The Times – Are They A Changin’?


I sometimes wonder if we are witnessing a changing of the guard in education reform. I’m not sure. But I had a good talk last night with a great reformer and here is what we were mulling over.

If the times are a changin’, my guess it’s happening in these areas.


The 1990-2010 generation of reform did not prioritize serving all children. Rather, they prioritized proof points. They rightfully wanted to prove what is possible. A great teacher could prove what is possible with 20 children. A great school could prove what is possible with 500 children. A great network could prove what is possible with 2,000 children.

But no one was really thinking about what it would take to serve 50,000 children, or a 150,000 children, or 500,00 children.

The fact is, when you serve every child in a city, you must serve students: (1) with severe special needs (2) who transfer midyear (3) who are expelled from other schools (4) whose parents don’t actively seek out the best school (5) and so on.

If the times are a changin’, the new times will require reformers to serve all students.


Many 1990-2010 reform organizations used political connections to attain priveledge: budget line items were passed, facilities were secured, and political cover was granted. Reformers rightfully wanted to gain quick entry into stagnating systems. These organizations did not intend to be scalable entities with diverse and large scale support; rather, they played an elite status game perfectly. Good ideas, ivy league degrees, and social networks carried they day; movement building did not.

If the times are a changin’, the new times will require reformers to build large constituents bases that can lead to sustained political support.


The 1990-2010 reform organizations doubled down on strict discipline, data analysis, and alogrithm based learning. This provided real, meaning full gains in student learning. However, this school model had real limitations in terms of developing higher order thinking and individual autonomy.

If the times are a changin’, the new times will require reformers to push the boundaries of how to provide a safe and structured environment while also requiring students to do heavy intellectual lifting through expanded instructional techniques; including: rigorous discussion, complex writing, mathematical concept mastery, technology utilization, experiential learning, and leadership.


The 1990-2010 generation of reform aimed to make school districts better. Reformers reasonably thought that an infusion of innovation and leadership could transform school districts. This led many organizations to invest in district improvement rather than outside of the system entrepreneurship. To date, these reformers have been proven wrong: their goals have not been met. At the same time, non-profit led schools, while suffering from real issues in quality variance, have still been the primary leaders of innovation and performance across the country.

If the times are a changin’, the new times will require reformers to push government to relinquish school operation to educator led non-profits, while at the same time ensuring that the government becomes an excellent regulator of performance and equity.

In Sum 

In discussions, conferences, convenings, blog posts, op-eds, and email chains – I sometimes see the 1990-2010 generation of education reformers struggling with many of the above issues.

Or to put it another way: they are struggling to determine whether they can actually be the new public system of schooling in America.

While this struggle is playing out, a new generation of reform has formed and this generation believes it can be the next evolution of public schooling in America.

This generation believes it can serve every student; it understands that it will need to be build a broad base of support in order to do so; it knows that it will have to invent new models of schooling to   prepare students for higher education and career; and it believes that educator led non-profits, rather than government, will deliver these educational opportunities.

Are the time a changin’?

It’s hard to know when you’re in the thick of it.

But I hope so.

And I hope that the brilliant reform organizations of 1990-2010 evolve to become the brilliant reform organizations of 2011-2030.

Some likely will, while others won’t.

6 thoughts on “The Times – Are They A Changin’?

  1. Wm Murphy

    It’s really refreshing to see your thinking moving in this direction. I think many folks have been calling for the times to change in these ways for about three or four years now. Glad it made its way to this blog.

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