The future of education, part 2
In this post, we’ll look at another key trend – this one focused on the way in which schools operate – then follow up in future posts with an analysis of school finances and the conclusions we draw relative to community/school partnerships.
We should distinguish between characteristics and trends: characteristics are descriptions of the education system as it currently stands, with no expectation of major changes in the near future. Trends describe elements that are in flux, having changed significantly in the recent past and/or that are expected to create change in the near future.
There are many characteristics that affect public education, such as the relatively recent introduction of the charter school concept close to 20 years ago; however, since growth has slowed dramatically, they do not qualify as a trend stretching into the future. Important, yes; but not a current or future change in the market that will affect the course of business. Same with mainstreaming and other issues that, together, define to the current state of education.
In the context of this market analysis, it also does not make sense to list things that should be changed, but which in reality will not be. We all have our lists, but we all know which have the potential to happen and which do not.
Key Trend: Accountability
In fact, the only major trend in the way that schools and districts operate is the move to accountability. It is real, it is significant, it is still developing, and it is changing the very structure and operations of the education system.
As a specific piece of legislation, there are certainly several points of contention on the elements of the No Child Left Behind Act. We can debate the content and subjects tested, the quality and type of assessment tools, cut scores, lack of comparability among states, and many other things.
But regardless of how one comes down on the current version of NCLB, it is changing the entire conversation on education. The framework of the discussion is moving from a focus on inputs and processes to a concentration on outcomes.
It will be a couple of years before NCLB is reauthorized, and there is no doubt that it will look different than it does now. Growth models are already coming into play as a possible substitute or supplement for AYP, multiple measures are being floated, and there’s debate about the number of grades and subjects being assessed.
Regardless of the specifics of the reauthorization, however, the idea of accountability, and measuring outcomes, seems to be here to stay. Politically, no one can say that they want to remove accountability, and the fact that parents like the idea (here) means that it’s here to stay in one form or another.
However, while accountability is the watchword of the day, shifting from a system based on inputs to one based on outputs is a monumental task, and signs indicate that it’s going to be a slow and contentious process that goes on for the foreseeable future. Consider the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: the program is incredibly expensive and, despite a laborious process for participants, there’s no evidence that it has an impact on student outcomes (see here). Yet it continues to go strong, and efforts to eliminate it in states that actually look at the data get roundly defeated.
Still, this trend towards accountability and a focus on outcomes will continue into the future – definitely a major factor in the future of the education market no matter how the specifics play out.
The next post addresses another key trend in education - click here for Part 3.