True Education Reform is Possible

The truth: Some places do a better job educating children than others.

So what do we really need to do to improve the quality of education for those schools in need of improving? Must we go the way of lawsuits? Can’t we settle this matter, finish this fight over education reform, like civilized human beings?…..We haven’t seen that so far.

[The following is a modified excerpt from The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present ©2012]

As the result of a lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts, a ruling was made that “all children must get an adequate education” and their 1993 Education Reform Act was created.

The goals were two-fold:

(1) to equalize funding among districts, and

(2) to improve all student performance.

The state chose to use these instruments for change:

(1) increase state spending on education,

(2) create curriculum frameworks that set high expectations for student learning, and

(3) create student performance assessments aligned with the curriculum frameworks.

But there was something else very important to Massachusetts success, the process.

In section 3 of their law, they set up advisory councils in the following areas: early childhood education; life management skills and home economics; educational personnel; fine arts education; gifted and talented education; math and science education; racial imbalance; parent and community education and involvement; special education; bilingual education; technology education; vocational-technical education; global education; and comprehensive interdisciplinary health education and human service programs.

And the law specified “a reasonable balance of members,” that they should “be broadly representative of all areas,” and it described specifics for each advisory council.

Massachusetts used their available experts and a broad range of interested community members to form councils that established their success factors. It couldn’t have been easy. Democratic processes never are.

If we are to move forward with solutions —truly change, make progress, “reform”− we must keep in mind that…

“…commitment, accountability, and desired outcomes are more likely to be achieved if those affected by a policy have meaningfully participated in the formulation of the policy or practice.” Dr. Seymour Sarason (1919-2010)

Education reform must start with local school improvement if we are to help students - today!

Education reform must start with local school improvement if we are to help students – today!

To sustain improvement, leadership must understand, and take to heart, the concept of democratic decision-making.

The process matters!

Whoa on “Reforms”

The following story was anonymously left in the mailbox of Dr. Emory Cowen of the University of Rochester and relayed to us through Dr. Seymour Sarason:

Common advice from knowledgeable horse trainers includes the adage, “If the horse you’re riding dies, get off.” Seems simple enough, yet, in the education business we don’t always follow that advice. Instead, we often choose from an array of alternatives which include:

Stop the "reforms."

Stop the “reforms.” They failed and are killing US.

1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Trying a new bit or bridle.
3. Switching riders.
4. Moving the horse to a new location.
5. Riding the horse for longer periods of time.
6. Saying things like, “This is the way we’ve always ridden this horse.”
7. Appointing a committee to study horses.
8. Arranging to visit other sites where they ride dead horses efficiently.
9. Increasing the standards for riding dead horses.
10. Creating a test for measuring our riding ability.
11. Comparing how we’re riding now with how we did it 10 or 20 years ago.
12. Complaining about the state of horses these days.
13. Coming up with new styles of riding.
14. Blaming the horse’s parents. The problem is in the breeding.

Dismount! As Dr. Sarason wrote: “Instead of doing any of these, we decided to dismount. We began to look at what we needed to do for kids and their families to help them help themselves.”