The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The big, ugly picture in K-12 education

When I started this blog in 2005, my focus was primarily on partnership practices: who was working with whom to do what, what research had come out to highlight effective approaches, or who was saying something editorially that was relevant to the field. It was a targeted focus, worthwhile if one’s assumptions about the world in which we worked were somewhat stable.

But in the fall of 2007, while doing my annual business planning, I stepped back to look at that larger environment, and saw that things were changing. (You can see the five-part blog series by scrolling through
here.) And, while I continued writing about practices (at the blog and, later, through the short-lived K-12 Partnership Report), I also began thinking and writing more about the economic background to all of this.

Now, three years after the economic crash of 2008, I’m drawing the inexorable conclusion that this has not been the temporary dip we all hoped it would be, but rather a major turning point. I don’t believe there is any chance that we’ll recover in the traditional sense and hit good times again with renewed growth and blue skies. Our expectations, and the resources we have to reach them, have fundamentally diverged – and it’s going to be an uncomfortable journey as we realize this and take the steps needed to realign the two.

This is true for the country in general and for K-12 education in particular. We add more and more expectations (college for all, more standards, more STEM education, more equity) but we’re able to put less into the system. We can handle this divergence for a little while, but as the gap increases, the stresses are going to grow.

You can see it happening in the UK – it hasn’t been covered here very well, but right now, more than 70% of their schools are partially or completely closed while the unions strike against pension reform (see “
Generation’s Largest Strike Closes UK Schools”). Less resources there mean teachers’ pay packages are being adjusted, and it’s disrupting public education.

I don’t know how it’s going to play out here, but I believe that we’re in for big changes in the near future. It could turn out to be a positive thing (as in a cleansing of some dysfunctional aspects of the system) or a bad thing, but I’m sure it will be disruptive. I’ll post more soon on the evidence that leads me to these conclusions and additional thoughts on what to expect next.

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