EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.
|Dr. Matthew Lynch|
This week, reader Jacob H. asks:
I have been following your work on school reform for a while. How can we build sustainable school reform in America?
Good question, Jacob. Also, thanks for your readership. I have been pondering this question for over 15 years, and I must say, it's not rocket science. Well, at least not to me. Let me begin by saying that public education in the U.S. is best viewed as a work in progress. The public school system has been in a state of reform for much of its existence, roughly since the inception of the common school near the middle of the 1800s. Despite high levels of consternation and frustration that emerge from a system that seems to be in a constant and even cyclical state of change, major reforms implemented throughout the history of public education continue to influence school structures, policies and practices in the U.S. today.
Education reform is affected by and responsive to social, cultural and economic change, as well as the need to improve perceived shortcomings in the system. The need for reform should not necessarily be an indictment of the system as whole—in fact, educational innovation can be viewed as beneficial. Thus, the notion of sustainable school reform may be too static for a nation that intends to be a major leader in all areas, including the level of education its citizens are able to achieve.
However, the system does suffer from discernible levels of inertia, which have led to ongoing criticisms that it is unable to provide all children with learning conditions where they can achieve to the best of their ability. Public education has historically been too inflexible to effectively handle the educational needs of some children, particularly those designated to the margins because of their socioeconomic status, language and/or ethnicity.
Many children unable to assimilate to dominant cultural norms were not able to take advantage of opportunities to be educated through the public system. In the most powerful country in the world, the education of all children living within its boundaries should be a constant, even as educational reforms are implemented to address social, cultural or economic changes.
Sustainable school reform—in the form of policies and practices for all schools at all times—should not be the goal for education. The fact that we find ourselves in reform mode in the 21st century should be viewed as a positive situation. We should work toward creating sustainable pathways that allow for continuous efforts to create improved educational environments for all children. This will give them choices as adults, regardless of the social and historical moments in which they find themselves.
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