Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A manifesto of lesser ideas

Sunday, the superintendents of some of the nation's largest districts, including New York City and Washington, DC, published a manifesto on "How to fix our schools." I've read it four times, and slept on it for three nights, and I still think it's more wrong than right.

The authors are surely sincere in their desire for school systems that deliver much more for students, and they're certainly right that laying off strong teachers to keep weak ones is bad practice. Likewise, better use of better technology, closer analysis of important student data, and a focus on learning results rather than seat time in class are all good ideas.

What's missing, though, is any serious discussion of the changes within schools that strengthen individual teachers. There's no hint of professional learning communities here. There's no whisper of building the collaborative cultures needed to teach in the ways that actually raise performance and shrink achievement gaps. There's concern about removing teachers who are hopeless, but no matching intensity about building up the much larger group of teachers who can and should do the main work ahead.  The core understanding that the big learning change happens with teams of teachers just isn't there.

That missing element is the essential bridge between education ideas proven in tiny studies and education changes that happen on a scale large enough to change our future.

Add that piece, and American education can reach for historic success.

Leave it out, and we can count on tiny advances, tiny retreats, and an overall legacy of stagnation.

The manifesto's authors left out what matters most.

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