Education Opinion

Decision-Making: Do We Know What Is Right and Certain?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — September 29, 2015 5 min read
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We form opinions and beliefs quickly and often without a solid and objective foundation. It is instinctive. Noise and input never stop; we have a 24-hour news cycle, digital messages are incessant, we carry our phones at the ready, on hips, in bags or on our wrists, opinions flood in. In our part of the country, we can contrast this normalcy to the day of a big snow storm when everything shuts down and the power is out. Silence, itself, is loud those days. So, we argue for the need to create the time and space for learning, reflecting, processing, refining, and deciding. Without it, mistakes and misunderstandings are made along the way.

Example: What School Boards Value
Take, for example, the 2010 report done by National School Boards called “Governance in the Accountability Era” in which board members were asked to rank the importance of six goals for education. From that report:

Though two-thirds of boards concur that “the current state of student achievement is unacceptable,” barely one-quarter “strongly agree” with that statement. A whopping 87 percent agree or strongly agree that “defining success only in terms of student achievement is narrow and short-sighted; we need to emphasize the development of the whole child.” And a full one-third are nervous about placing “unreasonable expectations for student achievement in our schools.”

In a report, The Purpose of Public Education and the Role of the School Board the following ranked results were reported:

  • Help students fulfill their potential - 42.6%
  • Prepare students for satisfying and productive life - 31.7%
  • Prepare students for the workforce - 8.1 %
  • Prepare students for college - 8.1%
  • Help students become well rounded - 6.5%
  • Prepare students for civic life - 3.0%

In that same report they stated that:

School boards realize that test scores aren’t all that matter. Nearly 87 percent of boards think it is shortsighted to define success on the basis of student achievement alone. Success goes beyond preparing students for college and the workforce; there is a much larger purpose to educating our next generation to make a living, a life, and a difference.

In this moment, we are so focused on student achievement aka test scores and college and career readiness, but the boards for whom we work believe student achievement alone is not enough. Mind the gap....

Example: Why Don’t We See Extraordinary Results from PBL Implementation?
We recently published a post about the important role for leaders in establishing, and managing an environment in which project-based learning can take hold and develop. The place for project-based learning in this century’s schools is a critical one. How schools approach PBL, decide how and where it fits in their environment, and how it is begun is a local decision. With so many objections to decisions made from outside of school districts, it should be embraced as an opportunity to make changes in our schools as they best serve each community, locally. Do we wait for that to become a mandate as well? Mind the gap...

In response to that post, we received a comment from our colleague, Peter DeWitt who works closely with John Hattie. In it he said, “Hattie has research that shows that PBL has a low effect size, and I believe it comes from the fact that people say they do things like PBL but are not actually doing them correctly. We need to find ways to go deeper.” His comment caused us to think about how educators go about making even research-based decisions. Can the very vocabulary we use skew results, opinions, and decisions, even without us realizing it and be harmful in the long run?

Hattie’s research is the largest meta-analysis of quantitative measures of the effect of different factors on educational outcomes. In support of Peter’s comment, the research does reveal problem-based learning is found at the bottom of teaching effects (0.15).

In an article published in Edutopia, author Suzie Boss, questions how this could be true. How could teaching and learning practices that requires students to engage with authentic problems and professionals in the field, be thoughtful, discover facts and dismiss inaccuracies, communicate with peers and with professionals from outside of the classroom, synthesize information, solve problems, design solutions, and allow for independent and collaborative work while receiving targeted formal learning opportunities where teachers can identify and fill gaps as they present themselves not positively affect student achievement?

The results of that study can be looked at in two ways. One is to dismiss PBL as a non-starter and to move on. The other is to question why. Are all educators who report using PBL really doing it fully and well? Isn’t there another level of questions that need be asked?

Two Examples, One Concern
Both examples, one of the disconnect between the thoughts and beliefs of boards of education and what we spend our time doing in schools today and the other of the disconnect between the studied results about the value and effectiveness of PBL and the success of some who have implemented it call for serious reflection. We must consider how we arrive at the answers that are right for us and our schools.

Good questions can arise when people with divergent thoughts, opinions, and beliefs sit in planning together. This is a challenge for those who have been educated in environments that were built around facts, right and wrong, delivery and acceptance. But, as leaders we must consider that the opposite of a truth may be another truth...right?

Let this be the moment in which we lead the change students need to grow and become citizens of a new world. Let this become the moment when schools demonstrate to the rest of the country how to be productive in environments where questions are welcomed, collaboration is natural, performance is authentic, and each and every one is afforded the opportunity to think ethically, ask good willed questions, invite differing opinions, and be inclusive of others. Let this be the moment when we commit, again, to making the next generation of leaders, teachers, and citizens open to the push and pull, to paradox, and to challenge without ever giving up on wondering what it is that is just out of our sight when we reach certainty. Let this be the moment.

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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.