What Education Could Be

Aaron ElseBlog, Engage Better, Innovate Better, Lead Better, Teach Further


  • Education has evolved so much over the years, including busing, school meals, accommodations, and more.
  • Imagine what education could be if we stopped placing limits on it.
  • This post shares a hypothetical ideal world for education.

How We Got Here

The 14th Amendment required states to set up a public school system.  That was in 1868, 153 years ago and 92 years after the country had declared their freedom from Britain.  That should lead you to two questions: 

  1. Why did it take 92 years to set up a public school system?  After all, Harvard was founded in 1636.  
  2. What exactly has education done in the past 153 years to make sure we are doing everything we can for all students?

This all started when Massachusetts passed a mandatory education law in 1852, but it wasn’t until 1917 when Missouri finally passed their mandatory education law that all states (48 at time) placed a significant importance on public education. 

However, this still wasn’t all.  There was segregation, sexism, rural students couldn’t get to school, and there was essentially nothing for students who spoke another language or had special needs.  Let’s also not forget that we had very little in terms of child labor laws so most kids quit school to work at very young ages. 

The 1930s saw busing incorporated in school, helping many students get to and from schools, especially in rural areas.  

The 1940s saw school lunch introduced so students could eat while at school (seriously, it took that long to figure out?). They would add breakfast a few decades later.  

The 1950s saw an end to segregation.  

The 1950s and 1960s saw an increase in funding with a push in science and math because of the Space Race with Russia.  

In 1965 Title I arrived to help even the playing field for poorer schools.  

Then 1972 brought about Title IX to help end discrimination based on sex.  

It wasn’t until 1975 that we saw accommodations for all with The Disabilities Act.  

The last twenty years we have seen No Child Left Behind, Common Core, STEM, and finally, Race to the Top and a greater focus on Pre-K. 

What could education be if we stopped placing limits on it? Let me help you imagine my hypothetical ideal world for education. Click To Tweet

Are We Better Now?

Of course education looks incredibly different from what it was 153 years ago.  We have online learning, Zoom, virtual instruction, self-paced learning, collaborative learning, iPads, MacBooks, cell phones, and an endless list of resources.  But, is it better?

One could point to the data and say yes.  We have more students graduating and going to college than ever before.  There is greater opportunity for ALL learners. One could argue that we had a great grasp of the English language 100 years ago, but, overall we are doing much better than we ever have before.  But, is it enough?

No.  Largely, in part to the ridiculous amount of red tape we have wrapped our education system in, and our inability to get rid of traditions in education that only seem to slow ourselves down.  

No Limits 

What could education be if we stopped placing limits on it?  Let me help you imagine my hypothetical ideal world for education.  

For this I’m throwing out state mandated testing.

You’re welcome.  Don’t get me wrong, I do feel we need to assess kids to monitor their progress.  However, the way we do it is simply insane.  

I’m keeping learning standards but loosening them up.

Instead of very specific learning standards by grade level, I am keeping them broad, and flexible.  

I’m getting rid of grades and grade levels.

(Can someone explain how grouping students solely by age is still the best idea we have? Afterall we don’t do this in college.) 

Grades.  Research has shown that grades do more harm than good.  You already know this because you’ve likely read Thomas Guskey and the late Rick Dufour.  

Instead, I am placing voice and choice in the hands of the students, while giving them some things they must meet in order to show mastery.  We can still do grades, if you insist, but they are tied directly to standards and instead of “hodgepodge grading,” they are tied to specifics with rubrics.  On one project they could get multiple grades.  

Teachers don’t have required minutes of content they have to meet each day, they just have to cover the standards during the semester and show their students have gotten to at least mastery.  The instructional coaches would help make sure that standards are covered with a focus on engagement. 

There is an opportunity for students to move through the system quickly if they can.  Even to test out of things they already know.  

As students age and progress, they can pursue “fields” that interest them, similar to a college major.  Not in a classroom but out in the world.  Interested in becoming a chef?  They would help manage a restaurant.  Interested in becoming a lawyer?  Great, after learning the basics they take a mock case to trial with the help of an attorney.  You get the idea. 

Teachers could incorporate challenge based learning, chase teachable moments, and have access to experts in a variety of fields to show real world applications for students.  

Fine arts, health and wellness are still incorporated during the day, every day. In fact, that is the thing I would change the least.

I would also add coding, robotics, and encourage blogging, vlogging, and podcasting across “fields.”  Instead of the science fair, we would compete in The Amazing Shake that Ron Clark offers to everyone.  

School would look nothing like what it did when I went, and a lot more like Stanford’s d.school.  

The end result is our students would leave high school as problem solvers, creators, doers, innovators, leaders, designers, and less like students who can simply “play school” or memorize dates and names while working in isolation.  

Teachers could have freedom to choose, teach, innovate, create, and collaborate.

Principals would spend less time checking boxes and more time checking out the latest innovations from the classroom while giving teachers and students the tools they need to take students further. Co-teaching is the norm across ages.  

Parents would worry less about GPA and more about fostering their students’ problem solving and creativity. 

Classrooms would reflect what offices look like in 2021.  Fun, cool, flexible, with collaborative learning spaces, and places they can go if they need to work in isolation.  Basic needs would be met.  Much like a modern office, food would be readily available and not just during breakfast or lunch.  Outdoor areas would also allow for students to gather together to learn and of course play.  

For some Type A people this sounds like chaos.  They would prefer the script, the file cabinet, and the desks in rows, and papers turned in with your name and date in the upper left corner.  However, if we want to take education to what is next, it is time to let go of the things that are holding us back.  

Our colleges are starting to see the light.  If you’ve been to a campus in the last ten years, you can see they’ve embraced the idea of flexible learning spaces and a great focus on collaboration.  When I was in college it was simply advanced high school.  We sat at desks in rows.  There was no place to collaborate, in fact there weren’t many opportunities to collaborate.  We memorized dates, vocabulary, read articles, and then got tested on that article after we read it to see what we retained.  We ate cafeteria food and lived in our dorms.  Now, dorms look like apartments, the campuses are modern and full of light with opportunities for collaboration around the campus.  Now, they just need to adjust how they grade.  

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Education is at a tipping point.

A point of making the leap to be what our kids need now, not what we have always done.  Our kids are more connected than ever.  They are more social.  They are more empathetic and accepting. And they have a greater understanding of the world, cultures, and people than my generation ever did.

This generation of students in college were born into a 9/11 world, watching an economic collapse, multiple wars, countless acts of terror, a pandemic, and over half of them come from homes in which their parents divorced. 

They’ve grown up with school shooting drills and a political climate that is simply toxic.  They’ve only known social media and playing games with people around the globe.  The idea of handing them a paper for a “pop quiz” on The War of 1812 makes even less sense now than it did in 1990 or 1970.  The fact is it never made sense, but especially now when they can simply say “hey Siri…”

How would you want your kids to learn? The way education has always been, “it was good enough for me!” Or, do you want them to learn in a way that will foster them as collaborative problem solvers and empathetic thinkers?  

Just imagine what education could be.

About Aaron Else

Aaron Else is an enthusiastic optimist entering his 22nd year in education. During his time in education, he has taught 1st, 2nd, and 5th grades. He has worked in administration for the past 14 years with the last 8 as principal at Hosp Elementary in Frisco ISD.

Aaron is married to Heather, and they have five kids combined and two dogs. He loves to read, work out, and watch sports.