Critical Analysis of Major Education Reforms

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Throughout time, there has been a decrease in students' grades and test scores. Unsure why, a range of school reforms were studied and tested. This report will cover a few of the many reforms that were done and thought to be done, ranging from broad reforms like changing school standards, all the way to particular reforms such as School Choice. Some of these reforms have worked while others have not, but no matter how these reforms played out, more studies were taken and noted for future reforms in hopes to help the educational system.


One reform that could help students is for them to have a more constant standard. Current standards that are set locally lead to a large variation in students' knowledge at different stages. This often creates issues for students who travel to different schools. With a constant standard, students in the same age groups would have the same expectations (Stewart, V., 2012). These standard-based reforms would be to objectively assess student performance and teachers’ effectiveness by instructional materials and testing. Individual performance would be measured by common criteria rather than other students (Stelitano, L., & McEachin, A., 2017). With the addition of constant standards, there is a greater possibility of a more equity based education.


Equity is much different from equality, though thought to be the same when broken down it is quite easy to see the difference. At a track event, there are X amount of runners, each in their lane. Equality would mean that each runner starts in the same spot in each lane. Though seeming equal, because the track is an oval, the innermost runner would have less distance to run than the outermost runner. The innermost runner would have an advantage. That is why the track has each runner from outside to inside, set back more, and more (Shelton, N., 2019). This is what equity looks like. Schools are currently set up more towards equality, though seeming fair for all students, the outermost students (low-income) have a much further distance to cover than the inside students (high-income). For schools to truly become fairer for students, the gap between technology at high and low-income schools would have to close. The way this gap would close is by giving all schools equal funding, rather than the higher-income school earning more. With a system that funds all schools equally, lower-income students would be able to receive better technology that would better the education experience of those students (Stewart, V., 2012). Similarly to how equity makes the education system fairer, more qualified teachers would do the same.

High-Quality Teacher/Leaders

As much as equal equipment would help lower-income students, they would only be as knowledgeable as their best teacher. If schools had equally experienced and qualified teachers, all students would truly get an even educational experience. For this to happen, teachers would have to be paid evenly from school to school. This would take out the competition among teachers and allow less wealthy schools to have just as good teachers as the wealthy ones. Rather than teachers looking to different schools for pay increases, let pay increases come through more students succeeding (Stewart, V., 2012). Though having experienced, qualified teachers in all schools are important, it is also important that the teachers' teaching styles help students effectively learn. Programs that are focused on teachers can help them understand and use effective strategies that would help and motivate students to do better. Some of these strategies are for them to encourage students to do their best, setting high standards, allowing students to have choices when possible, and using lessons that require collaboration and thinking (Usher, A., & Kober, N., 2012). If these strategies fail, there are some reforms that are made to boost the student’s motivation.

Student Motivation and Engagement

Student motivation is a relatively large part of a student’s willingness and ability to comprehend what they learn, but there is a small amount of effort put into keeping the students engaged. Unmotivated students can affect other students and cause them to lose their motivation. Studies show that as students progress through school, their motivation dwindles and by highschool, over 40% of students are disengaged from learning and put very little effort into their work. Overtime scholars have identified two major types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to achieve something because one wants to, while extrinsic is the desire to achieve something because it will produce a result. One reform that has helped is targeted intervention programs. These programs identify students who are falling behind or are failing to attend class regularly. Once identified, they are assigned things such as personal mentors or extracurricular activities. This has shown to help students re-engage in their classes. Another reform that has shown to help is to reorganize schools. This system takes larger schools and breaks them up into smaller schools within the large school, that way students and teachers are all within smaller groups. These systems work by keeping the students more connected to the school, their teachers, and other students to help keep them motivated (Usher, A., & Kober, N., 2012). In addition to keeping the students motivated, increasing the amounts of rules may only be hurting the students scores and educational experience.


Some rule-based reforms include extending school days/years, changing teacher certifications, school credential requirements, national/state tests, stricter dress codes, etc. While being a popular means of addressing problems, they have shown to not correlate with academic achievement. A study in Detroit shows that schools that have endured these strict rules have scored marginally the same on the ACT as other schools. This information has made it clear that although these rule-based reforms have shown a slight improvement in grades, they have not been able to increase the amount of comprehension in the students (Brouillette, M. J., 2001). Along with an increase in rules, increasing in resources, has also been a popular reform.


These include increased funding, new textbooks, better Internet, renovation of facilities, smaller class sizes, etc. The Coleman Report shows that factors such as teacher to student count do not significantly impact student’s scores. According to Economist Erik Hanushek, who has replicated Coleman’s study and expanded it internationally, he found that more money does not mean better education and that other countries have been able to get better results without dishing out as much (Brouillette, M. J., 2001). Although more resources/funding may not always be the answer, acts like the ESSA greatly help low-income schools.

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ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act)

Every Student Succeeds Act is a type of reform that targets schools that have high poverty levels. ESSA ensures that states can’t reduce their funding for a school more than 10% year to year, no matter how that school performs. This act also attempts to ensure all students in lower-income areas receive qualified, experienced teachers. ESSA also requires district reports cards that incorporate information such as inexperienced teachers/principles, teachers with emergency credentials, and teachers who are out of their studied field (Shelton, N., 2019). An older act that was also passed to help needy students was the No Child Left Behind Act.

No Child Left Behind

This act was passed in 2001 by George Bush, saying that the children are our future and too many of the neediest children are being left behind. This act helps children in their early years to prevent any problems they may have in the future. It also provides more information for parents about their child’s progress and would alert them should there be any important information about their child’s performance. Along with that, it also was meant to give parents and their children a way to get a better education. Tests that are taken annually give teachers and principals a better understanding of the student’s comprehension. $242 billion has been put towards the education of disadvantaged children through this program, but the gap between high and low-income families has remained wide (No Child Left Behind., 2005). Another large spending program was the $4.35 billion Race to the Top, school reform.

Race to the Top

This reform rewarded states for their past accomplishments, to create incentives for future improvements. It challenged states to create strategies to improve schools in 4 different ways. The first way was with standard benchmarks to test and assess the students for their future success. The second way is to develop and reward effective teachers and principals where they are needed. The third way is to come up with systems that measure the student's success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their lessons/teachings. The last way is to turn around the lowest-achieving schools. Awards went out to the states that lead the way with their ambitious plans. Those states were to open the trail for the rest and act as a precedent for all other schools and districts (Race to the Top., 2011). Because so much money was dished out and little improvement was seen, school choice came about.

School Choice

School choice is still a fairly new idea, that is liked by many. Rather than adding more money or rules, why not make the system competitive. This empowers the students and their parents with a choice of what school they want to attend. This would compel schools to either improve their product or go out of business. Just as a business would respond to competition by making better products, schools would compete by making a better education. Assigning kids to schools is almost like a business monopoly. When the business has control over an area, they have no incentive to produce a good quality product. Just as a parent chooses to buy one product over another, they will be able to use their better judgment and select a school, pushing schools to improve their product. A study done by a Harvard economist, Caroline Minter Hoxby, found that areas with greater public school choice have higher student test scores and graduation rates (Brouillette, M. J., 2001). With incentive-based reforms, comes a few different types of school choices.

Limited Educational Choice

Limited educational choice removes barriers that parents may face when only choosing different government schools. Most forms of limited educational choice fall into three categories. The first one is intra-district. In this category families may only choose schools from within the district. Inside intra-district choice, there are 3 main forms: Magnet schools, second choice schools, and open enrollment. Magnet schools are district-operated schools that are designed to attract diverse students. The next type of school is second choice schools. These schools are mainly for students who do not fit in at regular schools, some examples may be students who have or plan on dropping out or have really low skills or are pregnant. They serve as a rescue to these types of students. The last type is open enrollment. This allows families to send their kids to any school as long as that school has space for that particular grade level. The second category is inter-district. This category allows families to send their children to any government schools within their region or state under these requirements. The receiving schools are open to accepting non-resident students. There is available space within the receiving school. The students’ transfer won’t affect racial desegregation. Inter-district choice can be fairly complicated due to school districts spending different amounts on different students. The last limited educational choice is charter schools. Charter schools are different because they receive funding based on the number of students they attract rather than by local taxes. These schools can control their budgets and staffing (Brouillette, M. J., 2001).

Full Educational Choice

The other type of school choice is having a full educational choice. This would remove barriers that parents would regularly face when choosing among schools. To make this happen, schools that are usually funded through the taxes that parents pay would be funded by one of these programs from these four categories. The first program is vouchers. In this program, the government would give these vouchers to the parents who would then pay the school. There are a few different vouchers that mainly differ through whom they help and whom they are made for. The next program is private scholarships. This program would offer the parents to choose the best school for their child through the assistance of paying tuition from a private source, instead of the government. Another program is tax credits. Tax credits would work by giving parents tax relief linked to the number of expenses they would have had to pay when selecting an alternative school for their child. An example would be, if the parent had a pre-credit liability of $1000 and a tuition tax credit of $750, the taxpayer would only pay a tax of $250. The last program is universal tuition tax credits. This program would work by the parents contributing to any elementary education or any secondary child and receive a dollar for a dollar tax credit against the taxes that they owed (Brouillette, M. J., 2001). Barriers Although having school choice might fix the decline in education, there are still some barriers that keep this system from going into full swing. One problem that has prohibited school choice is state constitutions. Around 40 state constitutions currently prohibit the use of public funds for education. These constitutions must all be amended before moving forward. The next roadblock that is holding back school choice is political barriers. Many union leaders look at the current education monopolies as financial well-being for their organizations. If students have a choice to go to different schools, they would choose to go to non-unionized schools which could lead to a large loss of money for unions. These unions who want to control education, give verbal and financial support to politicians, who in turn, keep education monopolized. The last barrier is a knowledge barrier. Most do not have full comprehension of how the full system works, which has led to many misunderstandings and false ideas. Without concrete evidence that school choice would work, these false ideas have continued to spread which has led to people being against school choice (Brouillette, M. J., 2001).


Education has been reformed quite a lot over the years. After many reforms, the same conclusion is made time and time again. Increase the amount of reforms even more. This report has covered a few of the many reforms that were done. As seen, some of these reforms have shown to work quite well, while others have shown to be a waste of time and money. No matter how these reforms have played out, more studies were done and noted for more reforms in the future.

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