Educational Reform: A Little Truth Telling and Some Advice from a Friend
April 29, 2013
So where are we on the great educational reform road race really, lo these many years and high profile policy initiatives and competitions? Well, it’s a very mixed bag at this point, and I have a feeling it is about to turn sour unless something almost unthinkable happens in the next few weeks—the US DOE backs up publicly, gathers the two teachers unions, the CCSSO, the Gates and GE Foundations and a few others, and says three things:
we are going to pause and gather ourselves together to look at the relationship between and among the Common Core Standards, the teacher evaluation process, the measurement of student learning, and the testing and data blizzard;
we are going to, together, take the next two years to do the proper training and preparation so that we are ready to teach to the stronger standards and understand what good teaching is in classrooms across the country, before we link these two things together with such significant repercussions for all those involved; (during that professional learning and reflection we will also have to figure out which strategy is an improvement strategy for the whole teaching profession and which is a strong sorting mechanism for what we determine is weak teaching)
we are, together with one voice, going to communicate that this is not a signal to stop deep improvement or work on the fundamentals, or even slow down; it means we are actually going to do the work carefully and well because it is so important, and not jam it with hurried compliance and little quality, lose the historic moment, and arm those further who want no change.
That’s what we ought to do, and that is what would save the wonderful work that has been done by some states and districts, schools and classrooms, across the country. The good news is that tough issues have been named and are beginning to be addressed:
-the number of children left behind each year, especially poor children and children of color;
- no feedback to a profession that is dedicated to learning but has had no time and no mechanisms to learn and improve itself;
-very poor training, recruitment, and retention strategies;
-those who traditionally did the evaluation were often quite distant from the research and practice of good teaching;
-enormous amounts of time and energy at district levels (of which there are 879 in Illinois alone as I write) spent on everything but a focus on children and learning.
All these issues are now in play in serious ways. Demanding training is developing every where for evaluators on good teaching and engaged learning. Strong tools for a balanced approach to teacher evaluation is emerging, much of it designed by the teachers unions working with each other and administrators (see Illinois and New York). The teachers’ professional day is evolving to include time to look at student work, each others’ practice, best examples of approaches to the new curriculum, and deeper academic content training as well.
But after all is said and done, the entire national dialogue is now about learners, where they are, how to engage them, all of them better, and how to not just teach better but build cultures in which we help each other do so. That is an enormous feat of refocusing and unsticking, and anyone close to schools and classrooms will tell you the same.
So what’s the problem? The stakes are too high and too fast. As usual, what we say is wrong
with our schools and teaching is exactly what we are doing in the reform—it is too much, it is splintered, it is being done without the deeper preparation such a significant shift requires. And let me say it one more time, IT IS TOO FAST without the correct vetting and preparation.
Three things will happen unless we slow down and do it right.
1. We will do it very poorly if at all and utterly exhaust, and eventually lose, the best of the profession who are in behind this with all they have;
2. We will lose an historic moment, having unloosened the right stuff, or enough of it that we truly have a chance to improve the whole thing IF we take our time and do it right;
3. We will hand a tiny group of blockers all they need to stop the deep changes and take this back where we were.
It’s a real simple choice actually, and all it needs is a little dose of reality and a chunk of courage. We should demand that.