Small Steps for Education Reform, No Giant Leaps Yet

The education reform movement is finally starting to make some more headway across the country, what with the government admitting the pointlessness of high-stakes testing and failure of NCLB-esque programs, and an increasing desire for accountability from charter schools and other alternative education mediums when it comes to results. But is it enough?

You may have seen ads lately for something called the XQ Super School Project, where Jessica Williams from The Daily Show walks around the street in a spacesuit talking to people about problems with the current school system. Those ads were just vague enough to peak my interests, but had I not already been involved in learning about the education reform movement, I don’t think I would have given it a second thought, let alone visiting the website myself to learn what the deal was.

In case you didn’t know (or don’t watch much TV), the XQ Super School Project was started by Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary of civil rights for the US Department of Education, and Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs (yes, that Steve Jobs) with the intent to create a new school model for American schools. According to their website, by taking ideas from literally everyone who has something (constructive) to offer, they propose people to team up and put their creative ideas together to re-imagine how the American public school system operates. A quick google search will give you more info on the project, who’s involved and what people are saying, the biggest headline being how Powell-Jobs has personally donated $50 million to the project for future developments.

While I applaud this movement for trying, I can’t help but think that it isn’t enough. Yes, $50 million is a lot of money for one person, but for an entire nation, it’s barely enough to cover the costs of advertising this campaign. Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen or heard much about the project in full. Maybe Powell-Jobs was hoping other high-profile individuals would donate as well. Maybe they were hoping for the social media machine to latch on to this project and run with it. Whatever the case, the site only boasts just over 5000 people having signed up, which is no small group, but in the long run aren’t nearly enough people thinking about the future of education to make a lasting difference.

I vaguely remember similar projects in the past that had significant financial backing from a few people with the hopes of changing and bettering the American education system (I believe Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation being another big one). And yet, we’re still in the same place we were decades ago when it comes to how education is run. It’s not for a lack of trying, but a lack of comprehensive action.
Anyone can ask others what they think about the American education system, and how they think it could be improved, and most people would agree that there needs to be some sort of change. But it’s only when there is a significant amount of cooperation between those with the power to make changes happen does anything come to fruition. I hate to use this as an example, but think about when NCLB was enacted. It was just after 9/11 when there was a temporary cross-party consensus in the government that actually got things done, which resulted in a major change in education policies. Even though it wasn’t the greatest of ideas (as we are still reeling from the repercussions today), it was that mass consensus that led to change. It’s important to note, however, that it was big government corporations that were in charge in this particular scenario, not those directly involved in the education process, which is why it was a massive failure, and why I hate to cite it as an example.
But what I mean is that only when there is a massive interest in something, and I mean nationwide interest in trying to actively make change does change actually happen. I suppose siting movements like voting rights, and civil rights would be a better example, in that only when enough people were made aware of the issue did change actually begin to take shape. What starts out with just a few voices does eventually grow to something more, but first there has to be those few voices (but imagine if there was more than just a few to begin with; a lot of voices speaking out all at once from the beginning…)

Change doesn’t have to happen slowly. And if it’s toward a cause that improves the greater good, like better education across the country, the sooner the better. But in the end it’s still the masses that have the power, and until we garner enough interest in activism, we’re not there yet. So yay for steps being taken, but we still need more!

Tracey Woodard
Tracey Woodard
tracey.woodard@franklinfound.org

<p>Our Senior contributor Tracey Woodard graduated in 2010 from Bucknell University with a BA in English – Creative Writing and Theater. An advid believer in the importance of public school education, she uses a mix of personal and learned experiences to express her thoughts on today’s most pressing education issues. She currently resides just outside of Philadelphia, PA.</p>

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