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Local Education Communities

Today's guest blog is written by John Bennett who was on the faculty of the University of Connecticut for 29+ years before taking emeritus status.

Many of you may have read comments regarding blog postings (including Peter's) in which I respond to real and often heartbreaking pleas for education optimization for all students. The sources of the pleas are numerous: too much poverty, too much bad behavior in the classroom, not enough resources, too many mandates, too little parental support for and expectation of their child's learning, ... Added to these and many others, I'd add that there is typically poor problem solving procedures in those cases where pockets of effort do occur - including believing doing more of the same will succeed this time.

My suggestion: Local Education Communities (LECs). LECs are groups of local citizens (parents, family members, elected officials, business people, interested citizens) that are motivated enough to get engaged. And, yes, I believe that every neighborhood has such individuals; the numbers may be small initially but they do exist.

The first task for each LEC is to identify the local issues; and for sure they will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood (school to school). The reason mandates from any government organization or legislative unit routinely fail is because these issues do vary.

Once the issues are identified, the next steps are to gather appropriate information, understand that information, and organize it into usable visions. These visions will of course likely include information associated with the positions championed by LEC members - and more. It is important to consider all appropriate information.

The next step is the most critical one - and the one often not addressed. One of my favorite people, the late Stephen Covey, has long argued that the desired outcome must be to find what he called the Third Alternative (indeed his last book has the same name). Briefly, the process proceeds as follows. Suppose a topic under consideration has two positions championed by those involved. Covey believed the goal of the efforts must be the third alternative: an outcome believed by those championing each of the two original positions to be better than the one originally championed.

I honestly believe that most issues, including those identified by LECs, have more than two positions initially championed. As such, I suggest the objective of the LEC for each issue must be the Better Alternative - again one that people championing each initial position believe is better than theirs. This is not a compromise. Fortunately, Covey's book provides a clear and useful roadmap for LEC use.

And, of course, the last steps for each LEC are to implement the better alternative, regularly assessing for refinement of details, and sharing their lessons learned with the general public (to be available for other LECs to gather and consider as they understand their particular issues / develop their better alternatives). As these LECs continue their work, there are a number of likely consequences as I see them:

1. There will be successes because of the careful efforts of the motivated and engaged LEC members - some taking one or more iterations of the Better Alternative guided by the careful consideration of didn't go as well as expected. These are important and thus likely complex issues; the best alternative might take a little longer that hoped.
2. With the successes, more individuals will seek to engage in the LEC efforts - meaning more issues can be addressed for a larger group of people in need. This is good since successes will result in previously unidentified issues arising.
3. The present level of resources will be adequate for implementing the better alternatives - because those resources will be used more effectively and thus more efficiently. Having written that, there will likely be additional resources offered because of the successes.
4. These LEC efforts will provide great support for the formal education of the students. I certainly would expect better learning outcomes regardless of how better is measured - even the dreaded standardized testing!
5. Finally, and I will add hopefully, I expect that government units and legislative bodies, will come to understand the futility and wastefulness of mandates; they will instead make resources available in response to LEC proposals addressing appropriate needs and in conjunction with the documentation of previous successes.

So there you have my suggestions for honestly dealing with the learning issues every school neighborhood has. I thank you for your attention to this posting and will always look forward to hearing of your efforts and feedback - as I will do regarding my efforts.
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John Bennett posts regularly to the Big Beacon blog (www.bigbeacon.org) and can be reached by email at jcbjr@engr.uconn.edu.

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