The Reality of K-12 Education Reform

A week ago, I asked if there was any hope of improving student outcomes in U.S. public schools. I mentioned an article written by Michael Horn that discussed the Out of the Box report published by New Classrooms. I reread the Out of the Box report last week and have a few more thoughts.

As I wrote, Out of the Box calls for a paradigm shift from the industrial model of education to a student-centered model. The authors write that the tools and knowledge for making the shift are much improved, but there are three forces that have blocked these changes from being implemented. When I reread these three roadblocks; the nation’s decentralized system for education governance, the lack of solutions for schools seeking to transition to a student-centered curriculum, and the landscape of policies, practices, and priorities designed to encourage incremental progress not wholesale change; I cringed thinking about whether moving the needle is possible.

As a hypothetical example, I decided to focus on Maryland’s governor-elect, Wes Moore. Wes served as a board member of my former company and is passionate about the power of education to make a difference in people’s lives. He often cites the difference that it made for him as an underprivileged boy to attend military school, to attend community college (Valley Forge Military Academy offers a community college track), to graduate from Johns Hopkins and to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar before serving in the military in Afghanistan.

Wes entered the Democratic primary as one of the underdogs and his passion and effort carried him to victory in the primary and a landslide victory in the general election. One of his slogans is “leave no one behind.” Maryland is one of the bluest states in the country with Democrats controlling both the House and Senate and soon, the governor’s office. It’s also one of the wealthiest and one of the highest taxed states in the country. With the same party controlling the legislature and governor’s office, most of his proposals should be successful.

Do I believe that Wes Moore will push for improvements to Marylanders’ education? Absolutely. Parts of his campaign pledges that relate to education include universal prekindergarten, raising teacher pay, subsidizing childcare, buying electric school buses, creating a service year, and building job training programs. Do I believe that he will push for wholesale changes like those that the Out of the Box report recommends? No. Why? Because none of his campaign pledges are wholesale changes to education.

The last roadblock mentioned in Out of the Box is “the landscape of policies, practices, and priorities are designed to encourage incremental progress not wholesale change.” I doubt that the Maryland State Education Association, Maryland’s teachers union, who supported Wes’ candidacy would support wholesale change. In fact, their statement of support said that they (and other teachers’ unions around the country) were supporting candidates who would “advance critical initiatives such as respect for educators, reduced workloads, bargaining rights around class size, better pay for education support professionals, freedom to teach the truth, and more.” Shifting the paradigm of education from the industrial model to the student-centered model is not one of them. Paying them more and easing their workload appear to be their highest priorities.

This article is not intended to be a criticism of Wes Moore (full disclosure – I donated to his campaign) or the Maryland teachers’ union. Because states can’t print money, if they want to increase expenditures, they have to raise taxes. While the stars may be aligned in soon-to-be-all-blue Maryland, there are practical limitations to tax increases. Many, if not all, of Wes’ campaign pledges will require additional funding. All the union’s initiatives except “freedom to teach the truth” will require additional funding. There’s already an expensive initiative in process supervised by The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Accountability and Implementation Board.

Usually, I’m an optimist. The three roadblocks listed by the authors of the Out of the Box report may be too significant to overcome. Leave no one behind is a great slogan. We need to figure out a way to not leave our children and grandchildren behind. They are our future.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence