A Radical Vision for Education

By Buchen, Irving H. | The Futurist, May 2000 | Go to article overview

A Radical Vision for Education


Buchen, Irving H., The Futurist


When students and teachers have more flexibility and control, results will improve, one expert argues.

By the year 2020, public education in the United States will undergo a total, radical transformation, branch and root. The revolution will be unofficial; it will not come from any one source or group but from many sources, including new models of management and learning, concerned parents and students, private enterprise, and technology.

In many subtle ways, public education is slowly being dismantled. Some operations are being drained off and outsourced. Public education is losing constituencies and, in a great many cases, actual students. Less than 50% of graduates with education majors enter the field, and of those who do, 25% leave. Why? Because of inadequate pay, awful teaching environments, little or no opportunity for advancement, and demoralized colleagues.

What follows are some other compelling forces for change--and my vision for improving education by 2020.

New Ideas Are Changing How We Work and Learn

Any organization seeking excellence searches for what are known as "best practices." Originally, the search for excellence was confined to one's own industry or field, but executives are increasingly searching Across all industries and indeed all countries.

By contrast, when most educators want to explore new ideas, they only consult other educators. If they were to consider integrated studies, for example, it would never occur to them to examine how corporations have integrated teams of individuals from different disciplines.

School administrators largely come only from other schools, not from business, government, finance, or nonprofits. The result is an insular environment in which educators only talk to other educators, only belong to educational associations, and only read education journals. Computer-aided instruction initially introduced some crossover, but it has been absorbed into the educational enclave.

Most of the recent developments in management and learning have come from diverse fields outside of education. Notions about learning organizations (Peter Senge), systems theory (Margaret Wheatley), industrial ecology (Tachi Kiuchi), multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner), and innovation and the future (Gary Hamel) are absent from most educators' awareness. Even if educators had the will, they don't have the vision or tools to undertake their own transformation.

The Breakup of the Educational Monopoly

The forces against change--unions, administrations, school boards, the state and federal governments--are organized and well financed. Those who want change are not. Students generally have no voice. Parents are fragmented into local and regional groups. Corporations often sign on for a single media campaign but do not have the commitment to fight the battle for the long term. But a new development is making the playing field more equal.

Parents and students have found a powerful alternative to public education. Home schooling has become easier in an age that allows well-educated professionals to work at home, and it is becoming more popular. Home schoolers consistently walk off with national prizes in geography, spelling, and math.

The collective, institutional version of home schooling is the charter school. Charter schools are a direct threat to public schools because each student who leaves a public school for a charter school carries with him the government's per capita educational allotment money.

Finally, business has entered the fray. The result is a concentrated assault on public education by educational technology and educational entrepreneurs, big, small, and enormous. The current market share of educational products and services offered privately is about $40 billion and going up. This figure includes tutoring, books, toys. Internet services, administration, and software. …

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