On “Broken Schools” and Confederate History Month

When I think about the term “broken schools,” I think about Larry Lezotte’s Effective Schools work and the questions of “effective at what?” and “effective for whom?”.  Before a school is labelled “broken”, perhaps we should ask, “broken at what?” and “broken for whom?”  What does this have to do with Confederate History Month?  The connection between these two topics is simply what our elected officials choose to deal with and how they choose to deal with it.

When it comes to public education, our elected officials have chosen to define success in schools and schooling by success on standardized tests ala NCLB.  In Virginia, these standardized tests are standards-based and the standards are recognized as being pretty good.  The tests are recognized as being pretty good as well and districts, schools, and teachers get pretty good feedback through the “Student Performance by Question” reports.  With all of this “pretty good” stuff, we still have schools in Virginia that are broken at some things and/or for some people.  The new governor of Virginia appointed a secretary of education, Gerard Robinson, and is looking at the charter schools movement and virtual schools as education strategies for Virginia.  Not all of the charter school efforts on the table made it to law this year, though.

The new governor of Virginia got a “do over” with Confederate History Month and this “do over” has gotten a ton of press, through traditional and social media, nationally and internationally.  While I wish the apology had been made and the proclamation totally revoked, that’s not how the Confederate History Month “do over” played out.  I am taking this opportunity to give the governor of Virginia my advice on a “do over” for education.

While I am in favor of charter schools as a strategy to explore new possibilities and push the envelop in education, I would prefer Virginia look to a statewide strategy that changes the face of education for all students.  In essence, I want a solution that charters all students.  The number one alibi for not differentiating content, process, product, and learning environment throughout the schools of Virginia and the nation is the required state-level testing that is imbedded in NCLB.  I would like the governor’s education “do over” to allow districts and schools to focus on standards that matter, not chasing trivia that begs for mere coverage and standardization.  This move to teaching what matters in deep ways would demand that the state tests become authentic and not pursuits of trivia.  In Virginia, the standards that are not assessed are those that are hard to assess in a multiple choice format.  The only fifth grade writing standard not assessed on the state writing prompt is ” 5.8 g – Use available technology to access information.” 

My advice to the governor for his education “do over” is to eliminate barriers to differentiating for all learners, beginning by looking at the SOL that are not tested and allowing districts to develop authentic assessments that focus on these SOL and other standards that represent the skills of learning in the future.  There can even be a design requirement that these assessments promote students demonstrating mastery of a subset of SOL from the ones currently tested.  These authentic assessments should substitute for the tests that are easy to score should a district chose to pursue this as an accountability model.

“Effective at what” should be answered by something much more worthy than “preparing kids for success on the multiple choice state tests.”  “Effective for whom” should be answered by “everyone” and not just “those who were accepted in to our special programs.”

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