INTRODUCTION: A DIFFERENT THREE Rs
FOR EDUCATION IN CONTEXT
George Allan and Malcolm D. Evans
The increased complexity of contemporary life calls for a new approach to educational reform in the United States. Our current educational practices were designed for a simpler kind of world than now exists. Anchored in rural eighteenth century America, and subsequently adapted to the industrial transformations of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these practices are no longer sufficient. Recent proposals for improving education, however, have been rooted in this same eighteenth century perspective, and so are proving to be as inadequate as the practices they seek to improve. Prescriptions for bettering the quality of American education are plentiful these days. Think tanks, business associations, teacher unions, university scholars, the federal government, state governments, and local school boards—individuals and groups of every sort have been offering proposals for reforming how students should be taught and how schools should be administered. Some from this seemingly wide range of options have been implemented on an experimental or even a permanent basis, backed up by attention-focusing financial penalties and incentives.
For example, charter schools are often created as paradigms of excellence for other schools to emulate. Voucher programs are implemented as a way to use the mechanisms of free market competition to improve the quality of the educational services a school provides. High-stakes tests based on national norms are mandated, gathering student achievement data that is used to compel schools to make specified improvements in organization, pedagogy, and teacher competence.
The contributors to this book are certainly in favor of the lure provided by good role models, the tonic of competitive advantage, and the importance of high standards of academic excellence. But we are also acutely aware of the limitations to each of these strategies.
The charter schools approach, for instance, seems to presume that the problem with most schools is the absence of creative initiative, and that success in one context is readily transferable to other contexts. Yet successful teaching is deeply contextual and the barriers to innovation are all too often inadequate resources not inadequate imaginations. Moreover, if the model schools attract a