Teaching Opinion

If You Could Change One Thing in Education, What Would It Be?

By Starr Sackstein — March 11, 2018 13 min read
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Lately, I’ve been experiencing severe writer’s block for the blog. I suspect it is because I’m on overload and just don’t know how to focus what is going on in my head.

So I went back to basics.

Education is going through an adjustment period right now. Those of us who have been in it long enough see the cycles on repeat and those new to the profession have their own experiences. Too often folks who aren’t close to the profession end up having too much of a say in the direction it goes.

So I decided to ask educators I know, “If there was one thing you could change about education, what would it be and why?” I posted the query on both Twitter and Facebook and here is what my esteemed colleagues and peers have said (and many people, had a lot to say, so if your thoughts weren’t shared this time, they will be shared in a later post).

Systemic Changes/Restructuring/Initiatives

Hans Tullmann - Education needs a revolution. A new generation of schools that throw out everything we’ve done in the past. We start over with a blank canvas. The focus is the students. We use the paintbrush of research-based pedagogy and paint strokes of the best and most impactful pedagogical practices. Plant these new “work of art” districts across America, observe, reflect, and improve each year. Then we multiply.

Peter DeWitt - The rhetoric around it. I’m tired of how those at the top talk about education in such a negative way...see the latest comments of Betsy DeVos.

Kathleen Renfrew - I would change how the time of a school day is dictated by programs. Although science education is my passion I need to think, read, write, speak in science too. Why can’t we learn why we live. We don’t use our education in silos in the real world, why in schools then?

Brett Baron Marianetti - The “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” which never ends. In 30 years I’ve watched good practices be labeled bad and back to good again. What happened to an eclectic approach?

Diana Laufenberg - Intentional work to foster teacher agency. I’ve been seeing a troubling pattern of systemic pressures that work against teachers being empowered as leaders and learners.

Dakotah Cooper - I’d change the way we legislate educational change. If these decisions were made by a panel representative of all ed stakeholders, the children of America would stop being tossed around as a political football. We could set clear goals and move toward them over decades, instead of moving targets and resources every 8 years.

Riley Johnson - Blow up higher ed and the admissions process. So much that happens K-12 is dictated by the matriculation to college. I don’t know the solution, but I’m so many ways K-12 is held to a different standard than higher ed (and not in a better way).

Patricia Wong - Skills based classrooms, not by age.

Nicholas Provenzano - Grouping students by age instead of skill level. Education is about skills, not an age group.

Marjorie Rosenberg - Setting up an alternative to secondary education with structured programs for vocational training combined with apprenticeships. These programs work in Europe. Why couldn’t they work as well in the US?

Chris Rokous - Create an alternative to the college path.

Mark Barnes - I would eliminate all work books, textbooks, and worksheets. This would force teachers to be creative in choosing resources and to learn how to inspire independent learning. Plus, the ridiculous homework would automatically be cut at least in half.

Sean Williams - School enrollment based on geography.

Robert DeCicco - I will synthesize some of what has already been mentioned but I would love to see schools widen their service delivery model to one that treats the whole student (and family) with access to social workers, therapists, doctors, etc...some schools do this but not all. Make it equal and equitable for all from before prekindergarten to 12th grade.

As students progress toward higher grades in the system, also start branching out vocational opportunities, like they do in the UK and other European schools, to allow students greater chances to personalize their learning. Essentially, the ‘one’ thing I would change is the scope of the educational experience.


Chris Lehmann - Inequitable per pupil funding. The way we fund public education in this country, where wealthy districts spend far more per pupil is the single most anti-democratic (small d) policy in American society. Public education should never be a parental meritocracy.

Tom Murray - Funding. Simply put, our students and educators deserve more. Our system continues to exacerbate vast inequities that have been prevalent for centuries. Investing in our K12 system is not simply an education issue but the foundation of our economy at both the local and national levels.

Matt Freer - Cost of higher education and the debt it leaves kids with.

Dave Kaminsky - What teachers are paid.

Jackie Patanio - Funding and methods of purchasing

Assessment/Grading Reimagining/Testing

Neil Gupta - Overhaul the state and federal testing regimen. I’d like to overhaul it and collect data that measures growth for the whole child for learning.

Brian Aspinall - Grades. They cause stress, anxiety and put tremendous pressure on everyone. We cannot “embrace failure” in a system that punishes it. Risk taking won’t happen - there is too much risk in not getting the grade.

Larry Reiff - Get rid of grades. They get in the way of real education.

Ines Müller-Vogt - No grades because getting grades interferes with learning.

Rob Prebish - Less standardized testing- more authentic instruction!

Olga Passalidou - The “teaching to test” mentality. Students are taught how to pass tests, not how to learn.

Jon Corippo - Fix draconian grading practices and eliminate the bell curve. That’s the source of many of our ills.

@bravehappyteacher -‏ Replace grade level outcomes and grading with total differentiation based on student need. I am required to differentiate center bins and reading groups but as schools we expect all students to reach end year goals or be labeled as struggling when in fact they just aren’t ready.


Jason Flom - Empower teachers. If we can build teachers’ capacities to construct and adapt curricula to the identified needs and interests of students then we can also grant them greater autonomy for making the sort of differentiated decisions that can individualize and personalize learning. We need to give teachers the opportunity to make decisions that improve and strengthen their relationships w students.

Brad Currie - Stop throwing new teachers and administrators under the bus. Give people a break! School and district staff should support new colleagues’ risk-taking and bold outlook on educational methods. Back-stabbing and rumor-mill gossip has no place in our educational environments.

Melissa Cipriani Eddington - Allowing teachers to have more authority and power in the school. Allow us to help make the big decisions in our schools and empower us.

Amanda Zullo - Time give teachers and admin time to collaborate, time to learn and time to process.

Mark McCord - A fundamental change in mindset at every level in which we recognize that the things we expect of others, we must do ourselves. As a principal, if I want my teachers to personalize/differentiate for our learners, how am I providing the same for them? How does the district provide this for me? The example here is about personalized learning but it ranges beyond that to include resource allocation and much more.

Jodie Pierpoint - I wish we would celebrate the positives of each other more instead of seeing it as some type of competition. If we’re truly here to make education better for our future, then join forces!

Student learning

Shana V White - Inequity in education in its various forms.

Danielle Mammolito - I would love to see a learning environment where we help students by focusing on and developing their strengths instead of focusing on weaknesses.

André J. Spang

Michelle Edelman Bravo - Give more attention to the kids in the middle. As a parent and a teacher, I feel these are the kids that are overlooked, not challenged and just get by often as a result.

Barbara Bray - Build a culture of learning right from the beginning where everyone knows everyone else in the school community. Wait to teach academics for at least 2-4 weeks. Focus on empathy, compassion, caring, and kindness toward each other first. Then encourage kids to design passion projects. I know you said one thing but it just leads to more...

Bonnie Nieves - Classes, students should be able to learn where they want and at their own pace. As a science teacher, I would be thrilled to co-teach with math, English, and history to a group of students of different ages and at different levels. Imagine the rich conversations and student leadership that would emerge.

Teacher Evaluation/Accountability

Johnathan Chase - Test-based (VAM) teacher accountability systems that distort classroom instruction. More emphasize on preparing students for tests than preparing them for tests of life. Students learning by testing their limits, not taking tests.

Nancy Flanagan -The so-called ‘accountability’ movement: using standardized testing to punish schools, teachers and students, simultaneously weakening America’s best idea: free, high-quality, fully public schools, open to every child.

Laura Connell‏ - Two things: one - how hard it is for admin to remove ineffective teachers. Two: allowing teachers to stay in one district forever - find a way to rotate teachers every (x) years, maybe 5, between high/low income schools or districts. Would save a lot of burnout.

Dina Reilly - Teacher ratings/APPR is counter intuitive to building capacity and experimentation in the classroom. We should support teachers when taking risks with instruction, strategies, etc. Teacher reluctance may be reduced if they were encouraged and not punished for it.

Professional Learning

Ross Cooper - Here’s another...An emphasis on empowerment and learning, as opposed to accountability. Amongst many, there seems to be this idea that we know what to do, but we simply choose not to do it. One example would be the time/money spent on testing vs. the time/money spent on professional learning. Also, how often are educators held accountable for something for which formal professional learning has not taken place?

Gena Cooley - Throw out the cookie cutter approach to PD & instructional strategies. We differentiate learning for students but, lower the expectations for teachers. Teachers are unique professionals and deserve to be treated as such.

Social Emotional Learning

Bethany Hill - The lack of social-emotional support in our schools, especially for kids battling the effects of trauma, behavioral disorders, and mental health disorders. We have a crisis, and we must face the fact that whole child learning is a priority.

Catina Deiro Haugen - Full-time counselor on every Elementary campus.

Angela Stockman - I feel that we tend to layer character education and anti-bullying initiatives on top of policies and practices that undermine the culture that we hope those initiatives will create. This protects us from putting a critical eye on what we do and how we engage with others while centering problems and solutions elsewhere. If I could change anything, it would be this. Our kids need better right now.

Melissa Cipriani Eddington - Create more schools for supporting the whole child...a public school with social workers, teachers, doctors, families and more. We need to teach the whole child and meet their needs.

Aaron Hogan - I wish that our first response when differences come up (especially between folks serving in different positions in education) was one of empathy and conversation to understand where others are coming from (instead of defending why we are right).

Outside Stakeholders

Rosa Perez-Isiah - The lack of support for public education and for the students we serve from our current political leaders. It’s infuriating to have to defend and protect our students and staff from our own government. It takes a toxic toll on our entire system.

Don Wettrick - Allow local businesses and non-profits to collaborate w/ middle and high school students in the form of either internships or joint ventures.

Meghan Everette - Make education an issue! We have one-off conversations around guns or pay, but it isn’t even in the rhetoric. It wasn’t in the election. It isn’t in the reforms (some but not enough). We have to get it a part of the big conversations before anything changes.

Kristy Nyp - I would change parents’ attitude toward their children’s education -- expectations, engagement, priorities, discipline, structure, support.

Bob Dillon - I would change the mental model of the community about what learning looks like inside of the school.

Media/Outside Perspective

Vincent F. DeMiero - Treat public school educators like the professionals we are. Put us on at least a 210-day contract and pay us for the actual time we work - not just the contact time we have with students. Create stipends for student teachers/teacher candidates so they can get certified without having to both pay for credits and work 6+ months for free. That’d be a start.

Glenn Robbins -Media - the public thrives off of evil, potential wrong-doing of educators, resulting in lack of credibility to all involved in education, regardless of how great things are at most schools. Multiple awards for many schools/educators have been awarded over the years and state newspaper, and other publications continue to pump out all negative articles/posts.

Content Related

Annice Miller Benamy - I would change the way music and art classes are treated. We should have dedicated classrooms, resources, appropriate curriculum, and funds to service our students. I would make it illegal to treat these classes and teachers as second-class courses/citizens.

Maria Lakas - Have real teachers decide on testing and content.

Carol Jago - More books. More time to read.

Nicole Pinelli-Johnston - Depth vs coverage not only in the classroom but throughout the system...

Flora Anna Maria - The excessive and unnecessary topics in the curriculum.

Ron Tsai - Teach classes that don’t put you behind a desk. Classes that put you in a nearly realistic life scenario that requires you to simulate real life scenarios for a semester; such as dealing with tax refunds and to be on the good side of the IRS....Classes that ensure you know how to maintain and check fo good credit, paying debt, applying for student loans, putting together a resume, getting a job, paying rent, fixing a flat on a car, calling emergency service, or cooking for a family of four that has a nutritious well balanced diet. Teaching how to do basic home repairs like plumbing, electricity, leaky ceiling, etc...it would be like a game of sims but for real. Every task is evaluated on a rubric that assigns life points per task according to how well that task was completed...and you don’t continue on until you mastered that life skill. At the end of each semester the student will receive a report of what they need to work on doing better and they can get a chance to improve their life skill average in the next semester! I feel this would be the way I’d change education and how students are graded on what they learned.

Elissa Elliott Malespina - Giving all schools a library with a certified librarian in it. The library is the hub is the school and a certified librarian not only helps instill the love of reading but also helps improve test scores. The library also provides a sanctuary for students and a place where they can just be themselves without others judging them.

Learning Environments

Jason Hlavacs - No desks. Only tables with wheels for a flexible learning environment.

Educational systems are in a crisis. The people at the top in government don’t understand the important job we do or what changes need to occur. If only they would listen to the folks who spend their lives trying to improve the lives of the children they work with. We all need to remember that what we do matters and we can make a difference.

If you could change one thing in education, what would it be and why? Please share

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The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.