Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: The Future of Schooling: Educating America in 2020

I’m guessing that not very many teachers are going to read The Future of Schooling: Educating America in 2020, which is too bad – teachers all over the country should be having the kinds of conversations the authors of this book do.

Three of the four co-authors work for McREL, a consulting and long-range strategic planning organization, and the book has an obvious corporate tone.  Additionally, the authors take great pains to not reveal where they stand in some of the hottest educational debates raging the country.  Neither pro-Rhee nor pro-union; neither pro-testing nor pro-authentic assessment; neither pro-charter nor anti-charter, there is plenty in this book to anger every side of our overly partisan educational reform circles.

The goal of The Future of Schooling is not a product; they are not peddling any one of the four scenarios they writing about as they imagine what school might look like in a decade.  Instead, they are promoting a process.  They think that state and local boards of education, school districts, even individual schools should engage in a process they are calling “scenaric thinking.”

In brief, the authors identify two different debates they think dominate educational reform discussions, two “critical issues” in the terms of the book.  They then take these two issues to create two axes of a Cartesian plane.  The four spaces created by the plane then become the conditions under which four different scenarios are imagined.  According to the authors, the “scenarios are meant to be plausible representations of what could happen if certain factors that are highly uncertain today resolve themselves in specific ways in the future.”

One of the two axes the authors use is the “Outcomes of Education.”

The authors do not engage in speculating what the “outcomes of education” should be.  They don’t argue for more high-stakes tests nor to they promote portfolio assessment.  Instead, one of their axes asks the question, “In 2020, will the outcomes of education be standardized or differentiated?”  One can see the debate raging currently.  On the one hand, we have a movement to national common core standards, asking all states to align and standardize their educational goals.  The SMARTER and PARCC consortiums are doing the work right now on sets of assessments linked to the common core standards.  It does not take a long leap of speculative logic to imagine the kind of pressure the last six holdout states will soon be under when new textbooks are rewritten to align to the new standards and it is not difficult to imagine the pressure for every state to then voluntarily adopt the new assessments.  One the other hand, there is a movement growing led by writer and educators like Sir Ken Robinson and Daniel Pink who argue that standardization is exactly the wrong direction to go and that American  education and business can only improve when creativity and diversity of educational outcomes are embraced and normalized,.

 The second axes used in The Future of School is the “Direction of Reform.”
The authors see two choices, “we can “optimize” the current system by tweaking, improving, and revamping it here and there as needed”  Alternately, they see some in the educational reform debate who argue to, “abandon our current system altogether, blowing it up and starting over, so to speak, by engaging in a wholesale reinvention that results in a  new system of schooling with few, it any, vestiges of the current one.” 

Using these two “critical issues,” the authors imagine four scenarios:
  • Ø  We standardize educational outcomes by tweaking our current system
  • Ø  We standardize educational outcomes by blowing up and replacing the system with something entirely new
  • Ø  We allow for differentiated educational outcome by tweaking our current system
  • Ø  We allow for differentiated educational outcome by blowing up and replacing the system with something entirely new

To see how these four scenarios play out…  your going to have to read the book.


Sara @ Domestically Challenged said...

Well, my husband is certain we are going to blow up before we change! I do question that if we did, would we be able to put something decent back together?

Dave Orphal said...

Hi Sara,

Here's a question... if school reform isn't reform at all, but re-invention as your husband and I imply with the "blow up" phrase, what do you imagine we would replace our current system with?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes wholesale CHAOS is nessary before new life can burst forth... I can already smell the breath of giants waking up and stretching!

Dave Orphal said...

Anonymous: This may interest you...


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