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Education Reform

Education reform is a perennial hot topic that touches people’s deepest beliefs about child-rearing, community, and our country. This article will review some of the main areas that have attracted widespread interest.

Within the broad “education reform” debate, there are a number of prominent topics that have people’s attention. These include school choice, school finance reform, standards-based education, testing, and the 21st-century classroom.

School Choice

School choice is an education reform movement that has been around for awhile, but still has many proponents trying to either fine-tune existing mechanisms or work out more options and opponents trying to squelch it.

School choice, itself, is a multifaceted reform movement. It may involve any of these options:

  • Intradistrict choice-parents are not obligated to send their child to the geographically closest school to their home, but may choose among district schools.
  • Controlled intradistrict choice-restrictions govern movement to ensure school diversity.
  • Interdistrict choice-choices are allowed to cross district lines, though the number of students leaving any given school may be limited to ensure enough enrollment.
  • Magnet schools-alternative public schools with specialized programs.
  • Charter schools-schools with public sponsorship but freedom from many types of governmental control in exchange for certain freedoms and stringent accountability.

Other school choice plans allow families to choose private schools rather than any of the public school options. See the School Funding section below for more about this.

School Finance Reform

Schools are often funded through Federal, state, and local monies, with local funding often coming through property tax. Since wealthier communities have more funding available through their property taxes than do communities with less value in their property, this leads to imbalances in education funding. So one prong of education reform in the area of school finance seeks to redress such imbalances.

An example is Vermont’s Act 60, the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, which attempts to remove inequities in funding. This particular program-and these programs in general-have led to attempts by supporters to refine and attempts by detractors to overthrow them, and they remain central in education reform discussions.

Voucher plans-federally funded programs that allow choice between public and private schools-are another area of school finance that many people have in mind when they refer to education reform. These programs aim to ensure that it is not only well-to-do students who are able to attend private schools. Areas of contention include the proper role-if any-of religiously-based schools in the education system of the United States, and whether any elite option should be available at all.

Standards-Based Education

Standards-based education is an education reform that seeks to implement agreed upon national standards to allow comparisons  among student achievement across states, as well as to ensure that students coming out of the public school system have at least met minimum requirements. Standards-based education is often accompanied by high stakes assessments that determine whether the standard has been met and has the power to provide accountability.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 is an example of standards-based education reform. It’s purpose is to provide a standard of education for all students, including those who are members of a minority or have a disability, as well as introduce accountability and sanctions for failure to meet the defined standards.

NCLB, as it is known, has been a contentious piece of legislation, with many seeking to either amend what they see as its deficits or overturn it, both of which approaches underlie much of the education reform discussion in recent years.


Both the high stakes testing implemented for NCLB as well as other standardized testing in K-12 schools and testing for college•including the SAT, ACT, and AP tests-are all topics that enter into debate on education reform. Questions about whether the tests are fair and representative, what role tests should have in grading and in college admissions, and whether the stakes assigned to the tests are appropriate and the sanctions fair and useful are some of the issues that are still being hammered out in this area of education reform.

The 21st Century Classroom

How the classrooms today should look to the future is another hot topic in education reform. Important discussions focus on the role of technology and Web 2.0 social communities in relationship to education. Global citizenship, second language learning, and media literacy are other areas that often come to the fore in this segment of the education reform discussion.


Education Week “Quality Counts at 10”

21st Century Schools website

Vermont State Board of Education “The Transformation of Education in Vermont: A Framework for Transformation from the Vermont State Board of Education”

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) website: “The Battle Over School Choice”

Written by Mary Elizabeth

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