Scott McLeod of Dangerously Irrelevant.org has a three minute video presentation on how schools need to change that pretty much sums up what I think is wrong with schools and how they need to be fixed.
Scott is an IT innovation guy, so he naturally sees IT is the driving force of reform, but I think assessment runs a close second as a potential engine of change. If we move away from assessments based on regurgitation and move towards more authentic assessments that require students to assume more responsibility for, ownership over, their own learning, then the classroom as a whole will move to a better model of learning. The authentic assessment petered out, not because teachers, students or parents rejected it, but because conservative politicians brought in policies (e.g., no child left behind) that effectively killed any attempt to improve schools in America--and what's big in America slops over the border into Canada. I cry a little every time I find learning reduced to "read the chapter and complete the 'scavenger hunt' worksheet--yeah, that's how we encourage kids to think deeply about what they have read and to contextualize their learning. Head::Desk. Change evaluation, change what we tell students we are looking for--give them learning targets that are clearly defined, worth learning, and which allow them a modicum of control and ownership, and we could change schools overnight. Continue to use traditional models of assessment, and it doesn't matter how much our policy statements claim schools are about life long learning or critical thinking or whatever the buzzword for actual learning is these days, because none of that will matter in the face of students knowing what counts for marks is regurgitation and compliance.
Watch Scott's 3 minute video for a succinct overview of the problem and the real targets and then ask yourself how we would have to change assessment if we took him seriously.
(Also watch his TEDx talk here which contrasts extracurricular learning with the lack of learning within schools."Get out of their way, and let kids be amazing,"Scott concludes....By the same token, how can we change assessment from anxiety producing exams that get in the way of learning to helpful feedback that strengthens and extends learning?