Reforming reform

Education reform can’t just fiddle with the status quo, writes Frederick Hess in Common Sense School Reform.

Good organizations, in schooling and elsewhere, are characterized by clear goals, careful measurement of performance, rewards based on outcomes, the elimination of unproductive employees, operational flexibility, the ready availability of detailed and useful information, personnel systems that recruit and promote talent, and attention to training and professional growth. This describes few of today’s public schools.

Hess doesn’t think schools are terrible. He thinks we keep spending more and more money to remain mediocre.

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  1. Thank you Mr. Hess! Thank you for putting to paper what I have believed for so many years!

    I am so glad to work at a common sense school. It has been chosen at a top 25 model school by the International Center for Leadership in Education. ( We are in a community where we have experienced exponential growth, but have not relented in our strive for excellence.

    I am sick and tired of the unions and everyone else constantly begging for more money. I am not part of a union and never plan to be. The only way we are going to change schools is one teacher at a a time. I am doing my best to make a difference – how about everyone else?

  2. Henry Cate says:

    Frederick Hess makes the point in his book that there are two types of reformers.

    One type is the “status quo” reformers who want to change minor things, without fundamentally changing the education system.

    The second group of reformers, the group the book is about, are those he calls “common sense” reformers. This group wants to make major changes.

    To have any kind of effective change Frederick Hess says we need to have greatly increased accountability and flexibility. Unfortunately given the current state of the education system I don’t see any way to make major changes in increased accountability and flexibility.

    He is right in that increased accountability and flexibility would solved many of the major problems in education. But there are so many teachers, administrators, politicians, and others with a stake in with the current state of education, that it will take major effort to change more than the facade.

  3. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Necessary conditions for what Mr. Hess describes:

    1) Smart, enthusiastic, “self-starters” both in charge and teaching.

    2) Small enough schools for everyone to know what everyone else is doing, and maintain a relatively informal organization. Otherwise “clear goals, careful measurement of performance, rewards based on outcomes” degenerates into bureaucratic rule-beating. It’s hard enough to measure educational results without everybody cheating.

    3) Enough smart enthusiastic people who want to teach to educate every child in the country, a method of selecting such from among the applicants, and money to pay them.

    Given (3), we can apply (1) and (2). Problem solved. How did we tie ourselves in knots about something so simple? Must be the teacher’s union’s fault.

  4. Rita C. says:

    Then become a teacher, Richard.