Guest Post: Why We Shouldn't Be Talking About Reforming Education

Oct 11, 2012

This week, Tell Me More and StateImpact Florida hosted an international Twitter conversation about education reform at the WLRN studios. One of the thousands of people who participated in that conversation was Cindi Rigsbee. She's a teacher and author who blogs at She wrote this guest post after participating in the conversation on Wednesday.


I took a minute during my lunch break to hang out on Twitter, specifically to glance at the NPR Twitter Education Forum (#npredchat) and see what some national names in education were saying…um…tweeting. As I scanned down the TwitterChat page, I kept seeing the word “reform” over and over. It was at that point that my tweeting fingers started twitching. Here’s my first post:

We shouldn’t be talking about how to REform education; we should be talking about how to TRANSform education. #npredchat

In Latin, the prefix “re” means “again, back, and backward” – exactly what we DON’T want our schools to do! “Trans” means “across, beyond, and through” – I certainly dream about taking students beyond the standards, beyond the policymakers’ mandates, beyond a test.

So how do we do it? My next tweet speaks to it:

Until we stop looking at schools as assembly lines and children as products, everything will stay the same. #npredchat

Put them in kindergarten, move them to first…keep on until they hit twelfth…then send them ready-or-not into the world – that’s what we do. I was thinking of Lucy and Ethel’s candy factory: some make it through, but some get eaten along the way.

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with the state education chiefs convening as the Council of Chief State School Officers. I said, among other things, that we keep complaining that our schools are not much different from our grandparents’ schools…still running on an agrarian schedule…I hear the complaints every day. I ended with “When are we going to stop talking about it and start doing something about it?!!” That was three years ago, and I don’t think we’ve moved very much in a direction of change.

I guess we’re moving inches at a time – we do have a few year round schools and we’re moving toward the acceptance of virtual/online instruction and learning. But those are the exceptions. In my district we have one year round elementary school. When those students finish the fifth grade (assembly line), they have no choice but to revert back to the calendar that allows them to work in the crops in the summer. I digress. Next tweet:

We need to blur the lines – instead of grade levels, educate children according to interests, abilities, and learning styles. #npredchat

So who says a six-year-old has to be a first grader? Who says a fifth grader who can’t read has to move on out to middle school? Who says a visual learner has to sit and listen to directions given and lectures delivered? What if students could be grouped into classrooms because they all are closely related when it comes to developmental maturity? Yesterday I talked to a sixth grader whose birthday is next week. She’ll be eleven. Her cousin across the room has a birthday next week, too. She’ll be twelve. Both girls are thriving academically and happy socially, in the same classroom, even though they’re a year apart in age. I’m all for doing away with grade levels and other ways of thinking “inside the box.” We’ve got to climb out, for goodness sakes.

Speaking of “outside the box,” here’s my final tweet:

Educate children in places and during times that are individualized…according to the teachers’ and the students’ strengths. #npredchat

Call me crazy, but I think schools should be community centers that are open 24 hours a day. Student (and teacher) schedules should be organized by what works for each student and teacher. My son surely would have had a better GPA in high school if his first class had occurred later than 7:30 AM. Even 10PM would have worked for that night owl. And as a teacher, I work the best between 10AM and 6PM. What if those could be my teaching hours while my colleague with school-aged kids would rather work 7AM to 3PM?

You know what creative scheduling all boils down to? A computer program! That’s all it is. A computer program that schedules teachers and students and hours and preferences can ensure the school has a revolving door that works best for everyone. Offer face-to-face with teachers who are working when they’re at their best, throw in some virtual teaching and online learning that can happen at any hour, place students in classes that interest them and therefore really prepare them for the careers they’ll choose someday, and our schools will be on the way to a TRANSformation that’s best for everyone.

No more candy on a conveyor belt.