A criticism of the many schools of education in the United States is that they are much too wedded to the prevailing systems that have consistently underperformed. So it was a departure when the University of Arkansas established a new Department of Education Reform in 2005. The department’s creation was made possible by a $10 million gift from the Windgate Charitable Foundation that was then matched by money from the Walton Family Foundation. These contributions prompted the university to kick in money of its own. Among the largest received by any school of education, these gifts were primarily used to endow six professorships, with additional funds set aside to fund future research and establish ten doctoral fellowships.
Throughout American history, one of the central challenges facing reformers has been overcoming the political interest groups that dominate public education. The new department at the University of Arkansas was organized with the aim of avoiding establishment pressure and conventional wisdom. In addition to seeking near-term improvements, the department is charged with forming independent education scholars and leaders for the future. In its early years, it has sponsored pioneering research into school choice, and reports on the performance of specific reforms throughout the United States, while touting international models for school excellence and diversity, and encouraging fresh thinking in areas like teacher assessment and accountability.
- Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas, uaedreform.org