Education reform

Education reform is the name given to the goal of changing public education. Historically, reforms have taken different forms because the motivations of reformers have differed. However, since the 1980s, education reform has been focused on changing the existing system from one focused on inputs to one focused on outputs (i.e., student achievement). In the United States, education reform acknowledges and encourages public education as the primary source of K-12 education for American youth. Education reformers desire to make public education into a market (in the form of an input-output system), where accountability creates high-stakes from curriculum standards tied to standardized tests.[1][2] As a result of this input-output system, equality has been conceptualized as an end point, which is often evidenced by an achievement gap among diverse populations.[3] This conceptualization of education reform is based on the market-logic of competition. As a consequence, competition creates inequality which has continued to drive the market-logic of equality at an end point by reproduce the achievement gap among diverse youth. The one constant for all forms of education reform includes the idea that small changes in education will have large social returns in citizen health, wealth and well-being. For example, a stated motivation has been to reduce cost to students and society. From ancient times until the 1800s, one goal was to reduce the expense of a classical education. Ideally, classical education is undertaken with a highly educated full-time (extremely expensive) personal tutor. Historically, this was available only to the most wealthy. Encyclopedias, public libraries and grammar schools are examples of innovations intended to lower the cost of a classical education.

Related reforms attempted to develop similar classical results by concentrating on "why", and "which" questions neglected by classical education. Abstract, introspective answers to these questions can theoretically compress large numbers of facts into relatively few principles. This path was taken by some Transcendentalist educators, such as Amos Bronson Alcott. In the early modern age, Victorian schools were reformed to teach commercially useful topics, such as modern languages and mathematics, rather than classical subjects, such as Latin and Greek.

Many reformers focused on reforming society by reforming education on more scientific, humanistic, pragmatic or democratic principles. John Dewey and Anton Makarenko are prominent examples of such reformers. Some reformers incorporated several motivations, e.g. Maria Montessori, who both "educated for peace" (a social goal), and to "meet the needs of the child" (A humanistic goal). In historic Prussia, an important motivation for the invention of Kindergarten was to foster national unity by teaching a national language while children were young enough that learning a language was easy. Proponents of evidence-based education call for the use of evidence in guiding education reform.

Reform has taken many forms and directions. Throughout history and the present day, the meaning and methods of education have changed through debates over what content or experiences result in an educated individual or an educated society. Changes may be implemented by individual educators and/or by broad-based school organization and/or by curriculum changes with performance evaluations.


Classical times

Plato believed that children would never learn unless they wanted to learn. In The Republic, he said, " ... compulsory learning never sticks in the mind." An educational debate in the time of the Roman Empire arose after Christianity had achieved broad acceptance. The question concerned the educational value of pre-Christian classical thought: "Given that the body of knowledge of the pre-Christian Romans was heathen in origin, was it safe to teach it to Christian children?"

Modern reforms

Though educational reform occurred on a local level at various points throughout history, the modern notion of education reform is tied with the spread of compulsory education. Education reforms did not become widespread until after organized schooling was sufficiently systematized to be 'reformed.'

In the modern world, economic growth and the spread of democracy have raised the value of education and increased the importance of ensuring that all children and adults have access to high-quality, effective education. Modern education reforms are increasingly driven by a growing understanding of what works in education and how to go about successfully improving teaching and learning in schools.[4] However, in some cases, the reformers' goals of "high-quality education" has meant "high-intensity education", with a narrow emphasis on teaching individual, test-friendly subskills quickly, regardless of long-term outcomes, developmental appropriateness, or broader educational goals.[5]

Reforms of classical education

Western classical education as taught from the 18th to the 19th century has missing features that inspired reformers. Classical education is most concerned with answering the who, what, where, and when? questions that concern a majority of students. Unless carefully taught, group instruction naturally neglects the theoretical "why" and "which" questions that strongly concern fewer students.

Classical education in this period also did not teach local (vernacular) languages and cultures. Instead it taught high-status ancient languages (Greek and Latin) and their cultures. This produced odd social effects in which an intellectual class might be more loyal to ancient cultures and institutions than to their native vernacular languages and their actual governing authorities.

England in the 19th century

Before there were government-funded public schools, education of the lower classes was by the charity school, pioneered in the 19th century by Protestant organizations and adapted by the Roman Catholic Church and governments. Because these schools operated on very small budgets and attempted to serve as many needy children as possible, they were designed to be inexpensive.

The basic program was to develop "grammar" schools. These taught only grammar and bookkeeping. This program permitted people to start businesses to make money, and gave them the skills to continue their education inexpensively from books. "Grammar" was the first third of the then-prevalent system of classical education.

The ultimate development of the grammar school was by Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell who developed the monitorial system. Lancaster started as a poor Quaker in early 19th century London. Bell started the Madras School of India. The monitorial system uses slightly more-advanced students to teach less-advanced students, achieving student-teacher ratios as small as 2, while educating more than a thousand students per adult. Lancaster promoted his system in a piece called Improvements in Education that spread widely throughout the English-speaking world.

Discipline and labor in a Lancaster school were provided by an economic system. Scrip, a form of money meaningless outside the school, was created at a fixed exchange rate from a student's tuition. Every job of the school was bid-for by students in scrip, with the largest bid winning. However, any student tutor could auction positions in his or her classes. Besides tutoring, students could use scrip to buy food, school supplies, books, and childish luxuries in a school store. The adult supervisors were paid from the bids on jobs.

With fully developed internal economies, Lancaster schools provided a grammar-school education for a cost per student near $40 per year in 1999 U.S. dollars. The students were very clever at reducing their costs, and once invented, improvements were widely adopted in a school. For example, Lancaster students, motivated to save scrip, ultimately rented individual pages of textbooks from the school library, and read them in groups around music stands to reduce textbook costs. Students commonly exchanged tutoring, and paid for items and services with receipts from "down tutoring."

Lancaster schools usually lacked sufficient adult supervision. As a result, the older children acting as disciplinary monitors tended to become brutal task masters. Also, the schools did not teach submission to orthodox Christian beliefs or government authorities. As a result, most English-speaking countries developed mandatory publicly paid education explicitly to keep public education in "responsible" hands. These elites said that Lancaster schools might become dishonest, provide poor education and were not accountable to established authorities.

Lancaster's supporters responded that any schoolchild could avoid cheats, given the opportunity, and that the government was not paying for the education, and thus deserved no say in their composition.

Lancaster, though motivated by charity, claimed in his pamphlets to be surprised to find that he lived well on the income of his school, even while the low costs made it available to the poorest street-children. Ironically, Lancaster lived on the charity of friends in his later life.[6]

Progressive reforms in Europe and the United States

The term progressive in education has been used somewhat indiscriminately; there are a number of kinds of educational progressivism, most of the historically significant kinds peaking in the period between the late 19th and the middle of the 20th centuries.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been called the father of the child-study movement. It has been said that Rousseau "discovered" the child (as an object of study).

Rousseau's principal work on education is Emile: Or, On Education, in which he lays out an educational program for a hypothetical newborn's education to adulthood. Rousseau provided a dual critique of both the vision of education set forth in Plato's Republic and also of the society of his contemporary Europe and the educational methods he regarded as contributing to it; he held that a person can either be a man or a citizen, and that while Plato's plan could have brought the latter at the expense of the former, contemporary education failed at both tasks. He advocated a radical withdrawal of the child from society and an educational process that utilized the natural potential of the child and its curiosity, teaching it by confronting it with simulated real-life obstacles and conditioning it by experience rather than teaching it intellectually. His ideas were rarely implemented directly, but were influential on later thinkers, particularly Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel, the inventor of the kindergarten.

Horace Mann

In the United States, Horace Mann (1796 – 1859) of Massachusetts used his political base and role as Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education to promote public education in his home state and nationwide.[7] His crusading style attracted wide middle class support. Historian Ellwood P. Cubberley asserts:

No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of sectarian ends.[8]

National identity

Education is often seen in Europe and Asia as an important system to maintain national, cultural and linguistic unity. Prussia instituted primary school reforms expressly to teach a unified version of the national language, "Hochdeutsch". One significant reform was kindergarten, whose purpose was to have the children spend time in supervised activities in the national language, when the children were young enough that they could easily learn new language skills.

Since most modern schools copy the Prussian models, children start school at an age when their language skills remain plastic, and they find it easy to learn the national language. This was an intentional design on the part of the Prussians.

In the U.S. over the last twenty years, more than 70% of non-English-speaking school-age immigrants have arrived in the U.S. before they were 6 years old. At this age, they could have been taught English in school, and achieved a proficiency indistinguishable from a native speaker. In other countries, such as the Soviet Union, France, Spain, and Germany this approach has dramatically improved reading and math test scores for linguistic minorities.


John Dewey, a philosopher and educator based in Chicago and New York, helped conceptualize the role of American and international education during the first four decades of the 20th century. An important member of the American Pragmatist movement, he carried the subordination of knowledge to action into the educational world by arguing for experiential education that would enable children to learn theory and practice simultaneously; a well-known example is the practice of teaching elementary physics and biology to students while preparing a meal. He was a harsh critic of "dead" knowledge disconnected from practical human life.[9]

Dewey criticized the rigidity and volume of humanistic education, and the emotional idealizations of education based on the child-study movement that had been inspired by Rousseau and those who followed him. He presented his educational theories as a synthesis of the two views. His slogan was that schools should encourage children to "Learn by doing." He wanted people to realize that children are naturally active and curious. Dewey's understanding of logic is best presented in his "Logic, the Theory of Inquiry" (1938). His educational theories were presented in "My Pedagogic Creed", The School and Society, The Child and Curriculum, and Democracy and Education (1916). Bertrand Russell criticized Dewey's conception of logic, saying "What he calls "logic" does not seem to me to be part of logic at all; I should call it part of psychology."[10]

The question of the history of Deweyan educational practice is a difficult one. He was a widely known and influential thinker, but his views and suggestions were often misunderstood by those who sought to apply them, leading some historians to suggest that there was never an actual implementation on any considerable scale of Deweyan progressive education. The schools with which Dewey himself was most closely associated (though the most famous, the "Laboratory School", was really run by his wife) had considerable ups and downs, and Dewey left the University of Chicago in 1904 over issues relating to the Dewey School.[11]

Dewey's influence began to decline in the time after the Second World War and particularly in the Cold War era, as more conservative educational policies came to the fore.

The administrative progressives

The form of educational progressivism which was most successful in having its policies implemented has been dubbed "administrative progressivism" by historians. This began to be implemented in the early 20th century. While influenced particularly in its rhetoric by Dewey and even more by his popularizers, administrative progressivism was in its practice much more influenced by the Industrial Revolution and the concept economies of scale.

The administrative progressives are responsible for many features of modern American education, especially American high schools: counseling programs, the move from many small local high schools to large centralized high schools, curricular differentiation in the form of electives and tracking, curricular, professional, and other forms of standardization, and an increase in state and federal regulation and bureaucracy, with a corresponding reduction of local control at the school board level. (Cf. "State, federal, and local control of education in the United States", below) (Tyack and Cuban, pp. 17–26)

These reforms have since become heavily entrenched, and many today who identify themselves as progressives are opposed to many of them, while conservative education reform during the Cold War embraced them as a framework for strengthening traditional curriculum and standards.

In more recent times, groups such as the think tank Reform's education division, and S.E.R. have attempted to pressure the government of the U.K. into more modernist educational reform, though this has met with limited success.

Late-20th and early 21st century (United states)

Reforms arising from the civil rights era

From the 1950s to the 1970s, many of the proposed and implemented reforms in U.S. education stemmed from the civil rights movement and related trends; examples include ending racial segregation, and busing for the purpose of desegregation, affirmative action, and banning of school prayer.[12]


In the 1980s, some of the momentum of education reform moved from the left to the right, with the release of A Nation at Risk, Ronald Reagan's efforts to reduce or eliminate the United States Department of Education.

"[T]he federal government and virtually all state governments, teacher training institutions, teachers' unions, major foundations, and the mass media have all pushed strenuously for higher standards, greater accountability, more "time on task," and more impressive academic results".[13]

This shift to the right caused many families to seek alternatives, including "charter schools, progressive schools, Montessori schools, Waldorf schools, Afrocentric schools, religious schools - or teaching them at home and in their communities."[13]

In the latter half of the decade, E. D. Hirsch put forth an influential attack on one or more versions of progressive education, advocating an emphasis on "cultural literacy"—the facts, phrases, and texts that Hirsch asserted every American had once known and that now only some knew, but was still essential for decoding basic texts and maintaining communication. Hirsch's ideas remain significant through the 1990s and into the 21st century, and are incorporated into classroom practice through textbooks and curricula published under his own imprint.

1990s and 2000s

Most states and districts in the 1990s adopted Outcome-Based Education (OBE) in some form or another. A state would create a committee to adopt standards, and choose a quantitative instrument to assess whether the students knew the required content or could perform the required tasks. The standards-based National Education Goals (Goals 2000) were set by the U.S. Congress in the 1990s. Many of these goals were based on the principles of outcomes-based education, and not all of the goals were attained by the year 2000 as was intended. The standards-based reform movement culminated in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which as of 2016 is still an active nationwide mandate in the United States.

OBE reforms usually had other disputed methods, such as constructivist mathematics and whole language, added onto them. Some proponents advocated replacing the traditional high school diploma with a Certificate of Initial Mastery. Other reform movements were school-to-work, which would require all students except those in a university track to spend substantial class time on a job site. See also Uncommon Schools.

Trump Administration

President Donald Trump relegated concerns in education to state governments. This began with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)[14] which limits the role of the federal government in school liability. Giving states more authority can help prevent considerable discrepancies in educational performance across different states.[15] ESSA was approved by former President Obama in 2015 which amended and empowered the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.[16] The Department of Education has the choice to carry out measures in drawing attention to said differences by pinpointing lowest-performing state governments and supplying information on the condition and progress of each state on different educational parameters. It can also provide reasonable funding along with technical aid to help states with similar demographics collaborate in improving their public education programs.[17]

During his campaign, Trump criticized the 2010 Common Core States Standard[18] and other cases of “federal government overreach.[19]” His advocacy was to give state and local governments more responsibilities over education policies. Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as education secretary. She also supported the idea of leaving education to state governments under the new K-12 legislation.[20] DeVos cited the interventionist approach of the federal government to education policy following the signing of the ESSA. The primary approach to that rule has not changed significantly. Her opinion was that the education movement's populist politics or populism.[21] encouraged reformers to commit promises which were not very realistic and therefore difficult to deliver.[22]

Modernizing the Education System

Many opinion makers say the situation in all American social institutions[23] is the same. These institutions which include government, higher education, healthcare, and mass media are still attuned with the traditional or original economic system.[24] There is a need to upgrade to a digital information economy.[25] More providers of higher education which include colleges and universities, non-traditional entities like school districts, libraries, and museums, and for-profit organizations will surface. All of these stakeholders will reach out to bigger audiences and use similar tools and technologies to achieve their goals.[26] An article released by said a principal Senate Committee will take into account legislation that reauthorizes and modernizes the Carl D. Perkins Act. President George Bush approved this statute in 2006 on August 12, 2006.[27] This new bill will emphasize the importance of federal funding for various Career and Technical (CTE) programs that will better provide learners with in-demand skills. Congress can provide more students with access to pertinent skills in education according to 21st century career opportunities.[28]

At present, there are many initiatives aimed at dealing with these concerns like innovative cooperation between federal and state governments, educators, and the business sector. One of these efforts is the Pathways to Technology Early College High School (P-TECH).[29] This six-year program was launched in cooperation with IBM, educators from three cities in New York, Chicago, and Connecticut, and over 400 businesses.[30] The program offers students high school and associate programs focusing on the STEM curriculum.[31] The High School Involvement Partnership, private and public venture, was established through the help of Northrop Grumman, a global security firm. It has given assistance to some 7,000 high school students (juniors and seniors) since 1971 by means of one-on-one coaching as well as exposure to STEM areas and careers.[32] In 2016, published an article mentioning that one way of reenergizing the United States economy is to provide quality education and training opportunities for American youngsters.[33] There is a need to update funding streams for schools at the federal, state, and local levels such as Pell Grants addressing the requirements of college students. The Grant or specific amount of money is given by the government every school year for disadvantaged students who need to pay tuition fees in college.[34]

Higher education

Higher education in the United States of America has always been regarded as exceptional worldwide although there are apprehensions regarding expensive and quality education, unimpressive completion rates, and increasing student debt. These issues raised doubts as to the effectiveness of the conventional approach to higher education.[35] There have been numerous proposals for federal reforms to enhance the status of higher education in the US. Some of the recommendations included making institutions liable for students/ non-attendance or dropping out of school, changing the obsolete accreditation process in overseeing access to federal subsidies, and allowing access to free education.[36]

Strengths-based education

This uses a methodology that values purposeful engagement in activities that turn students into self-reliant and efficient learners. Holding on to the view that everyone possesses natural gifts that are unique to one's personality (e.g. computational aptitude, musical talent, visual arts abilities), it likewise upholds the idea that children, despite their inexperience and tender age, are capable of coping with anguish, able to survive hardships, and can rise above difficult times.[37][38][39][40]

Career and Technical Education

President Donald Trump signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (HR 2353) on July 31, 2018. This is the first law the American president signed that made meaningful amendments to the federal education system.[41] It reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, a $1.2 billion program modified by the United States Congress in 2006.[42]

Legislators have repeatedly rebuffed the efforts of Trump and education secretary Betsy DeVos to implement school choice programs funded by the federal government. The move to change the Higher Education Act was also deferred.[43] Business and education groups such as the Council of Chief State School Officers[44] as well as the National Governors Association[45] commended the US Congress for its prompt work during the past month. However, some advocacy organizations like Advanced CTE[46] and Association for Career and Technical Education[47] are apprehensive that said law can urge states to set passive laws for Career and Technical Education.

The new legislation takes effect on July 1, 2019 and takes the place of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (Perkins IV) Act of 2006. Stipulations in Perkins V enables school districts to make use of federal subsidies for all students' career search and development activities in the middle grades as well as comprehensive guidance and academic mentoring in the upper grades.[48] At the same time, this law updates and magnifies the meaning of "special populations" to include homeless persons, foster youth, those who left the foster care system, and children with parents on active duty in the United States armed forces.[49]

Contemporary issues (United States)

Education in the United States
Education portal
United States portal


In the first decade of the 21st century, several issues are salient in debates over further education reform:[50]

Funding levels

According to a 2005 report from the OECD, the United States is tied for first place with Switzerland when it comes to annual spending per student on its public schools, with each of those two countries spending more than $11,000 (in U.S. currency).[52] Despite this high level of funding, U.S. public schools lag behind the schools of other rich countries in the areas of reading, math, and science.[53] A further analysis of developed countries shows no correlation between per student spending and student performance, suggesting that there are other factors influencing education. Top performers include Singapore, Finland and Korea, all with relatively low spending on education, while high spenders including Norway and Luxembourg have relatively low performance.[54] One possible factor is the distribution of the funding. In the US, schools in wealthy areas tend to be over-funded while schools in poorer areas tend to be underfunded.[55] These differences in spending between schools or districts may accentuate inequalities, if they result in the best teachers moving to teach in the most wealthy areas.[56] The inequality between districts and schools led to 23 states instituting school finance reform based on adequacy standards that aim to increase funding to low-income districts. A 2018 study found that between 1990 and 2012, these finance reforms led to an increase in funding and test scores in the low income districts; which suggests finance reform is effective at bridging inter-district performance inequalities.[57] It has also been shown that the socioeconomic situation of the students family has the most influence in determining success; suggesting that even if increased funds in a low income area increase performance, they may still perform worse than their peers from wealthier districts.

Starting in the early 1980s, a series of analyses by Eric Hanushek indicated that the amount spent on schools bore little relationship to student learning.[58] This controversial argument, which focused attention on how money was spent instead of how much was spent, led to lengthy scholarly exchanges.[59] In part the arguments fed into the class size debates and other discussions of "input policies."[60] It also moved reform efforts towards issues of school accountability (including No Child Left Behind) and the use of merit pay and other incentives.

There have been studies that show smaller class sizes[61] and newer buildings[62] (both of which require higher funding to implement) lead to academic improvements. It should also be noted that many of the reform ideas that stray from the traditional format require greater funding.

It has been shown that some school districts do not use their funds in the most productive way. For example, according to a 2007 article in the Washington Post, the Washington, D.C. public school district spends $12,979 per student per year. This is the third highest level of funding per student out of the 100 biggest school districts in the United States. Despite this high level of funding, the school district provides outcomes that are lower than the national average. In reading and math, the district's students score the lowest among 11 major school districts—even when poor children are compared only with other poor children. 33% of poor fourth graders in the United States lack basic skills in math, but in Washington, D.C., it's 62%.[63] According to a 2006 study by the Goldwater Institute, Arizona's public schools spend 50% more per student than Arizona's private schools. The study also says that while teachers constitute 72% of the employees at private schools, they make up less than half of the staff at public schools. According to the study, if Arizona's public schools wanted to be like private schools, they would have to hire approximately 25,000 more teachers, and eliminate 21,210 administration employees. The study also said that public school teachers are paid about 50% more than private school teachers.[64]

In 1985 in Kansas City, Missouri, a judge ordered the school district to raise taxes and spend more money on public education. Spending was increased so much, that the school district was spending more money per student than any of the country's other 280 largest school districts.

According to a 1999 article, William J. Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, argued that increased levels of spending on public education have not made the schools better, citing the following statistics:[65]

Alternatives to public education

In the United States, private schools (independent schools) have long been an alternative to public education for those with the ability to pay tuition. These include religious schools, preparatory and boarding schools, and schools based on alternative paradigms such as Montessori education. Over 4 million students, about one in twelve children attend religious schools in the United States, most of them Christian.[66] Montessori pre- and primary school programs employ rigorously tested scientific theories[67] of guided exploration which seek to embrace children's natural curiosity rather than, for instance, scolding them for falling out of rank.

Home education is favored by a growing number of parents who take direct responsibility for their children's education rather than enrolling them in local public schools seen as not meeting expectations.

School choice

Economists such as Nobel laureate Milton Friedman advocate school choice to promote excellence in education through competition and choice.[68] A competitive "market" for schools eliminates the need to otherwise attempt a workable method of accountability for results. Public education vouchers permit guardians to select and pay any school, public or private, with public funds currently allocated to local public schools. The theory is that children's guardians will naturally shop for the best schools, much as is already done at college level.

Though appealing in theory, many reforms based on school choice have led to slight to moderate improvements—which some teachers' union members see as insufficient to offset the decreased teacher pay and job security.[69] For instance, New Zealand's landmark reform in 1989, during which schools were granted substantial autonomy, funding was devolved to schools, and parents were given a free choice of which school their children would attend, led to moderate improvements in most schools. It was argued that the associated increases in inequity and greater racial stratification in schools nullified the educational gains. Others, however, argued that the original system created more inequity (due to lower income students being required to attend poorer performing inner city schools and not being allowed school choice or better educations that are available to higher income inhabitants of suburbs). Instead, it was argued that the school choice promoted social mobility and increased test scores especially in the cases of low income students. Similar results have been found in other jurisdictions. Though discouraging, the merely slight improvements of some school choice policies often seems to reflect weaknesses in the way that choice is implemented rather than a failure of the basic principle itself.[70]

Teacher tenure

Critics of teacher tenure claim that the laws protect ineffective teachers from being fired, which can be detrimental to student success. Tenure laws vary from state to state, but generally they set a probationary period during which the teacher proves themselves worthy of the lifelong position. Probationary periods range from one to three years.[71] Advocates for tenure reform often consider these periods too short to make such an important decision; especially when that decision is exceptionally hard to revoke.[72] Due process restriction protect tenured teachers from being wrongfully fired; however these restrictions can also prevent administrators from removing ineffective or inappropriate teachers.[73] A 2008 survey conducted by the US Department of Education found that, on average, only 2.1% of teachers are dismissed each year for poor performance.[73]

In October 2010 Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs had a consequential meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss U.S. competitiveness and the nation's education system. During the meeting Jobs recommended pursuing policies that would make it easier for school principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit.[74]

In 2012 tenure for school teachers was challenged in a California lawsuit called Vergara v. California. The primary issue in the case was the impact of tenure on student outcomes and on equity in education. On June 10, 2014, the trial judge ruled that California's teacher tenure statute produced disparities that " shock the conscience"[75] and violate the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.[76] On July 7, 2014, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commented on the Vergara decision during a meeting with President Barack Obama and representatives of teacher's unions. Duncan said that tenure for school teachers "should be earned through demonstrated effectiveness" and should not be granted too quickly. Specifically, he criticized the 18-month tenure period at the heart of the Vergara case as being too short to be a "meaningful bar."[77]

Barriers to reform

A study by the Fordham Institute found that some labor agreements with teachers' unions may restrict the ability of school systems to implement merit pay and other reforms. Contracts were more restrictive in districts with high concentrations of poor and minority students.[78] The methodology and conclusions of the study have been criticized by teachers' unions.[79]

Another barrier to reform is assuming that schools are like businesses—when in fact they are very different.[80]

Legal barriers to reform are low in the United States compared to other countries: State and local governance of education creates "wiggle room for educational innovators" who can change local laws or move somewhere more favourable. Cultural barriers to reform are also relatively low, because the question of who should control education is still open.[81]

There are factors that can impede innovations in K-12 education.[82] One could be “Site-Based Decision Making Councils”[83] composed of teachers and some parents who vote on school rules and regulations, adoption of curriculum, hiring of new mentors, and other related matters. There are times attendance in meetings is not adequate or stakeholders are not represented properly. The belief is small meetings attended by a few individuals may not be ideal for innovation. Turnover of teachers is another possible hindrance to such innovations. The learning process is adversely affected because of frequent teacher resignations and replacements. Constant changing of mentors leads to waste of resources and dormant thinking influenced by policies, systems, and traditions.[84]


Education for All

Education 2030 Agenda refers to the global commitment of the Education for All movement to ensure access to basic education for all. It is an essential part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The roadmap to achieve the Agenda is the Education 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action, which outlines how countries, working with UNESCO and global partners, can translate commitments into action.[85]

The United Nations, over 70 ministers, representatives of member-countries, bilateral and multilateral agencies, regional organizations, academic institutions, teachers, civil society, and the youth supported the Framework for Action of the Education 2030 platform. The Framework was described as the outcome of continuing consultation to provide guidance for countries in implementing this Agenda. At the same time, it mobilizes various stakeholders in the new education objectives, coordination, implementation process, funding, and review of Education 2030.[86]


In other parts of the world, educational reform has had a number of different meanings. In Taiwan in the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century a movement tried to prioritize reasoning over mere facts, reduce the emphasis on central control and standardized testing. There was consensus on the problems. Efforts were limited because there was little consensus on the goals of educational reforms, and therefore on how to fix the problems. By 2003, the push for education reform had declined.


education reform 1995

In 1995, the minister of education, Sukavich Rangsitpol, launched a series of education reforms in 1995 with the intention of the education reform is to realize the potential of Thai people to develop themselves for a better quality of life and to develop the nation for a peaceful co-existence in the global community.[87]

According to UNESCO, Thailand education reform has led to the following results:

  • The educational budget increased from 133 billion baht in 1996 to 163 billion baht in 1997 (22.5% increase)
  • Since 1996, first grade students have been taught English as a second or foreign language and computer literacy.
  • Professional advancement from teacher level 6 to teacher level 7 without having to submit academic work for consideration was approved by the Thai government.
  • Free 12 years education for all children provided by the government. This program was added to the 1997 Constitution of Thailand and gave access to all citizens.[88]

World Bank report that after the 1997 Asian financial crisis Income in the northeast, the poorest part of Thailand , has risen by 46 percent from 1998 to 2006.[89] Nationwide poverty fell from 21.3 to 11.3 percent.


Education reform has been pursued for a variety of specific reasons, but generally most reforms aim at redressing some societal ills, such as poverty-, gender-, or class-based inequities, or perceived ineffectiveness. Current education trends in the United States represent multiple achievement gaps across ethnicities, income levels, and geographies. As McKinsey and Company reported in a 2009 analysis, “These educational gaps impose on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.”[90] Reforms are usually proposed by thinkers who aim to redress societal ills or institute societal changes, most often through a change in the education of the members of a class of people—the preparation of a ruling class to rule or a working class to work, the social hygiene of a lower or immigrant class, the preparation of citizens in a democracy or republic, etc. The idea that all children should be provided with a high level of education is a relatively recent idea, and has arisen largely in the context of Western democracy in the 20th century.

The "beliefs" of school districts are optimistic that quite literally "all students will succeed", which in the context of high school graduation examination in the United States, all students in all groups, regardless of heritage or income will pass tests that in the introduction typically fall beyond the ability of all but the top 20 to 30 percent of students. The claims clearly renounce historical research that shows that all ethnic and income groups score differently on all standardized tests and standards based assessments and that students will achieve on a bell curve. Instead, education officials across the world believe that by setting clear, achievable, higher standards, aligning the curriculum, and assessing outcomes, learning can be increased for all students, and more students can succeed than the 50 percent who are defined to be above or below grade level by norm referenced standards.

States have tried to use state schools to increase state power, especially to make better soldiers and workers. This strategy was first adopted to unify related linguistic groups in Europe, including France, Germany and Italy. Exact mechanisms are unclear, but it often fails in areas where populations are culturally segregated, as when the U.S. Indian school service failed to suppress Lakota and Navaho, or when a culture has widely respected autonomous cultural institutions, as when the Spanish failed to suppress Catalan.

Many students of democracy have desired to improve education in order to improve the quality of governance in democratic societies; the necessity of good public education follows logically if one believes that the quality of democratic governance depends on the ability of citizens to make informed, intelligent choices, and that education can improve these abilities.

Politically motivated educational reforms of the democratic type are recorded as far back as Plato in The Republic. In the United States, this lineage of democratic education reform was continued by Thomas Jefferson, who advocated ambitious reforms partly along Platonic lines for public schooling in Virginia.

Another motivation for reform is the desire to address socio-economic problems, which many people see as having significant roots in lack of education. Starting in the 20th century, people have attempted to argue that small improvements in education can have large returns in such areas as health, wealth and well-being. For example, in Kerala, India in the 1950s, increases in women's health were correlated with increases in female literacy rates. In Iran, increased primary education was correlated with increased farming efficiencies and income. In both cases some researchers have concluded these correlations as representing an underlying causal relationship: education causes socio-economic benefits. In the case of Iran, researchers concluded that the improvements were due to farmers gaining reliable access to national crop prices and scientific farming information.


Reforms can be based on bringing education into alignment with a society's core values.[91][92] Reforms that attempt to change a society's core values can connect alternative education initiatives with a network of other alternative institutions.[93]

Evidence-based education

Proponents of the evidence-based education movement call for the use of evidence in guiding education reform. Evidence-based education is the use of well designed scientific studies to determine which education methods work best. Evidence-based learning techniques such as spaced repetition have been shown to increase the rate at which students learn. The evidence-based education movement has its roots in the larger movement towards evidence-based-practices.

Digital education

The movement to use computers more in education naturally includes many unrelated ideas, methods, and pedagogies since there are many uses for digital computers. For example, the fact that computers are naturally good at math leads to the question of the use of calculators in math education. The Internet's communication capabilities make it potentially useful for collaboration, and foreign language learning. The computer's ability to simulate physical systems makes it potentially useful in teaching science. More often, however, debate of digital education reform centers around more general applications of computers to education, such as electronic test-taking and online classes.

The idea of creating artificial intelligence led some computer scientists to believe that teachers could be replaced by computers, through something like an expert system; however, attempts to accomplish this have predictably proved inflexible. The computer is now more understood to be a tool or assistant for the teacher and students.

Harnessing the richness of the Internet is another goal. In some cases classrooms have been moved entirely online, while in other instances the goal is more to learn how the Internet can be more than a classroom.

Web-based international educational software is under development by students at New York University, based on the belief that current educational institutions are too rigid: effective teaching is not routine, students are not passive, and questions of practice are not predictable or standardized. The software allows for courses tailored to an individual's abilities through frequent and automatic multiple intelligences assessments. Ultimate goals include assisting students to be intrinsically motivated to educate themselves, and aiding the student in self-actualization. Courses typically taught only in college are being reformatted so that they can be taught to any level of student, whereby elementary school students may learn the foundations of any topic they desire. Such a program has the potential to remove the bureaucratic inefficiencies of education in modern countries, and with the decreasing digital divide, help developing nations rapidly achieve a similar quality of education. With an open format similar to Wikipedia, any teacher may upload their courses online and a feedback system will help students choose relevant courses of the highest quality. Teachers can provide links in their digital courses to webcast videos of their lectures. Students will have personal academic profiles and a forum will allow students to pose complex questions, while simpler questions will be automatically answered by the software, which will bring you to a solution by searching through the knowledge database, which includes all available courses and topics.

The 21st century ushered in the acceptance and encouragement of internet research conducted on college and university campuses, in homes, and even in gathering areas of shopping centers. Addition of cyber cafes on campuses and coffee shops, loaning of communication devices from libraries, and availability of more portable technology devices, opened up a world of educational resources. Availability of knowledge to the elite had always been obvious, yet provision of networking devices, even wireless gadget sign-outs from libraries, made availability of information an expectation of most persons. Cassandra B. Whyte researched the future of computer use on higher education campuses focusing on student affairs. Though at first seen as a data collection and outcome reporting tool, the use of computer technology in the classrooms, meeting areas, and homes continued to unfold. The sole dependence on paper resources for subject information diminished and e-books and articles, as well as on-line courses, were anticipated to become increasingly staple and affordable choices provided by higher education institutions according to Whyte in a 2002 presentation.[94][95]

Digitally "flipping" classrooms is a trend in digital education that has gained significant momentum. Will Richardson, author and visionary for the digital education realm, points to the not-so-distant future and the seemingly infinite possibilities for digital communication linked to improved education. Education on the whole, as a stand-alone entity, has been slow to embrace these changes. The use of web tools such as wikis, blogs, and social networking sites is tied to increasing overall effectiveness of digital education in schools. Examples exist of teacher and student success stories where learning has transcended the classroom and has reached far out into society.[96]

Creativity is of the utmost importance when improving education. The "creative teachers" must have the confidence through training and availability of support and resources. These creative teachers are strongly encouraged to embrace a person-centered approach that develops the psychology of the educator ahead or in conjunction with the deployment of machines.[97] Creative teachers have been also been inspired through Crowd-Accelerated Innovation. Crowd-Accelerated Innovation has pushed people to transition between media types and their understanding thereof at record-breaking paces.[98] This process serves as a catalyst for creative direction and new methods of innovation. Innovation without desire and drive inevitably flat lines.[98]

Mainstream media continues to be both very influential and the medium where Crowd-Accelerated Innovation gains its leverage. Media is in direct competition with formal educational institutions in shaping the minds of today and those of tomorrow. [Buchanan, Rachel footnote] The media has been instrumental in pushing formal educational institutions to become savvier in their methods. Additionally, advertising has been (and continues to be) a vital force in shaping students and parents thought patterns.[99]

Technology is a dynamic entity that is constantly in flux. As time presses on, new technologies will continue to break paradigms that will reshape human thinking regarding technological innovation. This concept stresses a certain disconnect between teachers and learners and the growing chasm that started some time ago. Richardson asserts that traditional classroom's will essentially enter entropy unless teachers increase their comfort and proficiency with technology.[96]

Administrators are not exempt from the technological disconnect. They must recognize the existence of a younger generation of teachers who were born during the Digital Age and are very comfortable with technology. However, when old meets new, especially in a mentoring situation, conflict seems inevitable. Ironically, the answer to the outdated mentor may be digital collaboration with worldwide mentor webs; composed of individuals with creative ideas for the classroom.[100]

Another viable addition to digital education has been blended learning. In 2009, over 3 million K-12 students took an online course, compared to 2000 when 45,000 took an online course. Blended learning examples include pure online, blended, and traditional education. Research results show that the most effective learning takes place in a blended format.[101] This allows children to view the lecture ahead of time and then spend class time practicing, refining, and applying what they have previously learned.

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Further reading

  • Comer, J.P. (1997). Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can’t Solve Our Problems- and How We Can. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Cuban, L. (2003). Why Is It So Hard to Get Good Schools? New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
  • Darling-Hammond, Linda. (1997) The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Creating Schools that Work. Jossey-Bass.
  • Dewey, J. and Dewey, E. (1915). Schools of To-morrow. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company.
  • Dintersmith, Ted (2018). What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691180618.
  • Gatto, John Taylor (1992). Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Canada: New Society Publishers.
  • Glazek, S.D. and Sarason, S.B. (2007). Productive Learning: Science, Art, and Einstein’s Relativity in Education Reform. New York: Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Goldstein, Dana (2014). The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-53695-0.
  • Goodland, J.I. and Anderson, R.H. (1959 and 1987). The Nongraded Elementary School. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  • Green, Elizabeth (2014). Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-08159-6.
  • Hanushek, Eric (2013). Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School. Brookings Institution. ISBN 978-0-8157-0373-0.
  • James, Laurie. (1994) Outrageous Questions: Legacy of Bronson Alcott and America's One-Room Schools New York.
  • Katz, M.B. (1971). Class, Bureaucracy, and Schools: The Illusion of Educational Change in America. New York: Praeger Publishers.
  • Kliebard, Herbert. (1987) The Struggle for the American Curriculum. New York : Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Kohn, A. (1999). The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and 'Tougher Standards'. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • Murphy, J.H. and Beck, L.G. (1995). School-Based Management as School Reform: Taking Stock. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
  • Ogbu, J.U. (1978). Minority Education and Caste: The American System in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Academic Press.
  • Ravitch, D. (1988). The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
  • Sarason, S.B. (1996). Revisiting 'The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change'. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Sarason, S.B. (1990). The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform: Can We Change Course Before Its Too Late? San Francisco: Josey-Bass, Inc.
  • Sizer, T.R. (1984). Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Tough, Paul. (2008). Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Tough, Paul. (2012). How Children Succeed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Tyack, David and Cuban, Larry. (1995) Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Zwaagstra, Michael; Clifton, Rodney; and Long, John. (2010) What's Wrong with Our Schools: and How We Can Fix Them. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 1-60709-157-7
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