The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, February 27, 2012

On the other hand…

To their credit, the Obama administration has done more than any administration since Reagan’s to encourage community/school partnerships. Their latest program is called Together for Tomorrow; its goal is to highlight community/school success stories and encourage others to follow the lead of the schools being recognized. The public statement can be found here, while a news account of the announcement can be found here.

I applaud their ongoing concerted efforts to promote community engagement, but I’m also skeptical given the larger narrative in K-12 education. Specifically, I’m referring to the fact that for the past 100 years or more, the government – first state governments, and now increasingly (over the past 20 years) the federal government – have gradually but consistently removed the local voice from K-12 education and shifted it up the food chain.

It used to be that every community had sole responsibility for its schools; once states became more organized, they began removing local authority and responsibility, first by centralizing the funding model and then by directing how funds could be spent and what schools were supposed to do. As a result, communities today have almost no input into the business of schooling: everything is dictated from afar.

And this is why the public has become increasingly disengaged from K-12 education. Any employer knows what happens when an employee is given responsibility without any authority: they try their best for a while but, realizing that they are powerless to influence the goals, processes, or outcomes of a project, descend into apathy or quit entirely. That’s exactly what has happened between our communities and our schools.

What programs like Together for Tomorrow attempt to do is remind communities that they are responsible for education outcomes, but still without allowing them to say what those outcomes should be or how they are to be achieved. Telling them they have responsibility without ceding any authority. And while the publicity around this program may create a short-term boost in activity, the public will quickly return to apathy or total disengagement in short order unless the larger narrative is changed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to waste $5 billion: The RESPECT Project

As part of its 2013 budget, the Obama Administration has requested $5 billion for a new USDOE initiative called the RESPECT Project (the acronym stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching). According to Arne Duncan, "Our goal is to work with teachers and principals in rebuilding their profession and to elevate the teacher voice in federal, state and local education policy. Our larger goal is to make teaching not only America's most important profession, but also America's most respected profession."

They propose to elevate the status of educators through the following:

  • Reforming teacher colleges and making them more selective.

  • Creating new career ladders for teachers.

  • Linking earnings more closely to performance rather than simply longevity or credentials.

  • Compensating teachers for working in challenging learning environments.

  • Making teacher salaries more competitive with other professions.

  • Improving professional development and providing time for collaboration.

  • Providing teachers with greater autonomy in exchange for greater accountability.

  • Building evaluation systems based on multiple measures, not just test scores.

  • Reforming tenure to raise the bar, protect good teachers, and promote accountability.

They're destined to fail.

Here’s the problem. There are three basic elements in any formula for change: Input, Process, and Outcomes. Most of us recognize how these three elements are connected, but ultimately our focus in on results, and we’ll identify our desired outcomes before figuring out what we need to invest, and what actions to take, to achieve those desired outcomes.

In government, and therefore in education, the focus is primarily on input and process, and unfortunately that focus tends to be divorced from outcomes. We have talked for decades about inputs – how much we spend, how much we pay teachers, what kind of degrees teachers should have, and so on. And we talk a great deal about process, debating pedagogical philosophy, class size, standard/block scheduling, and much more.

But what we don’t do is set goals (specifically, desired student outcomes) and figure out what inputs and processes are appropriate to meet them. Technically, I suppose, I should say that we didn’t do this before NCLB; but even there, we didn’t have the conversation about how to connect inputs and processes to the desire for universal basic proficiency, and when it was clear that it wasn’t happening, they just started rolling out the waivers rather than admit the disconnect.

I say this to highlight the fact that this $5 billion project, focused (again) on inputs and processes, will do exactly nothing to change the public’s perception of the teaching profession. If you can’t move the needle on outcomes, the public could care less how you shift around the inputs and processes. If you really want to change the way the public looks at public education – and (gasp) even draw them into the process – set concrete goals and show that you’re open to doing whatever it takes to achieve them.

And if anyone wants to reward me for saving the government $5 billion (a 15% gratuity would be nice), just email me – I’ll be happy to come pick it up, no need to mail it.