Astute observations given my work with school districts over the years. “Those who hold out hope that a few successful “turnaround” efforts, model schools, or charter schools can quickly spawn a legion of more effective schools…fail to recognize that improving many schools at once takes a vastly different set of skills.

Thomas Hatch of Education Week writes:

The good news: Despite the economic downturn, the U.S. Department of Education is stoking the development of a multitude of initiatives that might help improve schools.

The bad news: Many of those initiatives still focus on the same flawed assumptions that have undermined education reform efforts for years. These assumptions reflect a simplistic view of what it takes to improve schools, and they contribute to the repeated failure to address the basic conditions needed to sustain long-lasting improvements in schooling.

Assumption One: We have the capacity to significantly improve the performance of all students; we just need to put in place the goals and incentives that will encourage teachers and schools to do it.

Schools do not have all the knowledge, expertise, and resources needed to address many of the basic challenges of teaching and learning across multiple subjects on a large scale. This flawed assumption was reflected in some of the initial efforts to implement systemic reform in the 1990s, and continues in many current calls for “national standards” that imply creating common goals and aligning policies, incentives, and supports can unleash some previously hidden capacity to dramatically improve educational performance.

The same belief underlies many of the recent initiatives that suggest that producing smaller schools and smaller classes, or establishing rewards and penalties based on student test scores, will suddenly equip struggling teachers—in every subject and at all levels—with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable all their students to be successful in college and beyond.

Those who hold out hope that a few successful “turnaround” efforts, model schools, or charter schools can quickly spawn a legion of more effective schools embrace this assumption—and do so as well when they fail to recognize that improving many schools at once takes a vastly different set of skills, structures, and resources than transforming one school at a time. Ultimately, improving schools depends on working harder, increasing efficiency, and building capacity for more powerful instruction.

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