• The decision making process is byzantine, seemingly created to create barriers to change. In most countries, policy is made by a central authority. Here, school policies are made by a wide array of actors, all with their own ideas and agendas: federal, state and local governments; public and private schools/universities; unions; think tanks and foundations; book publishers and test makers; and student and parent groups.
• There is a lack of certainty in what we want our students to know and how to teach them, particularly in today's constantly changing world. Reasonable people disagree about such issues as the balance among subject areas and best teaching methods. To further complicate the matter, changes in political and educational leadership make for constantly shifting aims and targets.
• Schools do not stand apart from the rest of society. The problems of the whole are problems of the parts. For example, issues of poverty, immigration status, language, and discipline all play significant roles in the daily lives of our schools.
These hurdles are important to acknowledge, not as excuses for lack of progress, but because they point to important directions for real -- long lasting and widespread -- school reform. More specifically, they highlight three principles, all of which are currently missing from our education debates.
One, the nation needs a reform plan developed and supported by a broad coalition of practicing educators and others. Two, the nation needs to develop and emphasize long-term rather than short-term success. Three, the nation needs to dedicate the resources to make the plan a reality.
Unfortunately, much of our current discussion about school reform is reminiscent of Chicken Little: people running around saying that "the sky is falling."
It is a new year, a time for resolutions. Let's hope that in 2014 and beyond, we resolve to reform our schools and give all our students the education they need and deserve.
Budig is past president/chancellor of three major state universities and of Major League Baseball's American League. Heaps is a former vice president of the College Board in New York City, known for his work with writing and teacher programs.