I absolutely believe that public K-12 education in Washington, and across the country, needs serious reform. It is build on a model that, in turn, is built on the faulty assumption that the students will fit a narrow mold. The system is set up to expect and serve students who come able and ready to learn in a traditional school setting. The whole thing needs to be reconfigured around a different, more accurate, set of beliefs around who the students are, what they need, and how public schools can deliver it.
The solutions presented by Education Reform Advocacy Organizations, such as LEV, are not serious reforms. They do not address the problem. Some of them, such as charter schools, create an opportunity to bypass the problem – an opportunity which, sadly, often goes unused. Some of them, such as merit pay for teachers, have nothing to do with the problem.
I want to be part of a serious conversation about how public K-12 education needs to change so that it meets students’ needs. I would love it if the Education Reform Advocacy Organizations would turn their focus towards the real changes that need to be made and away from these distractions. Think of all of the money, resources, goodwill, and drama that have been squandered on these distractions when that effort could have been focused on some work that would really make the changes the students need.
The solution to the academic achievement gap will not be found in the teachers’ contract.
The solution to the academic achievement gap will not be found by changing the ownership and governance of the schools.
The solution to the academic achievement gap will not be found in “school transformation” grants or competency credits, higher graduation requirements, high stakes testing, or even more desperate punishment for students and teachers who don’t score well.
The solution will be found by:
- addressing the barriers to learning for individual students
- are they hungry
- are they sick
- are they in pain
- are they sleepy
- are they fearful
- are they able to get to school
- do they have a non-cognitive disability
- do they have a cognitive disability
- putting greater focus – at every level – on student motivation
- teachers need to see their role as motivator
- principals need to create a school culture that motivates students
- teachers need training in motivation techniques
- the school needs to offer students opportunities to exercise autonomy
- the school needs to offer students opportunities to master desirable skills
- the school needs to offer students opportunities to work in service to a greater purpose
- intentionally creating positive cultures in our schools
- principals need to see their role as the conservator of the school culture
- teachers need to contribute to and model the school culture
- the school culture has to value learning for its own sake
- the school culture has to value the life of the mind
- the school culture has to value sitting and thinking
- the school culture has to value intellectual curiosity
- the school culture has to value intellectual freedom
- the school culture has to value critical reasoning and questioning
- the school needs to choose scholars, authors, artists, and thinkers as heroes
- providing early and effective interventions for students who fall behind,
- they have to be right on it as soon as any student falls behind, K-12
- the interventions have to address the individual student's problem
- the interventions have to work and work quickly
- focusing teacher and class time on developing higher level cognitive skills,
- use teacher time and class time for its highest value purposes
- class time is for discussion
- class time is for exploration of the wide range of contexts in which the lesson fits
- class time is for exploration of deeper meanings of the lesson
- because student skill levels vary, class time is a bad time for skill practice
- class time is time to practice working collaboratively
- class time is time to apply skills, not practice them
- creating a system that delivers lessons at the frontier of each student’s knowledge and skills
- get a calendar; it's 2012 - we can individualize instruction
- let technology do what technology does well, provide skill building practice
- and by creating truly inclusive classrooms for all students regardless of culture, ability, disability, gender, or socio-economic status
- provide students with the supports they need to succeed
- inclusive classrooms, when properly executed, work better for everyone
- inclusive classrooms can be properly executed in real life conditions, not just in laboratories
What prevents our schools from working like this? It's not the students. It's not the teachers. The great majority of teachers would gladly accept the challenge that this type of school reform would present. But the students and the teachers don't get to decide how our schools are organized. They don't even usually get any input into the decision. The obstacles to the change we need in education are coming from management. First the principals. That said, a large number of principals, like the teachers, would readily embrace the challenge that this style of school configuration would present. The truth is that a lot of principals already do this sort of thing (though they have to do much of it without the district's knowledge). The primary obstacle to this re-configuration of public education is in the district- and state-level bureaucracies.
Want to know why some charter schools work better than traditional public schools? They work because they take advantage of the freedom from state- and district-level bureaucracy. Want to know why some charter schools work no better than traditional public schools? It is because they do not take advantage of their freedom and they operate no differently than the public school down the street. While charter schools offer a path around those obstacles, they offer no assurance that the path will be followed and they leave the obstacle in place for everyone else.
Seattle is getting a new superintendent. It would be marvelous if he introduced some of these ideas to Seattle Public Schools. He could do it. He could re-define the role of the central administration, the principal, the teacher, and the schoolhouse. He could bring Seattle public education into the 21st century. He could do it for every student in the system - not just those in a few schools. The change has to come from his office. It has to come from the Board. The change has to come from the people who are responsible for designing and maintaining the system because the system is the problem - not the people working in it.