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Blowing Up the Education Paradigm


For some reason, every time I read a news item that starts with “A panel of experts…” my Fog-O-Meter starts clanging. So many words, so much collective talent, so few results at the end of the story. If the lede says that they are “Education experts” the clanging becomes a high decibel alarm. Everyone, it seems, can be an “Education expert” but few actually know what they are talking about.

So, when the New York Times trumpeted a headline “Expert Panel Proposes Far-Reaching Redesign of the American Education System” my fog warning bells rang loud.

Guess what? As I read the story, I found myself intrigued. This panel of experts — The Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce — did not come up with the usual litany of improve-standards-and-impose-testing that seem to be the bottom line of so many of these reports.

No, this group came up with something far more radical: blow-up the education paradigm as it has existed for 150 years in this country!

Among other radical proposals, the Commission proposes eliminating 11th and 12th grade for many students who might be better-off in postsecondary educational programs at community colleges; increasing pay for teachers substantially, but at the same time turning contracts over to private enterprises to run schools and hire teachers; and enrolling children in school by age 3.

Will these proposals have any lasting impact? Library shelves are crammed with the work product of countless other reports on how to fix what’s wrong with American education. This report — “Tough Choices or Tough Times” — may have more staying power because the powers behind the report are some of the wealthiest foundations in this nation — the Gates Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Annie Casey Foundation, Hewlett Foundation — and they have already been devoting millions of dollars to studying and restructuring educational systems in states and cities all over the nation.

While various groups will argue about these proposals, the good news is that the arguments are ensuing — and in the loud and lively discussion about school reform, maybe — just maybe — we will find some consensus on this plain truth: K-12 education is not working in too many places for too many children, and the failures of elementary and secondary education have an impact on diminishing returns in higher education. Tinkering at the margins won’t fix the problem — nor will testing, recomposing school boards, or swapping superintendents every two or three years.

Blowing up the education paradigm sounds radical, yes — but as a saying hanging on my wall states, “When reform becomes impossible, revolution becomes imperative.”

See the report at

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: