Where ed reformers went wrong
Note: the following is an opinion piece, not a thoroughly researched article with citations.
As a parent of kids in public school, former worker in tech industry, and observer of education reform efforts, I have come to believe that there's a fundamental disconnect in the approaches of so called "education reformers". This is a very broad, fuzzy, term that lumps a lot of people into a generic category, so let me narrow that down.
I'm talking about those who have pushed a number of initiatives such as: the proliferation of charter schools, ed-tech products being pushed into schools, "personalized learning", software tools which purportedly support such learning, and last but not least, the monies that flow into organizations hoping to disrupt public education, and the assumptive role of teachers' unions in maintaining the status quo. Many of these efforts have been funded by libertarian-leaning individuals and organizations affiliated with Wall Street hedge funds and Silicon Valley venture capitalists. I think while many of these folks may have a presumed noble reason for wanting to improve education, in practice their actions have been turbulently disruptive to education, and not in a good way.
Here's where I think they went wrong. Rather than tinker with incremental approaches to making school better, it would have been better for those forces to think about how to disrupt how we think about learning itself. A lot of assumptions about how school is "done" is ingrained in a lot of educator training programs, and if you look deeper, into unconscious memes about American society, capitalism, and Puritanical mores. If we just put more sweat into it, teach our kids about grit and resilience, and install more and more "systems of accountability" into our school systems, then we'll get better results. Let's switch from the urban school systems which often are a proxy for what's wrong with American education and instead look at how school is done in tony suburbs. You still have things like kids showing up all at the same time, learning the same subjects, for set periods of time, for the exact same length of time each day. Many kids learn by listening to a teacher stand up and lecture about a subject, then parrot back the facts in some kind of standardized test. I don't see ed reformers clamoring to disrupt the suburbs. They think those schools are doing fine. It's the inner city schools that they see as a problem.
Here in Chicago, I'm a big fan of a small private school that believes in no set curriculum at all. The kids are free to learn what they want when they want. There's no tests, grades nor homework. They can even choose to leave school and go hang out at a cafe if that's what they want. I can't think of a more disruptive idea than that. Why aren't ed reformers clamoring to build more schools like that everywhere? Otherwise I feel they are nibbling at the margins, rather than freeing kids from a system which inhibits authentic learning.