School reform has recently been pushed to the forefront of societal conversation–with particular concern for the state of the public school system. Politicians, business leaders, community members and even movie directors are voicing their concerns and putting forth potential solutions to the perceived issues of our public schools. Pardon me for being somewhat cynical about the prospects of the federal, or even, state government presenting an effective school reform model that will truly meet the needs of America’s students. I certainly do not profess to be an expert, but as an advocate of educational professionals, I believe we should leave control of schools to local communities, local leaders and local educators. To this end, I present four points for a grassroots school reform movement:
(1) Let’s determine, and define, what we want as outcomes for student success. This will undoubtedly include some knowledge based objectives, but it also needs to include skill based objectives such as empathy, teamwork, leadership and change making – as suggested by Bill Drayton in the his article The World Needs More Social Entrepreneurs.
(2) We need to be honest and come to terms with the idea that there will not be one fix for our entire educational system. Lately, various models of charter schools have been offered as the answer to the woes of publics schools. Charter schools are not the enemy, but they are also not a panacea for all issues in the public schools. A “one size fits all” approach to school reform may be politically convenient, but it won’t achieve the results we desire. What works for a school in rural Kansas likely will not be the right approach for a school in central Phoenix – and vice versa. Just as we would expect our teachers to account for the diversity within the classroom, any attempt at school reform must recognize the differences that occur among communities, districts, and individual schools– allowing for a customized response to school reform, at a local level. Individual districts, schools and communities need to be given the authority to make appropriate decisions to positively impact the individual needs of their students.
(3) I firmly believe that teachers are capable of having a tremendous impact on young people, but they can not (and should not) be expected to “reform” education alone–nor should they be blamed for the current state of public education. We need to define the roles that ALL players will have in making a significant impact on student achievement and success.
- School Administration
- Community Leaders
- Local Businesses / Organizations
No one would disagree that teachers play an absolutely critical role in improving our educational system, however, they should not be required to rise to the level of superhero. We all have a stake in the outcome of changes to our school system, so let’s be clear about the responsibilities and work together for improvement.
(4) Finally, school staff should be accountable for demonstrating success in raising the achievement level and moving students in the direction of identified outcomes, but lets give them the autonomy to determine how they meet those goals. The current student assessment process leads to more tightly defined curriculum and less latitude in what, and how, teachers deliver instruction. There is currently a tremendous amount of momentum behind the idea that teacher evaluations be based upon standardized test results, even though the current system provides teachers with very little say in how they go about addressing student needs. In my opinion, a key component of school reform is to allow teachers/school administration be the professionals and then hold them accountable of they don’t get results. Innovation and creativity should be rewarded and teachers should be allowed to determine the instructional path they feel will best help their students achieve desired outcomes. There are not easy answers for measuring success, but I would argue that one component of the assessment process needs to come at a local level–let local communities determine if schools are making adequate progress toward identified student outcomes.
While I certainly understand the need for nationalized standards, objectives and some semblance of assessment, I believe our best bet for effective school reform will start locally and grow nationally.