ERIC Number: EJ1080535
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2004
Reference Count: N/A
Why Americans Love to Reform the Public Schools
Reese, William J.
Education Research and Perspectives, v31 n2 p107-119 2004
Americans from all walks of life espouse the cause of school reform. The past generation has witnessed the rise of education governors and education presidents. The CEO's of major corporations, big-city mayors, private sector entrepreneurs, inner city parents, the heads of teachers' unions, and every politician under the sun have often found the mantra of school reform irresistible. Over the last century, schools have become multi-purpose institutions, which is why they are so easy to criticize and forever in need of reform. Schools are expected to feed the hungry, discipline the wayward, identify and encourage the talented, treat everyone alike while not forgetting that everyone is an individual, raise test scores but also feelings of self-worth, ensure winning sports teams without demeaning academics, improve standards but also graduation rates, provide for the differing learning styles and capacities of the young while administering common tests, and counter the crass materialism of the larger society while providing the young with the skills and sensibilities to thrive in it as future workers. All institutions may be complicated places, but it's hard to change the inner life of the typical school. That has not stopped anyone from trying, or from at least writing or talking about it. So why do Americans love to reform the public schools? First, there is an old and persistent cultural strain in American history, derived from many sources, that seeks human perfection and sees education and schooling as essential to that perfectibility. That goal is high enough to guarantee that most people will not reach it. This means that numerous citizens at any point bemoan the quality of the public schools, which cannot simultaneously achieve laudable but mutually contradictory goals, such as high standards and equality. Second, many Americans believe that their nation uniquely respects the individual and, as a corollary to that belief, has a remarkably fluid social order. Individuals are so highly regarded that they are held personally responsible for their school performance. In the modern world, schools can decisively help determine which individuals will or will not attend college, who will rise into the professions, and who will sink into the service economy. When schools cannot produce success for everyone, citizens often blame teachers, not the more powerful folks in charge of the economy. Third, over the past two centuries America's public schools have assumed so many responsibilities for the care, discipline, and education of the young that they inevitably disappoint many people. The current mania for standardized testing hardly means that schools have shed their various social functions, many unrelated directly to academic achievement. The dream of perfection, the supreme faith in the individual and social mobility through appropriate schooling, and the unexamined assumption that schools should cure whatever ails the nation make educational reform a constant concern in American society.
Descriptors: Public Schools, Educational Change, Educational Improvement, Educational History, United States History, Public Opinion, Citizen Participation, Religious Factors, Government Role
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A