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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tried And Tried And Tried ...And Tired!

Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

Albert Einstein

I believe there are few people who are not critical of some aspect of public school education. I say this despite many years of data collected through the annual Gallup Poll that reveals over and over that the public is more than satisfied with their local school (usually grading the school with a "B" rating) than they are of public schools across the nation (usually grading other schools with a "C" rating, or lower).
Given the overall perception that public schools are under-performing and not meeting potential - what can be done, by whom, when, and where? Missing from the equation in this series of questions is the "why" of education reform. Among the primary stumbling blocks in education reform efforts is the fact that most of us have experienced 13 years of public school. That lengthy experience leaves us a victim of a combination of familiarity and nostalgia (selective retention) that prevents us from imagining and exploring alternative perspectives.

Someone once claimed that if parents and teachers were given the chance to change education they would simply reinvent the school they attended. It often appears that those who have their hands on the levers that influence schools arrived at that status through success in schools and would therefore feel far less inclined to alter the orientation of schools than those who have been victimized by the shortcomings of the traditional educational paradigm.

Why else have we clung to a long outdated agrarian based school calendar formed so farm families can help with the crops? Why are we teaching American History in high school in the same forty minute blocks of time that we did fifty years ago - before the JFK and MLK and RFK assassinations, Viet Nam war, the Nixon resignation, Moon landing, civil rights marches, Gulf wars, 9-11, recession,...? How can we spend the same amount of time studying Science when the field of Science doubles in content every four or five years?

I listened to a very informative presentation this morning delivered by an education specialist with Microsoft. She likened our national efforts at reforming education to the same well intentioned but deceptive practice that many people indulge when deciding to lose weight. They join a gym after an earnest New year's resolution, pay monthly fees, buy new work-out clothes, attend classes regularly - then erratically, then infrequently, and then they lose interest and resolve.... and nothing changes. We have experienced an illusion of action and a facade of commitment. The structure changes, but the system remains the same.

In education we conjure up new acronyms (RTTT; APPR; RtI; CCC...) and create "innovative programs" in a rather elaborate sleight of hand but as long as the calendar and clock remain the same, as long as teachers work privately in cubicles shared with 25 learners, as long as ill conceived mandates and confining policies and misdirected accountability shackle innovation, as long as content and coverage rule over relevance and rigor, as long as success is measured in seat-time as one plods patiently through school grade by grade - not much will change. 

We need a revolution of liberating ideas and opportunities not a lethargic evolution of tired practices and programs. Where is the free enterprise and market-place of ideas necessary to stimulate an otherwise over-regulated industry of teaching and learning? Why the clamor on the national level for freeing businesses of restrictive bureaucratic red-tape to spur the economy while vigorously clamping down on the creativity and experimentation needed to provoke genuine innovation in education? How can you speak of job creation and economic engines without talking about education?

Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

Albert Einstein

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