Where We Fail

As people, we fail when we react to words rather than trying to understand what is meant by them.

Sometimes it is good to start with a blank slate.

Sometimes it is good to start with a blank slate.

Business, political, educational, and civil rights leaders jumped on the idea that outcomes in the form of test scores were the way to go for education reform partially because the words made the idea sound good – “close the achievement gap.”

The idea was sold to the public, and many, many very intelligent people bought it. The end result was the federal testing law called No Child Left Behind.

Achievement, judged by standardized tests, is the basis of the “accountability” mechanism that has yet to hold the system itself accountable for the high cost and little results of the last eleven years—let alone the damage. “Flexibility” disappeared from classrooms whose children most needed it, and “choice” didn’t leave many options for improving all schools.

During this whole fiasco, we failed to keep an open mind that would allow us to accept the evidence and our mistakes. Denial is a human defense mechanism. But it is time for adults to put aside their own stance and do the right thing — admit that testing is not what improves schools.

Our education dollars, time, and efforts will be better spent developing an understanding of school improvement and what it will take to fulfill our obligation to provide equal access to quality education; setting excellence as the norm, understanding change, the importance of school culture in the change process, and how change can lead to improvement and lasting progress.

But who is asking us? Certainly not open-minded people ready to hear and accept solutions.

To all those who were wrong; do the honorable thing, accept your failure, and open your mind.

To all those wanting to help the effort to do the right thing for public school children, share this with someone outside your circle of like-minded associates. Start a conversation.

The Quest for Clarity

How do we have conversations and bring about clarity of ideas when we don’t speak the same language? I’m talking about the language of education reform. It is too full of codes and triggers. The general public, the people whose education system we are talking about, can’t possibly be clear about what is really happening to their system. And how can they possibly crack the “code”?

I know that I personally can’t help with deciphering everything but I can help with one item of reform that we should all try real hard to understand – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. I will say right up front, Harold “Doc” Howe II, the commissioner of education in charge of enacting the law said, “I doubt that anyone could have dreamed up a series of education programs more difficult to administer . . . but ESEA was not designed with that in mind.”

It was designed to provide equal access to quality educational opportunities. It was going to “level the playing field,” as we like to say. And it was going to accomplish this by addressing the needs of children from low-income families. I believe this would be along the lines of the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When we improve the educational opportunity for the under-privileged, we improve opportunity for others in the process.

But the “process” can’t be explained in a blog or a three minute testimony.

So, please don’t get thrown by a person’s choice of words. “Turnaround” doesn’t ALWAYS mean the Race to the Top ways, “indicators” or even “assessments” don’t ALWAYS mean standardized tests, and even “always” rarely really means “always.” You get my drift. And also keep in mind that if you are talking to a teacher, they have been hyper-sensitized; they have been in the trenches of the education reform wars for far too long.

Right now, the right education battle is the one for clarity. We win that battle; all children could have a shot at being a winner.

When someone pulls your trigger or you find yourself wondering “what is this person talking about?” – my advice is to slow down. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Isn’t that the very thing we would expect from good students?