My friend Mike Petrilli, the tireless pusher of ‘school reform,’ has just published his recommendations for going forward, calling it ‘Where Education Reform Goes From Here.” He acknowledges that things haven’t gone swimmingly for the past dozen or more years–a classic understatement if ever there was one–but then asks that we trust him and keep on doing what we’ve been doing: More charter schools, more choice, tougher tenure rules, and so on.
Ever the phrasemaker, Mike writes, “The question is not whether schools can do it all — but whether they are doing all they can.” It’s actually a false choice designed to help us agree with his premise, that it’s time to double down on the ‘school reforms’ that he, Arne Duncan, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and others have been pushing.
This blog, unsupported by major foundations and others with vested interested in testing, charter schools, and other corporate reforms, will not reach a fraction of the readers who will see Mike’s piece. Rather than argue with Mike’s recipe, I would like to offer a different path, one that will, I believe, lead us away from the disaster of ‘school reform.’ Below are eight suggestions, only one of which will cost a school district money. And the other seven will produce real savings—and make schools more interesting and productive places for children and adults. Here goes:
- Pool all the district’s professional development dollars and cancel contracts and plans for spending that money. Instead invite teachers and other educators to develop plans for their professional growth. I will bet that your system will end up spending less on what will prove to be better PD, more effective because your teachers will own it.
- Declare a 3-year moratorium on all machine-scored bubble tests, during which time invite the entire community to debate what matters in schooling. The goal is to ‘Measure What You Value,’ instead of continuing the foolishness of merely valuing what you measure. I suggest one criterion when deciding which tests to keep: Keep only those tests whose results come back in time to be useful. That will get rid of a lot of tests, the ones whose results come back in late August! The goal ought to be ‘assess to improve,’ not ‘test to punish.’ You won’t be writing those big checks to the testing companies….
- Create as many ‘Early College’ opportunities as possible for your ambitious high school juniors and seniors (and perhaps even some sophomores). Here’s a look at a successful program in Texas that we reported on for the PBS NewsHour. This district actually lured high school dropouts back to school with the promise of a more engaging curriculum that included opportunities to take college courses. At the high school graduation we attended, most seniors also had college credits, and quite a few members of the class also received their 2-year college degrees with their diplomas! Fewer high school dropouts, a clear and strong bridge to higher education, a better reputation, and cost savings…..what’s not to like?
- Do not buy ANY canned technology programs. None! Nada! Zippo! Instead, identify the early adopters among your staff and figure out why the district wants technology in the first place. Please read the chapter about technology in my book, “Addicted to Reform.” This field is full of hucksters and aggressive salespeople, eager to take advantage of naive educators. It’s mostly BS….but too many school districts have wasted millions and millions of dollars on crap.
- Create cross-age tutoring opportunities, enlisting older students to help struggling younger ones. This actually benefits BOTH age groups, and it’s effective. It teaches other lessons as well, including the importance of community and of sharing what you know with others. It will keep some kids from being held back and others out of special education. That’s better for them, and it saves your district money.
- Use technology to link with other schools on projects. Just because kids have to come to a building, there’s no reason on God’s green earth for them not to be working with students around the state or nation (or globe). Find interesting ways to connect with other schools: About 25 communities are linked by name to Christopher Columbus–what a great way to connect on a project. The dozen or so Brooklyns or the 15 or so towns connected to Lafayette–they could work together. If you believe that students are the workers in a school, and knowledge is their product, then encourage your teachers to make those connections. “Addicted to Reform” includes a bunch of projects that your teachers might find appealing.
- Trust teachers more than you do right now, because, like you, teachers are management. Remember, the kids are the workers, doing real work. If you enable teachers to do what they signed up to do–which is help children grow toward their full potential– your best teachers will stay longer, your recruitment costs will go down, and your administrators will spend less time ‘breaking in’ the rookies every year.
- Expand early childhood programs! It’s time to spend the money you’ve saved by following steps 1-7. And, please, no testing of 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. These programs should be enjoyable learning and play time. Stress-free. Staffed by professionals who enjoy the same status as your K-12 teachers.
Your improvements to this list are more than welcomed….