Unless you have been living in a cave, you have heard at least one politician mention education reform. It seems to be the catchy phrase of the moment for both Republicans and Democrats. So what is education reform?
To put it simply, education reform is the attempt or process to improve public education. There are those proponents who believe reform can happen based on small changes that can elicit significant changes that will stay with a student as they enter society.
It’s pretty heady stuff especially if you’re attempting to make small changes in an area of public education that’s beset by mammoth-sized problems. It’s like putting goldfish into a community of great white sharks believing that the goldfish can change the shark environment.
Education reform, despite the fact that politicians would like you to believe that it’s something innovative that they created recently, has been around since 1974. It really picked up momentum in 1983.
The Philadelphia School District, which was taken over by the state in 2001, is the not-so perfect example of education reform. After the state’s take over and changes that were made such as getting rid of the school board and creating the SRC, spending millions of dollars to run some schools, restructuring other schools, hiring so-called experts, creating alternatives to the larger schools in the form of charter schools as well as claiming that it’s not about reforming, but transforming, have there really been improvements?
The school district also hired people that were considered to be visionaries; something they felt was needed for education reform. These visionaries came in the form of superintendents such as Mark Shedd from 1966 until 1971, Constance Clayton from 1982 until 1993, David Hornbeck from 1994 until 2000, Paul Vallas from 2002 until 2007, and Arlene Ackerman from 2008 until 2011. Every time a new “visionary” came in, everything the previous superintendent did was scrapped and plans for education reform began at square one. It was like being stuck in the mud, getting out and falling back into the mud.
It’s hard to see the change especially in recent events of the ongoing investigation of the PSSA cheating scandal, the never-ending financial crisis, the large number of low-performing schools, and the continued violence within the schools. However, there has been some change.
In 2008, the dropout rate in Philadelphia was 47% which means that the graduation rate was a mere 53%. Today the graduation rate is 60% which means the dropout rate is 40%. The has school district finally opted out of their self-imposed visionary program and are going with someone who will continue with programs already in place; to improve upon those programs. They also signed a Philadelphia Great Schools Compact and have come up with a transformation plan. If officials stick to them, both of these items will contribute greatly to education reform or, even better yet, they will actually begin to have a succession of education reform in the Philadelphia School District.
As any educator will tell you, it’s always important to have a plan.