Midway through this week’s National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, D.C., I was reminded of an observation Thomas Kuhn made in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. While researching how scientific fields progress, Kuhn found that during paradigm shifts communities work to improve the old paradigm while simultaneously creating the new paradigm that will render much of the old paradigm irrelevant.
Ending social promotion is a good example of this phenomenon in education today. Reformers in Washington were discussing the importance of ending social promotion while advocating for a customized public education system in which assembly-line education, and therefore grade-level promotion, no longer exists.
Tenure reform and merit pay are also good examples. These reform discussions usually assume employment and compensation will continue to be centrally determined, but in the new paradigm these decisions will probably be made at the school level or below, which means they will have little or no systemic implications. Tenure and merit pay are not contentious issues today within charter school and virtual learning communities.
Over the next decade as public education moves from assembly-line batch production to customization, struggling to improving policies and processes that will soon be irrelevant will be an everyday occurrence for education reformers.