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School Reform Hits Snag in Britain

The big-box school model that has dominated educational systems is looking shakier by the day. In America, parents fed up with poor results in public schools are taking more control over their children’s education: To look at just one metric, there were 1.5 million children homeschooled in America last year, 75 percent more than eight years ago.

Yet the truly surprising thing may be that the revolt against the big-box model is a global phenomenon. Britain seems to have embraced education reform even more thoroughly than America. The Economist reports that over the past two years, hundreds of British schools have managed to break free of control by local bureaucrats and have gained the power to determine their own curriculum and administration. Groups of especially dedicated parents have teamed up with local charities to create fully independent community-run schools, and their example is inspiring others to do the same.

These efforts still have a long way to go. Recent reports show that the locally run schools have so far been unable to make significant gains in their students’ education, but the blame may lie with some familiar parties:

Six in ten academy heads said that national agreement on pay and conditions have prevented them from paying effective teachers more or extending the school day to give weaker pupils extra tuition, the survey found. When the education secretary, Michael Gove, drafted plans to devolve power to individual schools, he hoped to chip away at such conventions, and thereby enfeeble the powerful unions. Yet the unions are as uppity as ever: on March 28th the National Union of Teachers staged a strike in London in protest at pension changes that cancelled classes in the capital’s schools. […]

Pupils do better in wealthy countries in which schools exercise autonomy than in those in which teaching is tightly prescribed, according to studies by McKinsey, a consultancy, and the OECD, a think tank.

The old model of large, state-run schools with powerful edu-unions and rigid centralized control has had years to become entrenched; it won’t go overnight, but go it must, if America and Britain are to keep their competitive edge. Change is coming.

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  • John Barker

    “Recent reports show that the locally run schools have so far been unable to make significant gains in their students’ education, but the blame may lie with some familiar parties:” True, but one must also consider the intellectual abilities of the student population. This is why elite colleges are use selective admission policies.

  • Bruno Behrend

    This will be used by defenders of the status quo to argue for stasis, more money for the failed system, and more bureaucracy. They are wrong.

    While appropriately suspect as to methodology, defenders of America’s failed public system like to point to the CREDO study to show that “17 percent had students who did better on the whole than their public school twins, in 37 percent they did worse, and in 46 percent there was no statistical difference.”

    This is used to show that charters are “not successful.” This is utter nonsense.

    Charters are cheaper (they receive less per pupil funding), so, even taking the watered down and gamed CREDO study at face value, it resulted in better or similar performance for 63% of students, which is a runaway success story.

    As you factor in the more rapid closing of poor charters and copying the models of the more successful models, it becomes clear that there is no intellectually sound argument against the rapid charterization of schools (which is essentially what the British are doing divorcing schools from the greedy local bureaucrats).

    The only bad news is that people who want to TRANSFORM education ( think charters, vouchers, digital NOT performance pay and teacher enrichment schemes) are not rhetorically aggressive enough.

    The existing education system ( call it blue model, bureaucracy-based, or state-run) has lost its moral legitimacy, and it is time to get up into the face of unionists, administrators, and soccer-moms, and tell them so.

    We need to dismantle the government education complex and replace it with a vastly expanded network of independent schools and education providers. Money should follow the child to the best provider for that child.

  • WigWag

    “To look at just one metric, there were 1.5 million children homeschooled in America last year, 75 percent more than eight years ago.” (Via Meadia)

    To look at another metric, there are approximately 77 million school aged children in the United States. Home schooled children make up two percent of the total. Home-schooling isn’t a movement, its little more than a rounding error.

  • Chase

    Hey Professor, you’re leaving out one important fact. Our Asian competitors – who by all accounts are kicking our posteriors in these international tests – have MORE rigid and traditional school systems than we do. Trust me on this one; I taught esl in Korea for two years.

    Everyone talks about how the Asians countries are doing better than we are, and then they jump to the conclusion that charter schools or vouchers or some other fad is the solution. What they don’t tell you is that in Asia, kids aren’t getting ahead due to educational fads. They are getting ahead because they are in school or are studying for FOURTEEN HOURS A DAY when they are in high school. If you doubt me on this, check online. And middle school students have to go to after school private academies, which teach math and english, until 10:00. Furthermore, Asians don’t have three hours or more of sports practice everyday unless they are determined to become a professional athlete. If our country focused as much on studying as we do on sports, our percentile ranking would climb a lot.

  • peter38a

    Dr. Mead these Silver Bullet posts are tiresome. What about the Summerhill movement that was introduced broadly in Brit and American schools some decades ago? Very successful by most reports in one school and a walk’n talk’n disaster in virtually all others. You like school based, this was student based.

    “In America parents are fed up with poor results… “ Pardon me, are these the same parents who call the HS every year to see who the “hardest” teachers are so their little darlins will have the best education; who go over the homework with their kids, every night; who discuss what was taught in school during dinner, as in, yup, every night? Or isn’t education important enough? Or are we really talking whinners?

    If you ask the wrong questions you always get a wrong answer. So how about these questions. What IS the difference between education and training? What IS, in the end, worth knowing? If you haven’t or can’t answer these question how can you claim to be discussing anything about schools?

  • Tom

    @WigWag: Are there 75% more schoolchildren in the United State now than eight years ago?

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