It’s not unusual for me to get push back from friends and others that goes something like this. “You give lots of criticism, and no answers. What would you do?”
I hate it when that happens. For a number of reasons.
One reason is that what these questioners are really asking is, “What is the solution that you would impose on others if given the opportunity?” The question is asked in ignorance of the fact that education is under assault because some, mainly business leaders, outside of education are imposing their solutions on others. This question obscures issues of power. It doesn’t recognize that any solution has to be determined with those directly affected by the solution. In this case, those directly affected are educators, parents and children. The question also accepts the assumption, ignorantly again, that “failing schools” and teachers are a problem, thus the need for a solution. To quote Peter Block, “When we believe that the ‘other’ is the problem and that transformation is required of them and not of us, we become the beneficiaries of their suffering in the world. Some of us make a living off of their deficiencies…All in the name of virtue.” Replace “the ‘other'” with “teacher in the above quote and Block’s description offers much clarity to what is taking place under the auspices of education reform.
The main reason I hate this question is that it shows that those who ask it just aren’t paying attention. And, because of its highly politicized nature, those of us in public education greatly depend on the knowledgeable attention of those outside of it. There are lots of great programs, visions and ideas around. Just ask educators.
This is why I greatly appreciate An Alternative to Failed Education ‘Reform,’ If We Want One. This article explains the ways in which the state of California has resisted federal testing mandates and develop an alternative system that is actually based on teaching and learning. Michael Fullan is credited with much of the philosophy behind the California Model.
“Fullan contends American education policy since NCLB has been obsessed with “the wrong drivers.” In his studies of education systems around the world, he finds, “In the rush to move forward, leaders, especially from countries that have not been progressing, tend to choose the wrong drivers. Such ineffective drivers fundamentally miss the target.”
Four ‘culprits’ Fullan finds that ‘make matters significantly worse’ are over-emphasizing accountability and test results, promoting individual rather than group solutions, substituting technology for good instruction, and choosing fragmented strategies instead of systemic strategies to improve the system.”
In my mind this approach outlined isn’t perfect. The article uses phrases such as “high performing countries,” without explaining what “high performing” might mean. Is this in terms of test scores? Economic health? In other words, it still projects forward a language of business rather than education. It also doesn’t address the broader and crucial context of poverty and the racialized culture that schools operate within. (Though it does show how California addresses some issues of equity.)
Still, it rests on important foundations- that we need to move beyond “…a myopic attention to test scores to look at other kinds of results,” that educators are also solutionaries, and that looking at students as whole beings rather than test data are all important.
What are Fullan’s “right drivers”?
- Building capacity in schools and teachers rather than stressing accountability.
- Emphasizing teamwork and group quality instead of individual performance.
- Focusing on instructional improvement rather than technology.
- Enacting whole system reforms rather than piecemeal reforms.
So if someone asks, “What’s your solution?” let them know that this approach is leading in the right direction.