Let's Get Education Right

Good, simple article on the reality of schools. This kind of stuff can not be expressed enough: The reformers are shooting themselves in the feet.
Control? Or, collaboration?
By Peter Henry
Created 02/14/2009 - 10:34

Lot's of fulmination right now as Obama takes office and people like Arne Duncan, his new Secretary of Education, begin to flesh out what approach they will take in their new positions.

Duncan is saying some of the right things. Too much testing. We need to improve dramatically. This is our moment to get it right.

But, he's also saying some things [1] that could continue taking us down the path of top-down, authoritarian control over the learning of children.

Duncan also wants states to adopt academic standards that are more rigorous and aligned with those of other leading nations. "The idea of 50 states doing their own thing doesn't make sense," Duncan says, referring to the current patchwork of standards and tests. "I worry about the pressure because of NCLB to dummy those standards down."

At this point, I hope teachers realize that when people use the word "high standards" and "accountability" and "achievement gaps" they are in fact engaging in political speak, not a policy or philosophy of education. What will work in education, in our nation's schools, are actual policies, programs and philosophy, not more political jargon and posturing around "getting tough". After two decades of increasingly pitched and uninformed political rhetoric about education, we have gone backwards on the track of figuring out how to bring young people into the world of learning.

And that's an incalculable waste. Sad beyond belief. And, we will pay for it. We're paying for it now.

I saw the other day where the person who replaced Arne Duncan in Chicago as schools chief was the current Transit Commissioner [2]. So, to run a school district you need experience in running trains and buses?

That is, the job of education is one of management, of running a tight ship, of making sure that people follow orders and obey the leader.

I can't say this strong enough, and I don't have time to lay this all out in a single blog entry, but here it is:

The truth about success in education is that it is all about collaboration, not control.

What we have seen in the last several decades in education politics, is this idea that we have to exert more and more control over kids, over teachers, over schools. Only by having more control, more dominance, more of the iron fist, will we ever make progress.

Word from the wise down below: It ain't working. And more. It will never work. We cannot force young people to learn. We cannot scare them to study harder. We cannot order them to do better on exams.

And the same is true for teachers. We can't force them to get their student's test scores up. We can't order them to spend more time grading. We can't require them to say certain words in a certain order on a certain day.

Though this doesn't keep the people in power from trying. And, they will continue to try.

But, as many, many teachers will patiently explain: too much control never works. It will never liberate a student's sense of spirit; it will never get them to enjoy learning; it will never allow them to value the importance of truth and meaning. Nor will higher test scores solve our society's problems, make teachers feel better about their jobs, nor keep young people from screwing up or falling by the wayside.

We essentially have only two paths open to us, as teachers, as superintendents, as politicians: We can try harder and harder to control the outcomes that we want to achieve -- and use data to micro-manage every aspect and strategy for better control. Or, we can realize that the best outcomes come from collaboration, from trust, from understanding that setting a high bar for success is about encouragement, support and facilitating far more than it is about threats, fear and punishment.

This goes for the classroom, this goes for the boardroom, this goes for the legislature. We either have to learn to honor the best parts of the people that we want to lead, or we continue to put them in shackles, demand more and say "Mush".

We have been on an authoritarian spree for over two decades, in our schools, our companies and our politics. It isn't working.

Mr. Duncan is saying good things about learning, about collaboration, about building something dramatically better. It has to start with understanding that trying to "control" young people, teachers or workers is the precise problem that is running us into the ground. The time for collaboration is here; it was always here.

Are we brave enough to actually believe it?

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