The New Normal in K-12 Education

tumblr_static_third_way_logo_artwork_blue_largeA recent blog by Third Way examines several issues in education policy and reveals the outdated logic and arguments that are being used to debate modern issues.

This stagnation in conversation not only threatens our ability to move forward with the best policies for our nation’s students, but it also has had the unintended consequence of distracting leading thinkers from participating in the real conversations that will shape our schools over the next decade or more.  In order to have real influence on the education debate, policymakers and education reformers must turn the page on these old battles, recognize the new reality, and advocate for progressive values within the context of a landscape that is drastically altered since the education reform wars began.

For each issue area, the blog points out the central question under the “old normal” context and a more relevant question in “the new normal,” which is the new set of facts characterizing the education landscape. According to the authors:

An evolution of policies and practices have radically shifted the context, but their conversations haven’t caught up. Like right-wing forces who continue to fight a Pyrrhic battle against Common Core despite the fact that nearly every state is already using those standards or has replaced them with ones that are mirror images in all but name, some on the left have fixated on fights that they have already lost. By doing so, they risk making themselves irrelevant in the most pressing debates of 2016—and self-described “reformers” who focus solely on pushing back against these outdated arguments risk the same fate.

The outdated arguments and the new landscapes that surround them are as follows:

  1. Debate over charter schools

Old “Normal”: Should charter schools exist?

New “Normal”: How can we make sure charter schools are best serving students?

  1. Debate over teacher evaluations

Old “Normal”: Should teacher evaluations be linked to student test scores?

New “Normal”: How can we best use data to support teachers and provide all students with effective teachers?

  1. Debate over standardized testing

Old “Normal”: Should we require students to take standardized tests?

New “Normal”: How can we make sure that the tests we have are strong measures of student learning, especially for high need students?

  1. The debate over tenure.

Old “Normal”: Should seniority be the sole factor in personnel decisions?

New “Normal”: How can we reshape the profession to give teachers more autonomy, greater responsibility, and better pay?

  1. Debate over alternative certification for teachers.

Old “Normal”: Should teachers be able to earn their license through an alternative pathway like Teach For America?

New “Normal”: How can we make sure that all certification programs are truly preparing excellent teachers?

  1. Debate over teacher pensions.

Old “Normal”: Should we preserve existing teacher pension systems for new teachers?

New “Normal”: How can we meet the retirement needs of teachers for generations to come?


For more detailed analysis of the facts surrounding these debates, see