The One Best Systems

No, it’s not a typo. This post is intentionally titled ‘The One Best Systems.’ This semester I’m taking a course that looks at schools from an organizational/management perspective. We’ve recently been discussing Tyack’s One Best System (1974). In looking at the evolution of the American education system, I could not help but draw parallels from Tyack’s account to the current education landscape & the never-ending search for that one best system.

In looking at the historical progression of American education, I find we are perpetually looking for the silver bullet, the one best system/model of education. Once a framework or philosophy has been found to work in a school, the immediate response is to expand that program or framework to all schools. The idea being that after all, it worked in one school, why shouldn’t it work in schools across the board. Yet the ‘best systems’ that have been introduced seem to only be temporal constructions. There has not been one best system that has been able to be sustained over time. We keep looking for that magic fix that will solve all the perceived problems in education. Why?

In thinking about our current predicament, I am reminded of a talk by Ken Robinson, “Changing the Education Paradigms.” It begs the question ‘Can we do better?’ What would happen if we essentially blew up the current ‘one best’ system of education? If we were to essentially start over, would the goal be to re-create another ‘best system’ or is there a lesson to learn from our history? Is it possible to blend centralization and local autonomy to create a network of best systems?

We know that children learn differently. We are imploring our teachers to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of their diverse learners. Why would we settle for the one best system? It would only seem logical that we create a variety of systems, so that students could select a school that was the best fit for them, as an individual learner. Yet we are then faced with the roadblock of how to ensure that all students are actually learning; an issue currently addressed by standardized tests to generate outcome measures upon which comparisons can be made across schools. But what if different types of learning aren’t best measured by a standardized test? Does a network of best systems require a network of best assessments?

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