Education Opinion

The Rubik’s Cube of Education Reform

By Marilyn Rhames — February 01, 2012 3 min read
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Is it hot in here, or is it just me? It seems like the temperature of America—the world—has risen a few degrees. I’m not talking about global warming. I’m referring to that persistent, panicky-but-for-no-specific-reason type of energy that permeates the news media and blogosphere. You especially feel it when you hear or read stories about the economy, politics, and education. It seems that our stress barometer, our perception of peace and prosperity, our sense of stability is shaky, at best. Every glimmer of hope is shrouded by the threat of impending disaster: The troops are out of Iraq (yay!), but the country may be on the brink of civil war (oh). The national unemployment rate has fallen again this month (yay!), but America’s national deficit just topped $1 trillion for the fourth consecutive year (oh). Even the rich, the so-called “1 percent,” stand to lose a fortune if the European markets crash, which almost every economist says could very well happen.

What does this have to do with education? Well, I cannot be certain but my guess is that we are not only worried about ourselves, but our children. While our kids are engrossed with the latest video game, funniest YouTube video, or hottest singing sensation, we know that the world that awaits them when they enter adulthood will be loaded with real-life boogeymen. They will have to confront astronomical college tuition, a job market severely outsourced to foreign lands, and a national debt that their own children will struggle to pay. To make matters worse, our student’s national test scores in reading and math are embarrassing, and more than a million of them drop out of high school each year. In the brave new world they will live in, a bachelor’s degree or a certification in a trade will be the minimum level of education required to get a decent-paying job.

What can we do? How can we fix this? I liken the problem to a Rubik’s cube, but instead of having only 6 sides we have dozens. We’re trying to get all the colors on each side to match, but every time we change one side, the other side also shifts. Education reformers have turned to data and sophisticated algorithms for help solving this complex problem; they hope crunching the numbers will help make our educational system more fair and accountable. While I have a few reservations about this strategy, I believe it has enormous potential to help detect hidden flaws in the system. Therefore, I am willing to give it an honest chance. But as soon as the reformers flip one side of the prism—suggesitng that we use student growth data to measure teacher effectiveness, for example—another group cries foul because it has thrown off their agenda, their color pattern. Anyone who has ever mastered the Rubik’s cube knows that this can be frustrating. They also know that sporadic moments of chaos and confusion are a part of the process of solving the puzzle.

When we match all of our colors, we will have created a system that ensures that all kids have equal access to a quality education. That should be our single goal, and every strategic turn we make on the “cube” should be intent on reaching that promise. I am under no delusion that success will be easy. Unlike the Rubik’s cube, the puzzle of reforming education is alive, never ending, and always evolving. We need to implement strategies from models that are working, but never waiting for those models to be perfect because they never will be. We must seek progress‐not perfection—though we know progress never comes without some measure of risk.

What’s certain is that we need to knock the status quo out of whack. The way we have done education has basically been the same way for the last 100 years, yet the world has drastically changed. The temperature has risen, the climate has changed, and the stakes are much higher. Our children will have to compete on a global stage, not just in America. We may not like the things that are happening in our world, but it would be irresponsible if we did not step up our game and do what is necessary to prepare our students for it.

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.