Home k-12 education The Reality of K-12 Education Reform
The Reality of K-12 Education Reform

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.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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