For the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking about Learning Forward’s fundamental reason for working to change not just practice but also to influence policy at state, local, provincial, and national levels. Some of our members and stakeholders believe practice is where the rubber meets the road and where we can make a bigger difference, and that policy has little real impact on their work. Others say policy promotes a compliance mind-set rather than a growth mind-set. So why does Learning Forward invest resources in influencing policy?
For many years we have held the assumption that policy affects practice and better policy would promote better practice. However, I have come to understand that committed stakeholders and educators do not need policies to “force” them to do the right things. They already know the right actions to take; however, when the policies are aligned, the resulting supportive structures and resources make things much easier for them.
Unfortunately, there are also times when policy requires practices that contradict what the field knows to be best practices. In these cases, many educators find ways to comply but still do the right thing for their students. We sometimes refer to these educators as tempered radicals — hiding just under the radar and making great things happen every day. But the quality of our children’s education shouldn’t be determined by whether they are instructed by tempered radicals or are fortunate enough to be in a school or system that understands, embraces, and practices continuous improvement. This luck of the draw is no way to ensure equity for all children.
If students go to school in a system that is in survival or compliance mode, they need their state and federal policy makers to pass policies — and provide related structures and resources — that ensure that all teachers and education leaders are operating with the best practices possible and equal to those in other districts.
And this is why Learning Forward invests resources in influencing policy: Because we value equity — the fundamental purpose of public education and professional learning. If every system adopts policies that align with effective practices, every child in those systems has the opportunity to experience great teaching every day.
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.