Why top-down reform won't save the education system
Countless top-down reforms haven't improved the U.S. education system; can community-based education make a difference?
- A new report from the RAND Corporation details another top-down initiative that failed to improve student achievement.
- Community-based education reform creates coalitions of stakeholders to support lifelong learning.
- Though barriers exist, such reform could synthesize the best of top-down and bottom-up reform.
If there's one constant in education, it's top-down reform. Long-time educators are as familiar with its ebbs and flows as a sailor the tide's. A new administration or organization promises sweeping changes aimed at enhancing effectiveness; they leave behind a dross of curriculum changes, administrative requirements, and new testing standards.
A few years later, a new administration comes to wash it away and start over.
This ebb and flow would be welcomed by educators and parents if these reforms achieved their goals of improving scholastic achievement, creating productive environments, and imbuing students with a sense of motivation and self-worth. But that's seldom the case.
Failing from the top down
There's a long history of studies showing top-down reform's lack of efficacy. In 2018, the RAND Corporation released a report looking at the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching Initiative, designed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative ran for seven years and cost roughly a billion dollars.
Three school districts and four charter management organizations participated in the initiative. Each adopted a rubric "that established a common understanding of effective teaching" and trained classroom observers. These observers scored teachers on their effectiveness and measured that alongside student achievement. The schools then used these measurements to determine recruitment, dismissal, compensation, and advancement criteria.
Unfortunately, the more than 500-page report found the initiative to be a failure. Across the years, few metrics in student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and dropout rate were improved at participating schools, while many saw negative dips when compared to similar schools who did not participate. Nor did the schools retain or hire more successful teachers.
The effective teacher initiative is just one study, but there have been many others. The most well-known example of this century (so far) was the No Child Left Behind Act, which was gutted by a bipartisan Congress after censure across the political spectrum. Smaller examples exist as well, such as a 2019 study that found local nudging strategies, such as text reminders to apply for financial aid, don't scale up effectively.
As evident by such frequent, fruitless attempts, top-down education has clearly not been successful. Then why do we continue to pursue it? Jay P. Greene, endowed chair and head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, believes it stems from a mistaken theory on education.
As he wrote for Education Next, "In its essence, that theory holds that there are policy interventions that could improve outcomes for large numbers of students if only we could discover them and get policymakers and practitioners to adopt them at scale."
Writing on the effective teacher initiative, Greene further adds that these failures aren't "inherently wrong." Individuals and societies can learn from failures, so even mistakes can serve a purpose. The problem with top-down education reforms is that the administrations and organizations pushing them aren't learning the appropriate lessons. (A disheartening irony given the subject at hand.)
Why? Merrill Vargo, former CEO emeritus at Pivot Learning Partners, argues such organizations champion top-down reform because that's what works in the closed-system of the business environment. But public education is an open system, where variables shift constantly through interactions with the environment.
It takes a village
It's here that we find a clue to lasting, beneficial education reform: community-based education reform. Like top-down reform, community-based learning doesn't describe a specific approach. It can refer to many different instruction methods and programs, such as youth apprenticeships, lifelong learning, and experiential learning programs.
It is instead a philosophy of where such reform should be centered. The key driver is an understanding that community engagement, decision-making, and reflection are integral to improving education. In turn, community members and institutions view education as both a responsibility and an asset.
"Schools and universities tend to focus, appropriately so, on the performance of their students. Yet another important aspect for schools to consider is the impact they can have as catalysts for the well-being of local communities," write Rosana G. Rodriguez and Abelardo Villarreal for the Intercultural Development Research Association. "The type of interaction between schools and universities and their constituent parents and communities has great potential to be a strong positive force for improving the quality of life for local citizens."
They point out that community-based reform brings sectors of a community together to form a unified coalition. These stakeholders should include schools, government, community institutions, community members, and, of course, parents. Each working toward the goal of creating a local environment that supports scholastic achievement and motivates students to learn.
Rodriguez and Villarreal further argue that community-based reform pays dividends in the form of economic gains, increased access to social benefits, and community empowerment.
"[W]hat if our system's greatest strength is the thing that is most often cited as its fatal weakness? Proponents of top-down reforms prey on the alleged weakness of our decentralized school governance system, but what if this idea could be turned on its head?" wrote Dave Powell, associate professor of education at Gettysburg College and former "K-12 Contrarian" for Education Week.
He continues: "We can introduce more choice into our system and still keep it genuinely public, and we can also protect equity and opportunity while simultaneously holding school professionals accountable for student learning. We can even provide a more stable source of funding for schools if we want to. We just haven't figured out how to do it yet. I, for one, believe that careful planning in the communities where schools actually exist will help us get there."
While we haven't figured out how yet, there exists an extensive, years-long study in community-based learning that has shown tremendous results. It's called Finland.
Thirty years ago, Finland's education system looked a lot like the U.S.'s. It was top-down heavy, extensively tracked teacher effectiveness, and leaned heavily on test scores to grade efficacy. Then the country made a concentrated effort at reform.
The Finnish system is guided by a national core curriculum, but local municipalities, school administrators, and teachers have broad autonomy to steer education to meet local needs. They can decide timetables, what tests to give, and how to evaluate students. Education is viewed as a community initiative — for example, students support each other and teachers are seen as cornerstones in their communities. While standard tests are administered, they are tied neither to funding nor performance incentives.
Today, the country's education system is recognized as one of the world's best.
Reforming the next reform
Anyone familiar with education literature will know there's been much ink spilled over top-down versus bottom-up reform. If done correctly, community-based learning doesn't have to be top-down or bottom-up. It can facilitate a synthesis between the two.
So why hasn't it been attempted at scale in the United States? There are several barriers.
Some are practical. Teachers need to be trained away from standardized testing and toward working with students individually. Public funding and investment must be retooled for parity for all students, including access to transportation and essential technologies. Parents and community members need to be informed and oriented. And evaluations of student learning cannot be one-size-fits-all.
Others are ideological. Many still see education as imparting required knowledge — not as a creative, lifelong process we all engage in as a community. This can lead community-based learning to be seen as a distraction from traditional, if potentially outmoded, curricula.
These barriers, however, are not insurmountable. They only require planning, resources, support, and the will to work toward positive structural changes.
Are you mentally exhausted? Here's how to tell (and what to do about it).
- Mental exhaustion is a symptom of long-term stress. When you are continually dealing with things that activate your body's natural stress response, your cortisol and adrenaline levels remain high. This leads to mental exhaustion, which can affect physical well-being, causing a person to feel physically exhausted.
- There are some things you can do yourself to alleviate your mental strain (which will then eliminate some of the mental exhaustion you're feeling).
- Seeking medical assistance for mental exhaustion is common, with therapists working alongside patients to help develop healthy coping mechanisms and doctors assisting with treatments (such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications) where needed.
What is mental exhaustion?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyODkzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTc4NTU3OX0.iBdbs1EPqupUid5hsvZGyfNiEM_lsMvZM7UHHq8Z41Q/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C188%2C0%2C97&height=700" id="9b597" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b80652353d3f8978f459cf5ea1bddc7a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman leaning over desk stressed and exhausted concept of mental exhaustion and burnout" />
Knowing the symptoms of mental exhaustion can help you understand when to seek help.
Image by Vectorium on Shutterstock<p>According to <a href="https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mentally-exhausted#symptoms" target="_blank">Medical News Today</a>, mental exhaustion can affect physical well-being, causing a person to feel physically exhausted.</p> <p><strong>What are the symptoms of mental exhaustion? </strong></p><ul><li>Low emotional resilience</li><li>Feeling stressed or anxious</li><li>Cynicism or pessimism, feeling like nothing is going right</li><li>Apathy (a feeling of not caring)</li><li>Difficulty concentrating</li><li>Feelings of helplessness</li><li>Physical exhaustion or fatigue</li><li>Sleep problems (sleeping too much or too little)</li><li>Feelings of being overwhelmed</li><li>Low motivation</li><li>Feeling distracted or on edge</li><li>Difficulty with memory</li><li>Headaches</li><li>Drastic weight gain/loss</li><li>Changes in appetite</li><li>Depression/depressive symptoms</li><li>Suicidal ideation </li><li>Irritability </li></ul> <p><strong>What is the difference between stress and mental exhaustion? </strong></p><p>Stress is something everyone experiences - it's the body's natural response to situations that are new, scary, worrisome, etc. The biological response is a surge of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) that helps us react quickly to perceived threats or high-pressure situations. With stress, once the "threat" has been removed, your body will stop the surge of hormones and you should go back to your normal state. </p> <p>Mental exhaustion, however, is a symptom of long-term stress. When you are continually dealing with things that activate your body's natural stress response, your cortisol and adrenaline levels remain high. Eventually, this begins to interfere with your body's normal functions (such as digestions, sleep, your immune system, etc). </p> <p><strong>What causes mental exhaustion? </strong></p><p>Mental exhaustion or "burn out" are terms that are often used to explain the feeling of being overworked or generally stressed about things relating to your work, but mental exhaustion can be caused by a long period of persistent stress in any area(s) of your life. It could be work, it could be your home life or it could be a combination. </p> <p>Mental exhaustion can be caused by high-pressure jobs (such as doctors, emergency responders, teachers, etc), working long hours, being dissatisfied at work, being the caregiver for an ill loved one, living with a chronic illness, sudden death of a loved one, poor work-life balance, lack of social support, etc. </p> <p><strong>How can I tell if I'm emotionally exhausted?</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-chronicles-infertility/201905/8-questions-check-if-youre-emotionally-exhausted" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Psychology Today</a> has an incredibly helpful "emotional exhaustion inventory" that is as follows: </p><ol><li>I smile less frequently than I used to, even in situations I typically would find funny.</li><li>My senses seem dulled, so food tastes flat, music doesn't move me, back rubs give me no pleasure/release, and I reach for black or grey clothes.</li><li>I can't sleep. Either I can't fall asleep, stay asleep, or all I want to do is sleep. </li><li>Socializing is difficult. When I am with friends or family, I feel disconnected and have a hard time paying attention to what they say.</li><li>I get startled easily by voices, noises or movement. I feel jumpy and jittery. </li><li>I am more irritable than I used to be, especially in lines, online and on the phone. </li><li>My anxiety level is higher than usual, and crowds and traffic make me feel claustrophobic. </li><li>I cry more easily, particularly during movies, sad news reports, sentimental stories and even shows with happy endings.</li></ol> <p>If any of these statements sound familiar, you could be dealing with mental/emotional exhaustion.</p>
How can you treat mental exhaustion?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyODkzMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTM2NzMyM30.87ZoD3LF4QI42oZwslTSxhH1LV6LYYjeXsXXKIHvqUU/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C353%2C0%2C354&height=700" id="6e07c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9eb42f44d349141a59a4036815a420ea" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="therapy appointment concept of mental exhaustion burnout therapy seeking medical assistance" />
Seeking medical assistance for emotional exhaustion can help you get back on track.
Image by Evellean on Shutterstock<p>How can mental exhaustion be treated? There are some things you can do yourself to alleviate your mental strain (which will then eliminate some of the mental exhaustion you're feeling).</p> <p><strong>Remove the stressor(s) in your life. </strong></p><p>If you're overwhelmed with your tasks at work, consider asking for help or delegating some of your tasks to others, if possible. If you're feeling overwhelmed at home, consider enlisting the help of a babysitter or house cleaner to eliminate some of your stress. </p> <p><strong>Keep a journal. </strong></p><p>Writing can be extremely therapeutic. Writing about things you are thankful for (especially at a time in your life where you are overwhelmed) can positively impact your mental health way more than you realize. <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-chronicles-infertility/201905/8-questions-check-if-youre-emotionally-exhausted" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Research</a> has showed that people who practice gratitude (and gratitude expression exercises) often have a higher sense of well-being, fewer symptoms of physical illness, reduced stress and higher relationship satisfaction, among other things.</p> <p><strong>Exercise regularly.</strong></p><p>While you may not have time to visit the gym, there are many ways you can incorporate a bit of exercise into your daily activities, such as taking the stairs more often than the elevator at work, waking up early to go for a walk/run or even doing some physical activity while watching television at the end of the day. </p> <p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1469029210000117" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2010 study</a> of 533 Swiss police officers and emergency service corps found that exercise was associated with enhanced health and actually protected against stress-related health problems. The participants of this study also reported feeling better prepared to cope with the chronic stress of their jobs. </p> <p><strong>Incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine. </strong></p><p>Meditation, according to a 2013 Bangkok study, lowers cortisol levels in the blood, which may then lower the risk of diseases associated with stress. If you're not into meditation, other forms of relaxation (yoga, deep breathing exercises, massage, aromatherapy, and tai chi) can also be helpful. </p> <p><strong>Adjust your sleeping patterns. </strong></p><p>Sleep is essential for your emotional well-being. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-exhaustion#treatment-and-coping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">HealthLine</a> suggests developing a bedtime routine and sticking to it. It can also be particularly helpful if this routine occurs at roughly the same time every evening. This can be doing some light reading for a few minutes before bed at the same time every night, for example. </p> <p><strong>Seek medical assistance from doctor and/or therapist. </strong></p><p>Mental exhaustion is an incredibly real and difficult thing to cope with, and seeking medical treatment for it could be one of the best choices you make. A therapist, for example, can provide you with the tools you need to cope with daily stressors. A doctor can talk to you about your symptoms and potentially prescribe medicines (such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, etc) if they feel it may be helpful. </p>
People remember when governments lie to them, and it lowers their satisfaction in government officials, suggest the results of a recent study.
- A recent study measured how the public's trust in government differs when exposed to rumors, government denials, and subsequent verification of the initial rumors.
- The study, conducted in China, also examined whether any changes in trust lasted over a three-week period.
- The results suggest that governments that deem negative information as "fake news" may persuade some people, but over the long term it can cost them in credibility and public satisfaction.
(Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)<p><br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The ability to label claims and explanations that the authorities deem objectionable as fake has long been regarded as a power," the researchers wrote. "Because the revelation of the falsehood of government denials could erode the government's power, it is important to investigate its consequences, particularly in the authoritarian setting."</p><p>In the study, the researchers conducted a survey on three groups of participants. Each group was shown different information regarding a new automobile registration policy, and they were also asked general questions about demographic information and political interests.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The first group was exposed to a rumor regarding the government's automobile registration policy (<em>rumor group</em>), the second group was exposed to the government's denial of the rumor (<em>denial group</em>), and the third group was exposed to an event in which the rumor initially denied by the government was verified as true (<em>verification group</em>)."</p><p>Each group then reported how much they believed in the initial rumor and the government denial. The denial and verification groups were also asked to rate their satisfaction with the government's handling of automobile registration.</p><p>The results showed that the government denial effectively decreased belief in the rumor, compared to the group that was exposed only to the rumor. Meanwhile, being exposed to a verification of the rumor increased belief in the rumor and decreased belief in the denial. Also, the verification group reported being slightly less satisfied with the government.</p>
Design of survey 1
Wang et al.<p>But do these effects last? After all, <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/40982891" target="_blank">past research</a> suggests that the effects of persuasive communication — say, a negative political ad smearing a candidate — tend to disappear within days.</p><p>To find out, the researchers conducted a follow-up survey three weeks after the first. This time, the survey included only two groups: the verification group from the first survey, and a group of new participants. Both groups were exposed to a rumor and then a government denial.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The difference between the two groups was simply that one of them had previously experienced the revelation of the government's false denial of an online rumor, while the other group did not have such an experience," the researchers wrote.</p><p>The results showed that the verification group — that is, people who had weeks earlier been shown that the government had lied to them — was much less likely to believe in the government's denial. What's more, the verification group was also less satisfied with the government.</p>
Design of survey 2
Wang et al.<p>The findings suggest that governments can lose credibility over the long term after they call something "fake news" but it later proves true.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As discussed earlier, while authoritarian countries can be awash with rumors and fake news, it is less frequent for the government's false denials to be caught due to the lack of independent news media and fact-checking organizations," the researchers wrote.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It is therefore a vivid and memorable experience to see the government's denial bluntly shown to be false. Unsurprisingly, such an experience would make people less willing to believe a new denial from the government, especially if it is somewhat similar to the one that had been shown to be false."</p><p>Ultimately, calling "fake news" on negative information does seem to effectively work on some people. But it seems to be a costly short-term strategy, one that comes with the added cost of a dissatisfied public.</p>
UNC School of Medicine researchers identified the amino acid responsible for the trip.
- Researchers at UNC's School of Medicine have discovered the protein responsible for LSD's psychedelic effects.
- A single amino acid—part of the protein, Gαq—activates the mind-bending experience.
- The researchers hope this identification helps shape depression treatment.
What is Bicycle Day?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d346092205da3c9ed10bad283222c9f1"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/L32mAiLXnLs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Back in the world of clinical science, LSD has always showed promise. That trend continues as restrictions are finally easing up. Understanding LSD's effects on our brain's complex system of networks is an important step toward discovering therapeutic actions. As Roth <a href="https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/how-lsd-binds-to-the-brain-study" target="_blank">says</a> of his research,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now we know how psychedelic drugs work – finally! Now we can use this information to, hopefully, discover better medications for many psychiatric diseases."</p><p>Using X-ray crystallography, Roth's team discovered a single amino acid—a building block of the protein, Gαq—responsible for binding to serotonin receptors. As LSD is only a partial agonist, they also experimented with a full-agonist designer psychedelic in order to observe complete receptor activation. This amino acid appears to be the master switch for the psychedelic experience. </p><p>While psilocybin has been in the news, the psychedelic renaissance is expanding in all directions. Phase 1 clinical trials on the <a href="https://newatlas.com/science/landmark-clinical-trial-lsd-mdma-mindmed/" target="_blank">combination</a> of LSD, MDMA, and psychotherapy will soon commence. LSD's effects on <a href="https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03866252" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Major Depressive Disorder</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/first-clinical-trial-shows-micro-doses-of-lsd-can-increase-a-person-s-pain-tolerance" target="_blank">pain management</a> are ongoing. With the <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-18/-magic-mushroom-company-moves-toward-mainstream-in-nasdaq-ipo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first psychedelics company</a> to IPO on the American stock market, along with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment flowing into similar companies and organizations, the push for legalized psychedelics intensifies. </p>
Credit: ynsga / Shutterstock<p>Researchers are actively attempting to remove the hallucinogenic component of psychedelics for widespread therapeutic usage—<a href="https://www.healtheuropa.eu/could-ibogaine-offer-a-revolutionary-long-term-solution-to-addiction/100635/" target="_blank">trials</a> using ibogaine for addiction treatment, for example. Identifying the chemical effects of psychedelics on our brains is an essential step in that process.</p><p>Of course, believing psychedelics <em>only</em> matters to brain chemistry is problematic as well. The rituals associated with their use are just as relevant. The "<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Set_and_setting" target="_blank">set and setting</a>" model espoused by Timothy Leary reminds us that biology isn't everything; environmental factors play just as important a role in mental health. </p><p>Isolating specific chemicals without understanding the impact of the drug <em>and</em> the environment overlooks the holistic nature of the psychedelic experience. For example, ketamine trials <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/ketamine-depression" target="_self">were rushed</a> and could potentially backfire; we can't afford to make that mistake again. </p><p>Still, understanding the pathways LSD utilizes is an important step forward. As Roth says, "Our ultimate goal is to see if we can discover medications which are effective, like psilocybin, for depression but do not have the intense psychedelic actions." In a world where more people are growing anxious and depressed by the day, every intervention should be explored.</p><p> --</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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