Once There Were Greenfields

, Richard Thompson, Leave a comment

The education system in the United States has been failing miserably, and while present school choice programs have been successful in providing only C grade reforms, the greenfield school model offers hope for A+ improvements.

The term greenfield is generally used by engineers or builders and refers to grand scale expansion that allows more space for inventing and building. “In schooling, creating greenfield requires scrubbing away our assumptions about districts, schoolhouses, teacher training, or other familiar arrangements so that we might use resources, talent, and technology to support teaching and learning in smarter, better ways,” writes Greg Forster and James L. Woodworth in “The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice.”

Forster and Woodworth, whose study is published by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, argue that the ineffectiveness of school reform programs stems from the inability to provide universal choice. The authors claim that current choice programs are “small, underfunded, and overregulated,” while stressing the importance of implementing school choice on an institutional level rather than an individual level.

“More recently, attention has been focused on the individuals carrying out the idea,” write Forster and Woodworth.  “By its very nature this approach cannot be expected to produce big results in a short period. By contrast the new movement toward greenfield school models grows from an increasing realization of the role of institutions, and especially of institutional culture.”

Greenfield schooling, according to the Friedman Foundation authors, should be accepted as “the entrepreneurial cutting edge of education reform” because it creates the mindset that is crucial in promoting the reinvention of the education system. The nurturing of this mindset in its infancy increases the potential of “un-reinvented” schools (schools not immediate reshaped by greenfield schooling) to be amenable to change.

Of course there is always the question of whether or not the greenfield system can actually bring about the immediate change that it promises. Two of the major challenges that Forster and Woodworth notice are the poor design of current school choice programs and the limited marketability of the private school system.

“The private schools that survive in the face of the monopoly are likely to be the least conducive to greenfield schooling because they serve niche markets,” the study said. “They only need to be a little better or a little different than public schools to establish themselves in comfortable security.”

Forster and Woodworth collected data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Private School Survey (PSS) and the Common Core of Data (CCD), which measured the private school numbers of states taking large strides in choice reform such as Ohio and Arizona.  Through the analysis of this data, they found that “existing choice programs transfer students from marginally less effective public schools to marginally more effective private schools, but they do not seem to drive more ambitious school reforms.”

The data, however, was not completely discouraging.  There is not yet a substantial system in place that allows for universal choice, so it cannot be sufficiently proven that large scale reform systems are inefficient. All that can be said with certainty is that the current reform structure just isn’t passing the test, and swift change is necessary for the education system to be truly effective.

Richard Thompson is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

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