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Why Should Schools and Classrooms Change?

What is the change imperative?

The pressures of the changing society on schools are reflected in the arguments of educators such as Phillip Schlechty who wrote:

American public schools are better at doing what they were designed to do than ever in the past. Unfortunately, what the schools were designed to do is no longer serving the needs of American society. The schools were designed to ensure all citizens will be basically literate (able to decode words), that most will be functionally literate (able to read well), and that a relatively small number (20 per cent or less) will be able to meet reasonably high academic standards. This goal has been achieved. (Schlechty, 2001, 12-3)

Taking a global view, UNICEF in 2000 highlighted the challenges facing education systems worldwide:

In order for the world to survive and prosper in the new century, people will need to learn more and learn differently. A child entering the new century will likely face more risks and uncertainties and will need to gain more knowledge and master more skills than any generation before. (Shaeffer, Dykstra, Irvine, Pigozzi, & Torres, 2000)

Why is this important?

Understanding the significant local and global forces mandating a change in education helps all involved in the profession crystallize their own role in that change journey. It takes much more than a mandate from above to work differently for schools to change their time honored practices. What is needed is a clearer picture that the changes being suggested will better serve the needs of the students in a 21st century world.

What does the research tell us?

The most comprehensive meta-analysis of learning research suggests:...the goal of education is better conceived as helping students develop the intellectual tools and learning strategies needed to acquire the knowledge that allows people to think productively about history, science and technology, social phenomena, mathematics and the arts. The key findings of this report support a review of both what is taught and how it is taught in schools.

It is also essential to consider the opinions of our students on the relevance and value of school today. This chart represents the shift in opinion of 12th grade students in American schools regarding their view of school. What we see is a general decline in their perceptions of the meaningfulness of school work, the interest level of courses and the importance of school learning to their lives after school has ended. This shift is alarming and cannot be ignored.

Key Questions

1. What are the key driving forces for your educational organization?

2. What steps do you take in your context to evaluate the effectiveness of your current educational experiences for your students?


Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How People Learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.

Schlechty, P. C. (2001). Inventing Better Schools. An Action Plan for Educational Reform. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shaeffer, S., Dykstra, A., Irvine, J., Pigozzi, M. J., & Torres, R. M. (2000). The Global Agenda for Children: Learning for the 21st Century. Retrieved 10 September, 2002, from http://www.unicef.org/pdeduc/education/learn21.htm