Education in America: The Next 25 Years

By Buchen, Irving H. | The Futurist, January-February 2003 | Go to article overview

Education in America: The Next 25 Years

Buchen, Irving H., The Futurist

The driving force in education in the next 25 years will be choice, fueled by changing roles for teachers, administrators, students, and entire communities.

Many people in the United States are unhappy with public education. Teachers complain about being battered and intimidated, educational administrators find themselves and their contributions unappreciated, school boards are increasingly criticized for micromanaging, parents are beset by a whole new set of alternative schooling choices, and students are being tested to death.

In spite of stresses and strains on the educational system, there is more to celebrate than to lament, especially over the long term. In short, education has a future--indeed, a significant and interesting one. If we could leap ahead 25 years to view the current educational scene, we would see four factors driving educational change: decentralization and educational options; performance evaluation and success measurement; changes in leadership and leadership roles; and reconfigurations in learning spaces, places, and times.

School Choices

Although competition arrived late in the history of education, it rapidly changed virtually everything. By offering a wide range of possibilities rather than a single focus, competition has given education a new lease on life.

Traditionally, education offered three choices: public, private, and parochial schooling. Public education dominated, and for good reason: It educated the poor and middle classes, prepared them for work or college, acculturated wave after wave of new immigrants, and provided significant employment for many professionals. Private and parochial schools continue to appeal to middle- and upper-middle-class families disenchanted with public education; homogeneous and traditional, their future is rooted in the attitudes of the past.

The variety of educational choices has dramatically increased. Home schools, for instance, enrolled an estimated 850,000 students in the United States in 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and support for this method of instruction continues to increase. Charter schools enrolled nearly 580,000 students, according to Center for Education Reform 2001 statistics. Run by different private groups in a variety of ways, charter schools receive public financial support from their home district.

Because high schools with large numbers of students can be unmanageable, school district administrators have restructured many into a series of schools within a school, each with a core of teachers serving between 100 and 150 students. Students and teachers in each smaller school know and relate to each other. Although restructuring does not alter class size, it reduces student--teacher ratio.

Private educational management companies have intensified the competitive environment of education. Often invited to take over failing schools, many of these companies are publicly owned, have stockholders, and are committed to making a profit. Although evidence for their success is mixed, they are a permanent fixture on the educational scene and add significantly to the range of available choices.

Private companies such as William Bennett's "K12" education program offer online curricula through electronic schools, so students can complete and graduate from a basic high-school program online. Electronic offerings also provide advanced placement, language, and special studies courses that normally attract few students. They are a boon to small rural districts and serve as a key underpinning for home schooling.

In short, education in 2025 will be totally decentralized, offering parents, students, adult learners, and citizens in general a dazzling menu of choices. Many people will opt for an amalgam of different educational sources that may be altered as desired. Whatever the selection, students and their parents--not schools--will drive educational choice. …

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