Often, the problem with reforms is the lack of understanding and communication between the people who make the policies and the people who are actually experiencing them. In “Fear and Learning in America” by John Kuhn, this disconnect can be seen in Kuhn’s experiences working in Texas public schools. In today’s system, that’s the way that policy is made, with a small group of people at the top making decisions for the wider general public. That system only works if the people at the top can be held accountable for making the decisions that best reflect what their constituents want. Some would argue that today that system isn’t working well. The problem is once that accountability is weakened, it’s hard to change it unless the changes come from the top.
It seems that one of the groups that has power over the way schools work is trying to change the system. Harvard University, one of the best universities in the country, has decided to change their admissions policy. This is important because, as David Tyack and Larry Cuban explore in their book “Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform“, colleges have been important factors in shaping the way that public schools run. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Thinking is an example of how leaders in higher education have a large effect on schooling. In 1905, a group of leaders in higher education, including people from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford, came together and created the Carnegie Unit, which still is present in our education system.
So, what has Harvard decided to change about admissions? The main thing that has most people very excited is that they are planning on making standardized testing like the ACT and the SAT optional. They are also emphasizing importance of dedication to extracurriculars and advanced classes, instead of trying to have as many as possible. I was a member of 8 clubs when I was a senior in high school and president of 2 of them, but I can only really claim to have been dedicated to 3 or 4 of them. If schools when I was applying had emphasized quality over quantity, I would have likely not been members of so many of them. They’re also trying to take into consideration responsibilities of some students, especially those that have to work or stay at home after school to take care of their younger siblings. Overall, the new admissions seem to be emphasizing commitment to activities, public service, and community engagement instead of test scores.
This is just a small step towards what needs to happen to help make the education system better, but it is important. In the current education system, top down change is what has made the largest effects. And for Harvard, which is well respected and internationally renowned, to be making a change as important as this is really huge. Hopefully, this will mark the beginning of a change in our school systems, where high stakes testing isn’t as common. Because if the most prominent schools in our country are deemphasizing it, it’s only a matter of time before others follow suit.