war on teachers, and begin a war on poverty.

Quite honestly, the only potential I see from current Hoosier and US education proposals are outstanding profit-making opportunities for charter school owners, technology and educational testing companies, along with hedge fund managers on Wall Street. Oh, and let’s not forget about the pharmaceutical manufacturers of ADHD medication for students and anti-anxiety meds for teachers.


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About Author

Journalist, entrepreneur, publisher, DSA member, and ethical leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy cycling, yoga, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter. Wellness advocate who practices servant style leadership.

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