Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Educational Change/Theory

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What is the Allen/Cosby theory of change?

The state of American public education today can often be viewed as outdated and ineffective. As the world around us continues to evolve and advance, our education system also needs to advance. While innovation has become decentralized from the United States, fantastic marvels in technology, transportation, energy, and other fields continue to emerge. Why then are we not seeing such strides and innovation in our education system? More importantly, what does a lackluster system for educating our youth mean for the security of all Americans?

Many of these questions and more are answered with the insight of Dr. Dwight Allen and Dr. William H. Cosby, Jr. In their co-authored book, “American Schools: The 100 Billion Dollar Challenge”, they tackle the problems of an outdated education system and propose reforms necessary to bring innovation into our classroom. Together they have produced a plan for our government to invest $100 billion a year to begin a “bold, unprecedented journey to redefine education, its structures, its goals, and its staff.” (Allen/Cosby, 10)

Theory of Change[edit]

National Commitment[edit]

Dr. Allen and Dr. Cosby’s theory of change begins with national commitment. If we are to safeguard our security, Americans must be willing to focus our efforts on a strong foundation in education. Our country has had the drive to invest enormous amounts of resources into science and technology because they are worthwhile investments that typically pay for themselves. (Brody) The American education system needs the type of funding and support from the federal government that is given to other programs, projects, and security costs. We must recognize that national security does not simply include the collaboration of intelligence, communication, and the military. Our other vital source of national security is America’s youth, who turn knowledge into innovation, innovation into productivity, and productivity into economic growth and prosperity. (Brody) The first step to making innovative changes in education is to rekindle the American drive and commitment we had in order to put a man on the moon and focus those efforts into educational research and leadership. (Allen/Cosby, 15)


At the forefront of change, Allen and Cosby have proposed the establishment of the National Experimental School Administration (NESA). The administration would consist of a network of experimental schools that allow for research. These schools are established voluntarily by local school systems and will become a large-scale laboratory for new ideas. A laboratory on the scale of an entire school would allow for more control in a research setting and as a result produce more credible innovations. An idea that becomes successful in an experimental school can then be adopted by regular public schools. (Allen/Cosby, 114-117) These schools, serving as large research centers, would also foster new talent and leadership in education.


“One of the biggest problems in American education today is ‘safe’ leadership.” (Allen/Cosby, 7) Allen and Cosby refer to a lackluster pool of teachers who still support outdated methods because they are “safe”. In order to harvest the innovation our education system needs, we require not only more educational leaders but effective ones that are willing to move beyond the “safe”. These educational entrepreneurs will help to break established outdated ideas and practices. (Hess) Through national support, NESA research, and our very own innovative leaders, we can begin to redefine education in America.

Example Areas of Suggested Reform[edit]

Allen and Cosby point out many areas in which we need educational changes, including the following:

  • Produce More Prepared Teachers – This begins with the way in which we train and educate our new teachers. Often you hear about the poor quality of teachers in a school or the high rate at which teachers are leaving the profession. Allen and Cosby suggest that the year or less of classroom practice attached to a liberal arts degree is simply not enough. Among their ideas, teachers could join the ranks of other professions such as medical doctors, who spend extra time in residency practicing before becoming licensed. Teachers could then ease their way into the classroom over time with increasing responsibility. (Allen/Cosby, 86-87) Potential programs within NESA would provide for an ideal training ground for new teachers.
  • Increase Classroom Resources and Technology – Effective use of technology has the ability to transform boring lesson plans into an interactive, engaging new discovery of information for children. As our society becomes more electronic and technology driven, many schools and children are left behind in a new information age. (O’Conner) If America has the courage to commit to the $100 billion challenge, half of the funding will be allocated towards spending for technology purposes. (Allen/Cosby, 111-112)
  • Continuous Professional Training – With society growing and changing at such a rapid pace, it is imperative that teachers too continue to develop and change. This involves continuous training and education beyond the one day workshops. Allen and Cosby suggest that teachers should be in lifelong training. This involves continuously updating plans, procedures, and knowledge of technology. A veteran teacher of 29 years, Kathleen Baker says, “She feels like she's just getting a handle on the job.” (Blanchard) Experimental schools could help provide programs that would work to help keep teachers as learners. (Allen/Cosby, 108)


Transformation of education won't be cheap, and it won't be without mistakes. Those mistakes will be costly, but we can and will learn from them. It will require courage and commitment.

$100 Billion Challenge

Allen and Cosby’s theory of change involves recognizing that society is not only changing, but changing at ever increasing rates. We have not reached a point where we can sit back and feel satisfied that we are doing our best. In fact, we will never reach that point because change is always going to be necessary. However, many changes are going to require a large amount of resources and work to bring us “back up to speed.” Some of these resources can only be supplied by the federal government, and thus Allen and Cosby have made a proposal for $100 billion to serve as the backbone for change. Other resources can only be supplied by the innovation produced from human ingenuity and hard work. NESA and the development of educational entrepreneurs can help provide a network of resources for research and training.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following could the National Experimental School Administration (NESA) be best used for?
A. A place for schools to send their top academic students.
B. A place for new teachers to start working.
C. A place to research and practice a new method in education.
D. A place to visit on vacation.

C. A place to research and practice a new method in education.

Which of the following best serves to provide national security?
A. New firearm laws in Texas.
B. NASA space technology.
C. An investment in youth education.
D. Surveillance cameras.

C. An investment in youth education.

What is one of the problems rising leaders face in education?
A. They aren't vocal enough.
B. Peers lack taking risks, and support safer options.
C. They change careers.
D. They can't pass the Praxis tests.

B. Peers lack taking risks, and support safer options.

In order to produce better prepared teachers, which of the following would work best?
A. A paddle with holes in it.
B. New textbooks every semester with an interactive CD guide
C. Requiring a psychology minor.
D. Requiring more classroom experience and training.

D. Requiring more classroom experience and training.

What is the best reason for a movement to redefine and change education?
A. We have a surplus in government tax money.
B. The t-shirts made during the movement will sell well on eBay 20 years from now.
C. Japan is beating us on math scores.
D. To adapt to an ever changing and diverse society.

D. To adapt to an ever changing and diverse society.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

One of the areas suggested for change is teacher preparation. If three years of "residency" was added to the license requirement for a teacher, Allen and Cosby mentioned that they would gradually increase the responsibility of the new teacher. Do you think this change would better prepare teachers? How could this serve as one of the steps towards redefining and improving education? Explain.

As a teacher just starting out in this field, I do not think that colleges and universities prepare hopefuls to the extent that is needed. Presently, there is a high drop out rate of new teachers due to first-year stresses. Lesson planning and after-school meetings take up most of the free time one has after a hard, often thankless day of work at school.

I believe that an extended preparation program would be beneficial not only to upcoming teachers, but students, as well. With more time allotted, people would be able to collect thoughts more clearly of the pros and cons going into the profession and if the good would outweigh the bad. In some cases, teachers hate the job, and their attitude reflects onto the students in the classroom. The classroom should be a place where the teacher feels confident that he or she can give children an environment that will help with academic and self growth. —Elizabeth S. Edwards

I think requiring teachers to have a “residency” period, whether it is three years, or perhaps a little less, would much improve teacher education programs. I can’t imagine being thrown into a classroom with no prior experience working with kids other than the few-month internship program that’s now required. In fact, all teacher education programs should begin with some sort of observation or internship requirement that gets students in the classroom at an early point in their education. This would help students confirm that they truly want to be teachers. As a potential career-change teacher, I’ve been working as a substitute to help me confirm that teaching is indeed the profession for me. While working with kids can seem like a “fun” job, until you are actually in the classroom having to keep 20+ students on task and orderly, you won’t know for sure if this is your life’s calling.

With a residency requirement, teachers would be better prepared for the myriad situations they could encounter in the classroom. Additionally, new teachers would begin their teaching careers with some solid, hands-on experience in classroom management and also an assortment of ideas for plans and teaching methods. This would help alleviate first-year stresses on teachers when they typically have to develop all their teaching programs from scratch.

The residency requirement for teacher education would also help improve education overall, because teachers would have more confidence in their ability to manage a classroom and therefore could more effectively teach the subject matter. —Sarah Smarrelli