Education Reform Plan

February 9, 2011 at 9:29 AM Leave a comment

A Four-Point Plan to Support Education Reform

The problems in education seem insurmountable; however the path to solutions would be easier to pave with four key strategies to overcome obstacles.

(1) Build the data infrastructure for the next generation of education leadership, from formulas for government funding to data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness.

Regulatory accounting thwarts good fiscal management within schools. Districts can only keep one set of books, and that is the set that gets them the most funding. It is nearly impossible to find a link between investments and outcomes for education. Regulators must work with educators to develop a common system of financial reporting that allows school districts to intend the outcomes that are to be rewarded.

Data on student outcomes must have more depth and be actionable. The current state of the art seems to focus on poor test results and allowing all constituents to weigh in on possible reasons. It’s still guess work masquerading as data-driven leadership. In addition, systems for feedback to students are cumbersome and incompatible.

Merit-based contracts for teachers cannot be drafted in the absence of data. Leaders must build a system around student outcome objectives and validate the data before asking teachers to accept it as a basis for their employment and compensation. This is NOT a chicken and egg conundrum.

(2) Develop and share best practices – all of them, not just the fashionable lessons du jour.

Dogma can be the enemy of diverse learners. It is not news that children are smart and different. When lessons fit their styles, students internalize teaching methods and begin to activate strategies independently. Even the best techniques become stale over time as singular approaches to formal lessons. However, it is not that the strategy has become obsolete. Rather, it is the lack of creative alternatives being presented.

Pedagogical fads come, go, and come back again because each represents good instruction when presented to students for whom they are new or particularly well suited for style. Each generation of learners misses out on crucial strategies that are out of vogue. In addition, the pinball approach to pedagogy fosters cynicism and intensifies the new school/old school divisiveness among the faculty. Case in point, the current battle being waged over algorithms versus exploration wastes the energy needed to learn how to teach both well.

(3) Reinvent schools leadership driven by strength and possibilities.

It takes counterintuitive insight to sustain optimism in schools. Budget constraints limit decision-making to zero sum games. A culture of blame highlights the problems children bring to school from home or the lowest common denominator among educators. Historically, many teachers became administrators without benefit of transformative leadership training. Despite the best of intentions, a legacy of dysfunction remains.

The current mantra about getting rid of bad teachers plays directly into an age-old practice of making an example of someone each year to gain cooperation among staff. A remnant of this is a toxic culture in which an invisible hand within the learning community can deliver a failure with precision – a major barrier to innovation and collaboration. A naive leader can easily fall into the trap of addressing cultural change through opinion leaders who are the worst offenders behind the scenes.

Each member of the school community needs to have room to grow and excel. The children come first, but their best interests can be enhanced through programs that open doors for their parents and teachers as well. Gifted leaders raise the level of discourse without a heightened sense of competition, without winners and losers.

(4) Value people of all ages.

Older teachers and administrators have become acceptable scapegoats in education. For administrators, they represent a cost burden at budget time. Often their younger colleagues were warned in school about their alleged backward ways of teaching. Opportunists find that one of the easiest ways to connect with a challenging student is to take his side against an older adult in the building.

 A system that values diversity and embraces its students as emerging leaders in our constitutional democracy must be intolerant of any form of discrimination. Further, a system that marginalizes its most mature members then blames them for its ills gets distracted from diagnosing the real problems and developing viable solutions for the children.

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Entry filed under: ESEA-NCLB. Tags: , .

Philosophy of Education

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