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1. In the Trenches with School Reform is a site for problem-solvers and for those who are comfortable  looking at both sides of issues. It is a place for civil discourse and where visitors will be treated with respect, regardless of their opinions. Therefore, comments will be moderated. Inappropriate comments will not be posted.

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3. Comments blaming teachers’ unions for the state of our schools will not be published. In my opinion, teachers’ unions are a side issue. Questions about teachers’ unions will be  kept in a list by theschoolprincipal —  if the questions are asked in a respectful manner. The list will not be published at this time. At some time in the future, it is possible that space on the website will be devoted to a discussion of teacher’ unions – but only after we are much further along  identifying the central issues pertinent to school reform.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Armando Tolliver, M.Ed.
January 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Universal education for all citizens is the cornerstone of our democracy. In an age of increasing public accountability, all students are expected to meet public performance expectations at all schools. The media’s representation of school data and the pubic disclosure of data impacts classroom practices and influences government actions. This has been the case throughout the history of education. In 1983, the Reagan Administration’s report, A Nation at Risk, shattered public confidence in America’s school system and sparked a new wave of education reform (Cuban, 2001). Later in 2002, George Bush Jr. passed the No Child Left Behind act. President Bush expressed that too many of our most needy children are being left behind opening another segment of educational reform (U. S. Department of Education, 2004). The diverse strategies in contemporary educational reform movements both challenge and promote the founding fathers’ notion of a common school that American public schools would be a place where informed citizens were developed and the understanding and practice of democracy would begin.
Today’s educational reform movements emphasize the standardization of curriculum, providing all American students with parallel educational experiences that will assist them in becoming informed and active citizens. However, in working toward these improvements, the processes have revealed glaring problems. NCLB, for example, demands “improved teacher training and test-based licensure” (Tozer, 2005, p. 450). While this requirement certainly makes sense that our children be educated by competent and prepared individuals, the result has been criticism for teacher certification testing as “testing very little about perspective teachers’ higher-order thinking skills or pedagogical skills” (Tozer, 2005, p. 450). This issue has also led to further debate about requiring more or less state-level control over teaching certification tests and procedures.
Additionally, unlike the founding fathers who believed public schools were a way to promote a common good, contemporary educational reform has been deemed a way to promote economic interests, reflecting the interests of schooling in the progressive era (Tozer, 2005, p.452). As Frank Margonis states in his critique of current reforms,
Loyalty to the free market rather than to the public good…should warn us of the dangers of the states’ strategy of trying to attract business through educational upgrades…the strategy of the reform movement was designed to benefit business first and the citizenry second. (Tozer, 2005, p. 452)
Contemporary school reform, although rooted in important goals, is also based on promoting national economic interests.
Current reforms emphasize accountability through testing. As a result, a “teach to the test” style of education has sprung up, which focuses upon test scores rather than critical thinking, engagement, and creativity (Booher-Jennings, 2005). Instead of preparing students for civic engagement in a democratic society, this form of education leads to “citizens becoming receptacles for other people’s ideologies and ways of looking at the world but lack the independent sprits to create their own” (Kozol, 2005, p. 98).
With the passing of The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the law has expanded the federal role of education in every state and public school in the United States. The pressure of standardized testing, and the allocation of funding are clear examples of areas explicitly discussed in No Child Left Behind that have its own share of mixed reviews (Barlow, 2006; Galloway, 2007; Martusewicz, 2009). Those schools who do poorly on standardized tests tend to be schools in poor urban districts. Consequently, doing poorly on these exams through a loss of funding then punishes these same schools. It continues a devastating cycle, furthering the despair of some schools while elevating those who do not need to be elevated. Historian Christine Shea writes
For the vast majority of noncollege-bound/minimal-competency students, the end of formal schooling is expected to occur as soon as they demonstrate acquisition of “learning to learn” minimal-competency skills. As such, the school reform proposals are intended to do little more than to prepare minority children for a series of dead-end, low paying jobs in the secondary labor market. (as cited in Tozer, 2005, p. 453)
Such reforms serve to perpetuate educational, racial, and economic inequalities—and a system that merely prepares to students to enact and perpetuate their own limited roles that social factors have set up for them. Poorly funded schools in neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic classes able to complete the cycle of offering substandard educations to their students while affluent schools are able to provide their students with even more educational opportunities (Leviton, 2009). The act attempted to resolve issues of accountability with standardized testing and funds allocation but it seems like the possible outcomes of such measures were not properly thought through. It is unfortunate that this act implies the possibility of outcomes that are counter-intuitive to its goals.
Discounting the ideals of the common school can also be seen when we turn our attention to yet another focus of current school reform—school choice. Though the concept of choice is an integral element of democracy, it serves to alienate thousands of students when implemented in the American education system. Reformers maintain that school choice and vouchers would allow students to pick their school “on the basis of its perceived quality and its compatibility with their personal educational goals” (Tozer, 2005, p. 447). As a result, high quality schools will ideally flourish while poorer schools would either have to improve or simply close. Realistically, this reform of choice would most likely benefit students in wealthier school districts and create greater disparities between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Critics also believe that schools “will never expand sufficiently to address the needs of the great majority” (Tozer, 2005, p. 457).
The problems and attempted reforms within American education highlight the very problems and complexities at the heart of our society. It seems apparent that according to Tozer (2005), inequality is the most profound problem that then compounds into other problems. For example, accountability through standardized testing attempts to alleviate inequalities within our schools, while simultaneously highlighting the vast inequalities at play in our schools, especially in urban and rural areas. Research has found that there is a “strong link between student performance on standardized tests and family income” (Tozer, 2005, p. 463). Thus, there are major social factors affecting education. And no amount of accountability or fear of adequate yearly progress numbers can combat decades of poverty, segregation, and discrimination. Stan Karp writes, “Inequality is as American as processed apple pie” (Tozer, 2005, p. 463). School reform is a slice of that pie
The roller coaster of school reform throughout our history seems to be part of a self-perpetuating problem. It also leaves many educators jaded about the possibility of finding a direction, which works, as trends and problems tend to be cyclical, and driven by legislators far removed from the classrooms they are manipulating. Instead, contemporary reforms need to refocus on the more important issue at hand, leveling the playing field, so students in all school districts are given the same opportunity to succeed. The professionalization of teachers is one way to begin, as is allocating funds and resources equally, instead of based on school performance merit. The facets of our ever-changing society demand reforms to the educational system, so as to address diversity, equality, economy, technology, etc. Unfortunately, our current strategies in contemporary education reform movements, though ideally seeking to fulfill the notion of the common school, in reality only challenge our foundations. And though these reforms also strive to act as a remedy for our complex social problems, they have become yet another variable in this complexity. All in all, our government needs to reevaluate its reform priorities, however, it is entirely out of line with common school classical liberal beliefs. Remember, the founders were capitalists too.
Barlow, D. (2006). The teachers’ lounge. Education Digest, 71(8), 65-70. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Booher-Jennings, J. (2005). Below the Bubble: ‘Educational Triage’ and the Texas Accountability System. American Educational Research Journal, 42, 231-268.
Cuban, L. (2001). The bottom line. In S. Mondale & S. B. Patton (Eds.), School: The story of American public education (pp. 173-182). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Galloway, D. L. (2007). A change management, systems thinking, or organizational development approach to the No Child Left Behind act. Performance Improvement, 46(5), 10-16. doi:10.1002/pfi.128
Kozol, J. (2005). The shame of the nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America. New York: Crown Publishers.
Leviton, S. (2009). Students schooling students: Gaining professional benefits while helping urban high school students achieve success. Journal of Law & Education, 38(3), 359-92. Retrieved from WilsonWeb: Education Full Text database.
Martusewicz, R. (2009, January). Editor’s Corner. Educational Studies. pp. 2-4. doi:10.1080/00131940802643840.
Tozer, S.E., Violas, P.C. & Senese, G. (2005). School and society: Historical and contemporary perspectives (5th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.
U. S. Department Of Education. (2004), Parental Involvement: Title I, Part A: Non-Regulatory Guidance.


2 theschoolprincipal
January 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm

You bring up so many excellent points and provide us with a very comprehensive list of all of the issues. I am especially taken with your comment about our Founding Fathers, who created public education to promote the common good, rather than for our country’s economic interests. Thank you so much. You have really provided us with a history of what’s gone wrong in American education since the 1960’s.


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