Reinventing Education Begins Locally

Only communities of caring citizens can create an effective education model for their children.


Kevin Miller

2 years ago | 9 min read

There seems nearly universal agreement the current model of education in the U.S. (and most of the rest of the world) needs to be replaced. This factory model has been ineffective for decades and everyone knows it.

Yet countless efforts to replace it, backed by billions of dollars, the federal and many state governments, and thousands of different organizations have failed to do so. That’s because the only way it can be done and actually succeed is from the community level.

Some claim public education indoctrinates students into beliefs leaning toward a liberal ideology. Though the curriculum may reflect such an ideology (I’m not going down that rabbit hole), it’s mostly irrelevant, because what is being taught is far less important than how it’s being taught.

Consequently, it’s not the content of instruction that is indoctrinating students. Rather, the school model itself is indoctrinating students and has for more than a century.

The factory model of school has instilled in us an incredibly strong belief that education must look much the same for everyone. We’ve been convinced all students must get essentially the same school experience to be fair and equitable. And we’ve come to believe that everyone must be taught the same basic content. We’ve been indoctrinated into accepting our current education model.

Consequently, we’ve come to rely on the federal and state governments to dictate the vast majority of what education looks like for everyone. Then, we expect “local control” to provide the final twist on how it occurs in our communities, though they must do so within the constraints of the institutionalized model.

At the same time, everyone seems to agree the factory model of school is ineffective (I have found no one who disagrees after thousands of interactions on this topic). It does not truly meet the needs of any individual student, let alone all students.

Students who seem to flourish in the current model know they would be capable of even more if the model allowed it, while those who languish know they need something very different.

The former belief (the school model is dictated by higher level authorities), overwhelms the latter reality (the model is out-of-date and needs to be replaced). So, we allow generation after generation of children to go through the motions of school and hope between what they do learn in school and their out-of-school experiences they can eventually thrive.

That is how we arrived in a world filled with crises despite incredible scientific and technological advancements. The majority of our children are never put on a path toward their potential where they could contribute to crisis solutions or, as those crises diminish, create countless new opportunities for our world.

Of course, that’s also why we have such massive economic and opportunity inequities. The biggest factor in a child’s future economic situation stems from their out-of-school situation and opportunities. The current school model cannot close any gaps but instead perpetuates them. A new model, could all but eliminate them.

The path toward replacing the factory school model begins with this realization: The reason the current model doesn’t work is every child needs something different to learn, grow, and develop toward their true potential, and every community needs a different school model to meet the needs of that community and its children.

In other words, school should look different in every community and for every child in order to unleash every child’s full potential. To do that, the school model must be designed by the community and the design process must maintain its integrity.

Those statements are hard to digest because we’ve never done anything like that. Yet the process can deliver an incredibly effective school model for every child in the community. In addition, doing this can save a community from current crises, it can be done in any community, it is nearly cost free, and it holds almost no risk.

Which makes it sound pie-in-the-sky or snake oil like. So, here’s the catch: It is very difficult to get started, and even harder to maintain that integrity. But we now have the perfect circumstance for taking this leap of faith, and those who do will find themselves becoming beacons of hope for the rest of our communities and the entire world.

In this other essay, I go into greater detail about how this effort can address other challenges, and in this other essay I explain why we cannot wait. For the purposes of this essay, I will summarize their content.

The COVID 19 pandemic has created chaos in schools. Whereas they were already ineffective as a means for students to pursue their potential, they now can’t even deliver curriculum (their current actual core purpose).

In addition, parents are struggling to play a role in their children’s education or at least to ensure their children are participating in whatever their local schools are offering as instruction.

Consequently, schools are striving to reinvent themselves. Unfortunately, they are not trying to become better facilitators of student learning, growth, and development. Instead, they are reinventing how they can deliver curriculum.

Why not reinvent with the goal being to unleash the potential of every child. Set as the vision: Children learn, grow, and develop based on their unique individual needs and passions. And, bonus, the children can take a lead in the reinvention so the process itself becomes part of their learning, growth, and development.

Besides the pandemic, our country is trying to come to terms with racism and glaring inequities. The school model reinvention process can take these challenges into account and become a vehicle for local healing of decades and centuries old wounds.

Besides school reinvention being essential to unleash the potential of our children, unleashing that potential is essential to our future survival. We have countless crises currently festering, many of which could have been avoided if our schools had allowed most students to pursue their true potential.

If we want to overcome current crises and be prepared for future ones — or maybe avoid them altogether — we need future generations to achieve their individual and collective potential.

The process of reinventing the school model in a community is simple and straight forward, though it is far from easy. The biggest problem is a pervasive absence of trust around many community initiatives and challenges. Politics, ideologies, and related divisiveness show up early and compromise the efforts being made right from the start.

A primary reason it is difficult to truly collaborate on most initiatives is because participants will put their self-interests first against competing interests. Because this nearly always occurs in a resource-starved environment, the effort becomes a negotiation rather than collaborative problem solving.

This is compounded by education initiatives being filtered through or adapted to the factory school model. Thus, every effort is compromised in numerous ways so it cannot possibly achieve the hoped-for outcomes — or it achieves its outcomes but creates other problems or shortcomings.

Reinventing the school model entirely avoids these common challenges. Though participants will still have competing interests, these can be laid out from the beginning for consideration. Everyone can acknowledge each other’s priorities and agree to consider how to meet them in ways that don’t compromise the collectively agreed to outcomes.

Resources are not constrained because the effort is starting from scratch — no one knows yet what sort of resources will be required. In addition, because this must be a community-wide effort, the available resources encompass everything within the community.

In this essay, there’s a limit to what can be covered, and there is more to it than all this; but it’s really not overly complex, and it holds immense benefits for a community to go through this process, regardless of whether they pursue it to an actual school model redesign. And the reality is, a community that begins this effort and maintains its integrity will not stop short of that redesign.

What does this effort actually entail? In a nutshell, the process includes these steps:

  • Community dialogues around visions for the future of the community’s children (and the community itself)
  • A journey of learning about child and brain development and how people learn (totally within everyone’s capacity)
  • A journey of community self-discovery including comprehensive identification of community resources and challenges
  • Development of a shared vision of the future along with shared beliefs and principles
  • Exploration of outcomes community members envision for the community’s children
  • Exploration of ways outcomes could be achieved (that is, how children learn, grow, and develop)
  • Exploration of all the things that interfere with learning, growth, and development
  • Design a school model that encompasses everything learned and explored to date
  • Design an implementation plan for the school model

Nothing on this list is out of reach of any community. It simply requires enough community members to decide it’s worth starting the process for the sake of the community’s children.

For those wondering if they should be involved in designing a new school model for their community and what role they should play, self-reflection is a great place to begin. The following questions can be used to help with that self-reflection:

  • Besides the children, who has the biggest stake (the most to gain or lose) in how well the children in our community learn, grow, and develop?
  • Who has a lesser, but still significant stake, in how well the children learn, grow, and develop?
  • What stake do I have in how well the children learn, grow, and develop?
  • Is the current school structure in our community allowing our children to pursue their true potential?
  • If not, who has a responsibility to do something about this? (and while the school board and superintendent have a responsibility, they are actually not in a position to lead this effort in most communities because they are charged with working in the current model, though they can be involved)
  • Who would I trust to lead a school redesign effort for my community?
  • What role could I play in such a school redesign effort?

These same questions can be adapted to foster the dialogues that make up the first step listed above for the school model redesign process.


This is not a blame game. Those responsible for our current school model and all its shortcomings are long dead and gone. We all shoulder blame for allowing it to continue for so long. Now is not a time for finger pointing. Now is a time for open, honest dialogues aimed at a future where every child can approach their true potential. Keep this in mind throughout the process.

The questions above help people realize they have a role in this process and a reason to be part of it. The process itself can then start pulling a community together.

As noted above, the process of reinventing the school model begins with dialogues about a vision for the future of a community’s children. These dialogues should be guided to avoid getting hung up on a vision that is some variation of the present. If you wonder what a completely different model might look like, see this notional learning community.

In addition, the group initiating this process must seek true representation of the community. That representation may not be present at the start, but the group must expand to encompass the entire community. The full process will require a significant portion of the community, but it takes only a small group to get things started.

Through these initial dialogues, bridges are being built and barriers torn down. The focus on children’s futures provides a source of cohesion. That, in turn, creates a foundation on which to begin the subsequent redesign steps while also creating a foundation for healing past wounds and addressing current challenges.

From this beginning, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished. The caveat is that everything must be done with integrity. What does that mean? I’ve addressed that here.

Now it’s time to consider your role in unleashing the potential of the children in your community. What are you waiting for?


Created by

Kevin Miller

A Boomer who joined the Army during the Cold War and continues to serve. Kevin spent 30-plus years working in K-12 education as a teacher, administrator, and consultant. His book, Know Power, Know Responsibility, provides the imperatives for a complete redesign of schools and the way to get there.







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