Reform or Transform?

A wonderful blog about the differences from edublogs:

Education Reform Vs. Education Transformation

For quite some time, I’ve been proudly blogging and tweeting about education reform. Until recently, I even listed education reform as a passion in my Twitter bio. Of course, I jumped right into the conversation. I was full of ideas, passionately engaged in conversations about what needed to change, and pushed myself to realized those changes in my classroom, school, and district.

But during the past few months, I’ve become increasingly frustrated and concerned about the shifts (or lack of) in education. We continue to have conversation after conversation about the topic but there’s been very little systemic, second order change. As I reflect on this dilemma and the “why” of being stuck, I believe a piece of the puzzle is that we’re too focused on reform. Reform implies that we have to “fix” the current system – tweaking here and there with minor changes. We’re focused on fixing the current system when we should be focused on “transforming” with fundamental shifts in the core of what we believe about education. The difference between reforming and transforming is critical. The two are not synonymous. Until we get to transformation education will not change.

Conversations about change MUST focus on transformation and start with the why – not the how and the what. As a country we must define the why of education and build the system – even if it means abolishing everything we know about the old system – around the core principles of learning for the future. It’s important to note my choice of the word “learning vs. education.” There’s a distinct difference between education and learning. For decades, our system has been solely focused on educating students vs. creating passionate, contributing, engaged learners. This, instead of test scores and standards, should be the starting point of transformation conversations.

There’s certainly been a number of changes that attempt to “fix” education in the US but they’re all focused on the how and the what. The Common Core standards are a good example of this (just as an aside – I think the common core standards are excellent and will have some positive impact on student achievement and depth of learning). We know that other countries with high ranking scores have a national curriculum so the US decided to jump on this bandwagon. Common core standards are billed as the panacea that will “reform” education.

The flaw in this thinking is that we haven’t changed any of the underlying principles, policies, and systems that aren’t working. To me, this is another “bandaid” approach to reform. Some positive changes will occur. There will be some “reform” of the system. But the common core standards, and other initiatives like adding technology to classrooms, in and of themselves will NOT “transform” schooling. We need to have the tough conversations, quit making excuses and “cloaking” issues as something other that what they are, recognize that our country has not addressed “equity” in education and be brave enough to abolish the current system. Hopefully, all educators will rise up, lead from where they stand, and impact this change – for our student and the future of learning in our country.