To a casual observer, a classroom today looks scarcely different than what one looked like when I entered the public policy debate thirty years ago…The vast majority of learning environments have remained the same since the industrial revolution, because they were made in its image. Think of your own experience: sit down; don’t talk; eyes front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. Repeat. Students were trained for the assembly line then, and they still are today.
Our societies and economies have moved beyond the industrial era. But the data tell us education hasn’t.
The most recent Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, with which you are all familiar, has the U.S. ranked 23rd in reading, 25th in science and 40th in math. And, you know this too: it’s not for a lack of funding. The fact is the United States spends more per pupil than most other developed countries, many of which perform better than us in the same surveys.
Of course there have been many attempts to change the status quo. We’ve seen valiant efforts to improve education from Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives and everyone in between.
The bottom line is simple: federal education reform efforts have not worked as hoped.
That’s not a point I make lightly or joyfully. Yes, there have been some minor improvements in a few areas. But we’re far from where we need to be. We need to be honest with ourselves. The purpose of today’s conversation is to look at the past with 20/20 hindsight, examine what we have done and where it has – or hasn’t – led us.