Effective at What? Effective for Whom?

I am not sure the people paying to go see “Waiting for Superman” and engaging in what they perceive to be “education reform” efforts really want education reform at all.  Two key questions of the effective schools movement scare the heck out of people and, if really addressed, would upset too many apple carts.

Take the question of Effective at What?  If we really took the time to figure out and agree upon what we want kids to be effective at, we may very well have to change our current assessment model for accountability.  This is touched on a bit in the National Education Technology Plan, in the Assessment:  Measure What Matters section.  The sort of assessment President Obama speaks to and is promised in the NETP2010 is very different from what is currently being done to children and is not going to be cheap or easy to build and administer.  In fact, the 2014 NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment has been in the works for a few years.  The work is so complicated, in 2008 when the plan was first unveiled, it was the 2012 NAEP Technological Literacy Framework!  To what extent do the Common Core Standards align with NAEP’s Technology and Engineering Framework? CCSSO is involved in both projects, but I am not sure if the right hand and the left hand are working together or not.  If we can’t answer “Effective at What?”, how can we possibly answer “What will we accept as evidence of success?”

The second key question of the effective schools movement is Effective for Whom?  Phrases like “No Child Left Behind” would leave one to say, “everyone.”  If we are truly working for the success of all kids (however we define and measure it), we must abandon each and every practice that compares kids to kids and focus on individuals and the indicators of success.  Class rank and deciles lose meaning when our real goal becomes ensuring everyone meets the benchmarks.  As long as we have a valedictorian, we are resigned to the fact schools will be more successful with some kids than with others.  However, eliminating the designtation of a valedictorian will not ensure success for all of your students.  Somewhere between the current practices of sorting and selecting kids and the possibility of everyone learning what matters most, we have our most valuable asset for school reform – teachers.  But teachers can’t do it alone.

Right now, teachers are being asked to teach to the future with tools and structures from the past.  Want real education reform?  Look at the tools and structures.


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