Five Education Reforms That Didn’t Work

23 Sep

Educators know that with each passing year new ideas to change and improve schooling will be trotted out and “PD’ed”. Some of them work and some of them don’t.

Here’s five I wish they hadn’t tried.

  1. Racial Segregation– In 1896 the US Supreme Court endorsed racial segregation in schools in their decision on  Plessy v. Ferguson. For the next 60 years or so US public schools were racially segregated, ending with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Can’t believe that it lasted that long.
  2. Open ClassroomsOpen classrooms were a movement in education in the late 1960’s and 1970’s where classrooms were built without walls. It was done to facilitate team teaching and multi-age groupings. Unfortunately, educators didn’t accept it and tried to teach with traditional, single grade groups in open classrooms. This was tremendously unsuccessful and lead to many headaches. Most purpose built open classrooms have since been retrofitted with walls and doors.
  3. Whole Language– The problem with Whole Language wasn’t the philosophy but its wholesale adoption. It replaced phonics based instruction and proponents of these opposing philosophies would arm-wrestle over staff room tables to determine which was supreme. We now understand that neither was correct and what was needed a balanced approach to language instruction using both explicit instruction and exposure to literature (until we’re told that’s wrong of course).
  4. Single Gender Schools- The notion that separating boys and girls is a good idea for their education is persistent but entirely wrong. The differences between individuals is greater than any differences between genders, and we know that education works best when people are grouped together in heterogeneous groupings.
  5. Destreaming High Schools– In Ontario, this came out of the Radwanski report commissioned by Liberal Premier David Peterson. A policy advisor, not an educator, George Radwanski headed up an inquiry into reducing Ontario’s drop-out rate and issued a report that recommended, amongst other things, de-streaming Ontario high schools. This was done by subsequent governments and found be a very bad idea and quickly reversed.

So what will be the next educational reform to be disproved and added to the trash pile? Standardized testing? FDK? EdTech?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

2 Responses to “Five Education Reforms That Didn’t Work”

  1. Mark Henderson September 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    I know it’s not a popular perspective, but I predict FDK is going to be a huge success, especially for children from low-socio economic backgrounds. Having students entering a structured play-based learning environment earlier is going to give students a great head start in school/life.

    • ballacheybears September 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

      I agree Mark. The school I teach at serves many low-income families and the sooner we can get those kids into enriching environments the better. I think the success of FDK will be determined by two questions: 1) Did it have to be extended to all students. I thin we’re already seeing the many middle and upper income parents are keeping their kids home. 2) Did the end justify the means? You can argue that we lost our bargaining rights to pay for FDK. How will that affect learning in the province for the next decade? The Harris Tories set us back years. Thanks for the comment.

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