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Education Reform is NOT About Educational Fads

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, commentaries, and opinion pieces recently and I’ve seen a couple differing viewpoints about what is wrong with education today. Some believe that teachers are simply in the profession not for the kids, but the money, while others believe that politicians are the cause of the problems in education. A third group of thinkers believe that the unions are to blame for education’s ills and need to be eliminated. Allow me to add my own thoughts to the mix and suggest a fourth problem with education: educational fads.

The old saying goes “the more things change the more they stay the same.” While that folksy phrase is not necessarily accurate in every instance, in education, it could be the motto of the influencers (i.e. publishers and state education departments). Many times in the years I’ve been a teacher, some new idea or teaching method or other similar pedagogy has come along that is touted as “the next big thing.” I’ve been to countless trainings on these types of methods and bought into them at least on a cursory level, only to find the next school year the next big thing has become passe.


I’m not suggesting by any means that educational fads are the only ill in education. Certainly there is blame to go around – teachers, administrators, parents, education consultants, politicians, other stakeholders – all play a part in the problems. There is no easy solution. I’ve recently been listening to some intriguing podcasts by blogger Laurette Lynn (@Laurettelynn) at Unplugged Mom. She posits that teachers should leave the public schools altogether and teach with a more organic, community minded focus. While I don’t advocate going that far (let’s face it, even if teachers are not in it for the money, going without a paycheck is certainly no picnic), movements like hers are growing.

Educational fads are not the ultimate evil in a educational world gone mad, rather, they are a symptom of systemic failure. Much like a cough is not a cold but a symptom of a cold, when these educational fads come around, teachers and administrators alike should think twice. They may impose great ideas, retool old ideas, or combine the two, but they are not what the system needs. Teachers and administrators should not be spending their time chasing new or old ideas – these are time wasters that are not productive. We as educators should be spending as much of our time as possible designing and implementing engaging lessons that are thought provoking, higher level exercises that will enable our students to succeed where failure may seem the only path.

Let us spend our resources wisely in this age of budget cutting and stop spending money on “the next big thing” and instead focus on what is most important – our students!

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Comment by Blake Lee on July 30, 2011 at 10:10pm

I really like your post. Though I am just starting my teaching career, I have recent experience of being a student in the K-12 public education system, and I have to say I agree with your stance on the public education system's desire to find "the next big thing." To be honest, fads never really came to mind as one of the problems in education so you make an excellent point here. Your post, I believe, especially applies to first year teachers, like me, who may have trouble reading the students or self-reflecting and may soon desire the quick fix of a fad. Like you, I believe that fads are a short-term fix for a long-term, and more serious, problem (i.e. poor lesson planning). Nicely done.

Comment by Dr. James Norwood on July 13, 2011 at 6:18pm
I will be looking forward to your post. Thanks for the comment.
Comment by Bill Burkhead on July 13, 2011 at 6:49am
I couldn't agree more Dr. Norwood.  Great post!  Let's leave educational change up to the pro's....the educators.  I am working on a similar post and will have it out by the end of the week-would love your feedback.


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