Ever attended a Conference and come back pumped up to only be disappointed?

I have attended hundreds of conferences all over the country listening to all the guru’s in education. Many of them have inspiring, lofty, and common sense recommendations on how to reform education.  I have even witnessed a standing ovation when one of these guru’s concluded.


Because the guru’s, say all the right things — kids should learn at their own pace. grades or some grading practices are bad,  kids need time to process, content should be multi-disciplinary, learning should be hands on, technology should enhance learning, it might not make sense to lump kids together because they happen to be the same age, and the list is endless.  All the major gurus talk about what we should do differently to teach kids and almost to the letter those educators in the audience agree.

Then reality sets in for all the educators and administrators that heard the talk.  We leave the keynote and at dinner or over a beer we discuss how we might actually make some of the suggestions work in our current situation or setting.  Almost immediately someone will blurt out — no — it will never work given our current structure and way of doing business.  They will give you that look — come on you know we cannot change the bus schedule! With all this testing — we could never cover all the material on the test doing school the way the guru suggested!  AND my favorite — we have changed so much — if I add one more change the teachers will mutiny!

That is one of our problems in education we have changed just about everything — we have changed instruction, changed the schedule, changed the curriculum, and all at the same time — NOTHING has really changed. That is the irony of the reform/change mantra in education.  If you walk into schools with all this change — it is mostly cosmetic — it’s akin to changing the deck chairs on the Titanic — this kind of change although is hard work does not make any difference in the outcome — she is still going to sink!  Schools are still modeled like a factory and for the life of me I cannot figure out how we became so entrenched in this model that we refuse to give it up?  Is it only because of efficiency?  Is it just easier to organize kids and learning this way?

This factory model has endured and is so strong that despite all the technology available for kids and teachers — we generally still organize the same way.  School cannot shed this model because via educational policy it endorses and perpetuates this model.  We test — then grade — we expect ACT and SAT scores to matter — we count DIPLOMA’s and never measure learning outcomes — we refuse to let go of archaic and often worthless endeavors like spelling bees!  I can drone on and on but the bottom line is — those that want us to reform and change are often the culprits that perpetuate the very system they are trying to reform!  Case in point — during Race to The Top the United States Department of Education had these instructions.  We want you to be creative, think outside the box on school reform, and write your application using one of these four models!  Be creative — but do it this way!

I think genuinely teachers, principals, superintendents want what is best for students.  They actually know what to do — and know what education can look like without using the current structure.  It is not that educators that don’t know what to do to make education spectacular for  kids — it is the very nature of the system that prevents that from happening.   Until we get non-educators out of the educational space we will continue to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic and wonder why its still sinking in spite of our effort!


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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