The Question of the Student In Educational Reform

David P. Ericson, Frederick S. Ellett


In pursuing the goals of educational reform over the past several decades, educational policy makers have focused on teachers, administrators, and school structures as keys to higher educational achievement. As the would-be beneficiaries of reform, students, and their interaction with the educational system, have been almost entirely overlooked in the pursuit of educational excellence. Yet, as we argue, students are as causally central as educators in bringing about higher educational achievement. In what follows, we examine rational student interaction with the educational system and show why a large number of students have incentives to undercut the intent of the reforms. These are incentives created by our development of an educationally-based, meritocratic social and economic system. No one, apparently, is asking what exactly is in the reforms from the point of view of quite rational, if sometimes irresponsible, student self-interest. Indeed, the eduationally-based, meritocratic social and economic system may be actually forming student preferences guaranteed to result in educational mediocrity rather than excellence. Finally, we comment upon the meaning of "educational excellence" and show why the educational reformers' understanding of the purpose of public education—to compete in the global economic system—can only fail to capture it. In doing so, we point to the kinds of educational structures and policies that create multiple pathways to competent adulthood that do have a chance of bringing about the reformers' stated goal of excellence in the educational system. But these are structures and policies that challenge the entire conceptual framework of the current educational reform movement.


Educational Change; Educational Objectives; Elementary Secondary Education; Interaction; Student Responsibilty; Student Role

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