Dateline: some time in the near future, in a newspaper of your choice: Kaplan to take over the educational system in the United States in an effort to make sure test scores are the best in the world!
I have been on a hiatus of sorts as I go back to school to earn a paralegal degree. My intent is to work within my state legislature to have an active role in the process of educational policy development and enactment. However, the combination of an article in USAToday, a blog post by Darren Draper (Technology Specialist in Utah), and another by Jeff Utecht (K-12 Technology Resource Facilitator at Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China) pulled me away from my practice in writing case briefs to write today.
“Teachers take test scores to the bank as bonuses” blares a headline in USAToday. The article addresses the idea of teacher pay and the ways in which different districts are approcahing the issue. Two approaches are highlighted:
• In Chicago, teachers at a handful of schools can earn up to $8,000 in annual bonuses for improved scores, while mentor teachers and “lead teachers” can earn an extra $7,000 or $15,000, respectively.
• In Nashville, middle-school math teachers can earn up to $15,000 based on student performance.
The writer then asks, “Do such plans work?” and cites research done by Vanderbilt that has found, “mostly promising, if limited, results.” This is the wrong question to ask, the wrong answer to seek. The real question begging to be asked is, “What does this approach do to the quality of education in the United States?” If our goal is to turn out good test takers who can learn and play the test question game it only makes sense that we turn the entire educational system over to a business such as Kaplan, who makes wonderful profits teaching students how to take tests.
What does such an approach to education do to the teaching professional? What does it do to the profession?
Those along with other obvious questions ran through my mind as I read the USAToday piece. As I read, I recalled a blog post by Darren Draper from this past weekend. Darren says:
“I mean, think about it. Did not we, or well-intentioned people just like us, create the policies and bureaucracies that currently regulate how things are handled within our schools? Are not we the ones that built the system, played the games, and engaged in the politics that have made schools what they are today?” (emphasis his own)
“If we tried to get better people, where would we find them? Even if found, how could we ensure that they too would not become ensnared by the political forces at work?”
But the article in USAToday suggests a vein of thought that says if you narrowly define what a teachers role is (making sure kids perform well on standardized tests) and throw more money their way we will magically have the wonderful schools we need and the worlds most accomplished students. Is a plan to reward teachers for improved students standardized tests scores going to solve the inherent problems in our educational system? No. Why? Because it fails to address the root cause of the mediocrity that is occuring our educational system. Darren makes the salient point that the system exists and was designed by well meaning individuals and Bolman and Deal support it by pointing out you can change the faces, but when the system doesn’t change it won’t matter.
“Stony River” replied to Darren and brings to the fore the real question that needs asking:
The expression ‘why fix it if it ain’t broke?’ does not answer the question ‘Who said the system ever worked?’
This is the question never asked. The idea of school reform has been around for ages. Piecemeal approaches to improvement have been undertaken. All educators have worked in a school or district where the “reform du jour” is presented each fall just prior to the start of school. Far too often those good ideas die by Christmas Break because the training was insufficient and follow-up and mentoring never took place. Reform doesn’t work, “River” identifies what would:
Re-New, Re-Invent, Re-Design, Re-Think, Re-Make, Re-Create – dead systems cannot be resurrrected no matter how much bail-out money is donated. The irony is that to bail out a sinking vessel it is best to use an empty bucket!
“River’s” comment connects well with the ideas presented by Utecht this morning in his blog:
Systematic change does not come easy. There are many factors, people, and a history to overcome. Yet educational organizations find themselves struggling with the changes needed to stay relevant in a connected, digital world.
There is the avenue, systemic change, not reforming . . . changing it. Tom Peters loves to use the phrase “Re-imagine.” It is time to move past the reform mentality and realize that all the band-aids being placed all over education in recent years can not stem the bleeding, re-constructive surgery is needed. Utecht continues with his idea:
There are many ways to approach systematic change, yet systematic change begins and ends with a vision. A vision of what your organization hopes to aspire to some day. A vision is never really meant to be accomplished, but is instead a guiding light for an organization. A statement that allows the organization and it’s employees to focus on the task at hand.
So I am left wondering at that USAToday piece . . . what is the vision conveyed by the approach it describes? Do we want kids that can innovate, creatively innovate, astound us with new ideas and unexpected twists on old ones? Is that going to happen if we continue to create systems that discourage true learning and innovation? “Jorgie“, in another reply to Darren’s post:
“. . . the reality is there is very little motivation for most people to innovate and a very big incentive not to.”
We need policy that encourages innovation, that allows it, that requires it. We need a new system, to re-imagine what school is and build something new that accomplishes what we all dream about. I hope my lane change in education will allow me to influence policy so that great teachers like Draper, Utecht, and Demitrious C. Sinor have the chance to build something we can all be proud of . . . a system that encourages our children to think, explore, and invent.