Seven Keys to Education Reform (extended)

March 24, 2011 at 10:41 AM 2 comments

Seven Keys to Education Reform

  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. 
  2. Make teacher pensions portable.
  3. Place teachers and administrators in a shared incentive system linked to student achievement in their school.
  4. End pedagogy wars.
  5. Reinvent school leadership modeled on the general manager role and asset-based management.
  6. Open up the dialogue on Special Education to include the children prior to high school.
  7. Value people of all ages.

(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.

Regulation 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. To avoid further funding of bureaucracies, a student-centered decentralized distribution of resources must be part of this plan.

Data on student outcomes must have more depth, be actionable, and document longitudinal progress. 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) Make teacher pensions portable

A defined benefit retirement plan that optimizes benefits only for those past age 55 with 30 or more years of service creates a pension trap for experienced teachers who feel they cannot afford to change jobs. It also fuels high turnover among new teachers who experience mandatory payroll deductions but cannot envision staying long enough to ever reap the benefits. The net result is a dichotomy between career teachers who pursue the path of security and tenure and a highly mobile short-term workforce. Schools become myopic as they lose the sustained vitality of knowledge and experience from beyond their communities.

(3) Place teachers and administrators in a shared incentive system linked to student achievement in their school.

Paying teachers and administrators to work together to achieve a short list of goals for students is a logical first step toward a more robust system of merit pay. This action creates a reward for desired outcomes while limiting the focus to collective accomplishments. It celebrates interdependence, collegiality, and a results orientation, all of which are crucial to long-term success.

(4) End pedagogy wars.

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.

(5) Reinvent schools leadership modeled on the general manager role and asset-based management.

Instructional leaders must become general managers as they assume new responsibilities for decentralized budgets and education delivery systems that extend beyond the school walls. This new role will require enhanced managerial decision models for resource allocation as well as an expanded functional skill set.

In addition, 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.

(6) Open up the dialogue on Special Education to include the children prior to high school.

Currently, we begin to train children to be their own advocates in the management of their learning disabilities as part of transition planning for the end of high school. By involving younger children in their diagnoses and education plans, we can draw on their insight and motivation to help them overcome obstacles and resolve some issues earlier. In addition, engaging children in very private exchanges safely preserves confidentiality while lifting the shroud of secrecy that has left many children unnecessarily sensitive and confused about the learning style issues that have the grown-ups so worried.

(7) 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 their communities 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.


Entry filed under: ESEA-NCLB, Seven Keys to Reform. Tags: , , .

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