Tuesday September 27, 2005

History Crucial to Education Reform

In his recently published article, UD professor and education historian Thomas Hunt argues school reforms must be grounded in the past.

Schools often implement education reforms, such as the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and year-round education. However, University of Dayton professor and education historian Thomas Hunt believes the people who develop such reforms need to take a closer look at history.

He examines the cycle of reform in his essay "Education Reform—Lessons Learned from History," published in the September issue of Phi Delta Kappan, a professional journal that addresses policy issues for educators and only accepts 5 percent of the articles it receives for publication. Hunt's article is adapted from his 2002 book, The Impossible Dream: Education and the Search for Panaceas.

"I'm not saying all education reforms are bad, but when they take the shape of a panacea, they're misguided and inaccurate," Hunt said. "Some problems are unsolvable, and the schools are not set up to solve all of society's problems."

When presented as panaceas, many education reforms end with failure, Hunt said. Each failure prompts the search for the next "magic elixir" that will be the "quick fix" for public education.

"We will keep having this cycle of education reform as long as the past is looked upon as dead," he added. "We don't want to look upstream to find out how we got where we are. But we are going to have to find out what happened, why it happened and what the consequences are."

Hunt also argues that change in public education is necessary, and he said such changes as establishing Head Start have been positive. However, too often in education reform, administrators and legislators need to realize that "sometimes change happens, and we are worse off than before," he said.

"States set academic standards, then people start thinking about what they can do to meet them," he said. "But the problem is that teachers and administrators have to meet standards that are set by legislators, who don't always do the right thing in the first place."

In his article, Hunt notes that it would be much easier for reformers to know what the right thing is if only they were well-versed in history.

"Education history is becoming less and less important, even in the preparation of teachers and administrators," he said. "New teachers don't even know that things like accountability have been around forever."

A prolific scholar, Hunt has been tracking education reform since 1969 and has edited, co-written or contributed to 20 books on education, including the two-volume Catholic Schools in the United States: An Encyclopedia, published in 2004. He will co-write the book The Dissenting Tradition in American Education, which will be published in 2006, and is an editor for Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, the only refereed journal on Catholic schools in the country. Hunt recently put together a panel discussion on the future of Catholic Schools that was awarded a presidential-invited session at the annual meting of the American Educational Research Association, to be held in San Francisco this spring.

For media interviews, contact Tom Hunt at (937) 229-3787 or via e-mail at thomas.hunt@notes.udayton.edu.