Education Opinion

Can We Take Over the Reform Agenda?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — December 31, 2013 5 min read
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The current reform agenda has met with daily and consistent resistance. The resistance comes from the field of leaders and teachers and parents. This resistance is creating a galvanized front, all with the intent to protect children from unfair testing practices and teachers and principals from unfair accountability practices. Who was invested in change in the first place?

Teachers have been focused on learning how to teach an increasingly diverse population of learners. In some cases, standardized assessments that set the bar and the associated timelines have established a race to the test. It has not been an easy task to make the adjustment. More students are just learning to speak English, have a variety of learning differences, and are living in poverty. But, let’s not blame the students or the parents. We could have known and become better prepared for these new populations. We did, after all, hold the scores steady.

Parents who are in a position to choose where they live make that decision with schools as a big consideration. How many students go to four year colleges, how many rate highly on SAT’s or ACT’s, how many AP courses are offered are conversations among real estate agents and potential home buyers. Parents and community members who are asked to support budgets and building referendums often base their decisions on their own experience in school, however many years ago that may have been. So for example, if the way the library looks now resembles how it looked when they were in school, a logical thought is, “If it was good enough for me, it is good enough for my child.” This is a totally understandable response. But it may be an indication of a missed opportunity for us to educate our community.

Most parents, when welcoming a new life, have extraordinary hopes and dreams for their child. They wish for a better life for that child than the one they have lived. And, some parents are simply happy to have a new life in the family. Those new parents and the educators who will work with that child both have responsibilities. The difference between parents’ responsibility to love, protect, nurture help their child grow and ours, lies in our professional responsibility to contribute to the development of intelligent, thoughtful, informed, compassionate, contributing young men and women.

With change being the constant, the missed opportunity appears to be that we have yielded our role as the community experts on children, their development and their futures to others. We are not sure who has picked that role up. In ‘the old days’, parents and communities trusted us to know the best process to lead students to the walk across our graduation stages. They believed we knew how. Is this a role we need to reclaim? Can we do it with integrity? Are we willing to make that promise to all our parents? The answers need to be “yes.”

If we are not paying attention to how to prepare our students, and educating our communities simultaneously, we are missing an important opportunity to move our schools forward. It is the same mistake the reformers made with us. But, if we are allowing a reform that was not introduced well to distract us from our responsibility to systemic improvement, we become part of that misstep.

The reformers determined that we were not making the necessary shifts in the manner in which teaching and learning was taking place to ensure economic success for students and for the nation. They determined a lack of accountability was a contributing factor. And, they determined addressing both of those issues would improve education for children. Perhaps we were not paying close enough attention, but suddenly, laws and regulations came from federal and state governments that required our implementation of new standards to which we teach and the accountability systems by which we are measured. Had they made the considerations we have to make when bringing forward a budget or a referendum and garnered our support...what might the results have been?

The excuse that we didn’t have the time can’t be used. Time can be moved. So we need to think about taking the lead and making the time...before we are forced to. What can we do now that we are in the middle of this shift in standards and accountability? We should do what our reformers failed to do. The first step (although we are in the middle) is to create a community with a vision that is led by our knowledge and questions about how to best prepare our graduates. If we are leading a community of parents who believe that schools that are like the ones they attended are what they want for their children, we must engage them in conversations about the world beyond the one in which they live. Do we want to wait until children are entering college before they are asked to learn online? Do we want to allow our thinking to remain local or expansively global? Do we want understanding of diverse cultures to be limited to an annual cultural dinner event? Do we want all opportunities to be available to all students? Can we open more learning opportunities to our high school students by changing what we do in our elementary schools? There are questions that can help get a community ready for change.

So now we are in the midst of change and opposition. No matter what comes from outside of our districts, we are charged with leading the education of our students in a changing world. There is no question that we cannot add and subtract from our current structure. We need a fundamental shift, not one simply in curriculum or in accountability; we need a new vision that leads new systems and new structures.

We need to be ready. We already have a unified community of educators and parents who are concerned about standardized assessments and accountability. It is an opportunity lost if we don’t embrace this moment and use it to create a forward thinking community base from which we can lead locally, and then have a voice in the larger, state and federal arenas. It is an important leadership moment. Let’s not let it pass.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.