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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Breaking the Mold: How Do We Reform Schools?

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

Year after year, we debate numerous reforms to improve our educational system. Yet we are continually hampered by the conventions of our thinking about -- well, everything. We fall into the same old trap of tinkering around the margins and trying to reform an education system with an ever-increasing number of policies, programs, and regulations piled on top of each other. Even the words we use to talk about improving schools -- school reform -- seem worn and out-of-date.

Last week, a friend and adviser reminded me that the words I often use -- reinventing schools -- still ties us to a system that many say is broken. But here's the real clincher: What we have is not a broken system; it's an obsolete system. When something is obsolete, you develop something new, something better. You use what you've learned from the old, but you don't allow yourself to try to piece together something shattered beyond repair.

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If we dared to change our frame of reference so that the "school" we all know and many of us work in disappeared tomorrow and we awoke to find a brand-new system of learning -- a web of integrated learning experiences -- what would that educational system look like? If we designed what the recent report "A New Day for Learning" implores that we design, would we hold to our deep-seated belief that learning takes place only when children are put in a room and learning is guided by a system that often operates in a silo?

Would we break the mold and build a robust twenty-first-century learning system, or would we continue our attempts to reform an educational system designed for a simpler age? Would we still have a school bell that signifies that learning ends at a designated hour?

What do you think?

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia
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