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Policy Leaders: Stop Blaming Educators and Help Us Change the System Instead

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This is the second of our two part response to the question: "Will New Teacher Evaluation Requirements and Increased Focus on Standardized Testing Have Any Positive Results? Part one can be found here.

Creating chaos is not the path to a reinvented ...or even stronger...educational system. It is not fathomable to consider the mess that will be caused by the requirement for school leaders to leave their buildings to provide "objective" observations in other buildings and districts. Who believes that changing the location makes one a better judge of effective teaching? Are leaders that malleable or under the thumb of the local union? Hardly. And, by the way, what about the important function of leading their own buildings?

Observation of teachers is a huge responsibility including the ongoing monitoring and encouragement of practices that are praiseworthy and those that have been identified as wanting change. Without consistency, this will not become a respected process. It will be another time consuming one with energy spent on the wrong thing and people hurt along the way. Teachers must be wholly present in their classrooms, focused on the growth of their students.  Leaders must be equally present in their role. Why do policymakers not see the bigger picture?

Structure, System, and Sustainability
The educational system has failed to transform into a 21st century learning community where all students are engaged, encouraged, and educated. The structure and the system used to serve well.  But, within it we stopped educating ALL students.  We held students to differing standards. Students were separated and measured differently; some were sent to different buildings for different programs with different expectations. For decades, the horizon watchers saw signals that this had to change. Little by little, the federal government crept onto the policy scene. Technology removed barriers, crossed lines and opened doors. And, laws and regulations were enacted to hold all students to the same high standards.  That is a good thing with serious implications. Can we achieve all students hitting the same bar using the same structure within the same system that we did for a century past?  What about the schools whose students are reaching the bar...is it the right bar for this century?  Creating and supporting charter schools didn't cause the system to fall apart. Attacking teachers and their unions hasn't caused the system to fall apart. Severely cutting financial support hasn't cracked the system into pieces. The public educational system in this country is at once locally governed and supported, state governed and supported, and federally governed and supported. There are accountability factors at every level and testing for students doesn't capture it all. How does change happen building by building and teacher by teacher within this highly structured, multi layered organism? A corporation wanting and needing to change its way of doing business has to convince its board and its stockholders of a direction. And put in place the plan to make it happen. That isn't easy by any means but try to replicate that construct for public education. It doesn't work. But, here, on the ground level, school leaders and teachers and boards are trying to make this white water a fertile ground for change.

Change the System Design
If those like Governor Cuomo in New York, want to lead the way and be known for improving schools we suggest spending less time with those who agree with the solution of the moment and become really bold and brave. Spend time with those who don't see the solution as the answer. Then, maybe, the problem itself will become more clear. Then, solutions may emerge that might be more forward thinking and less tinkering with the current system.

Students need certain things from their teachers and certain things from the school's structure. Why not come together and build a new design to offer an alternative rather than waste creative energy trying to find new ways to tear down the existing schools and the professionals who work in them? We believe that educational leaders and teachers are overall good people; they are highly committed and skilled professionals who care about subject areas and about children.

There are districts that have studied the learning needs of their students and have leveraged change coupling the learning needs of their students with the skills called for in this century. The alternatives with which we are most familiar builds inter and trans disciplinary environments with a foundation in STEM. Those learning environments demand collaboration, problem solving, inquiry, partnerships, and real-world applications. In their journeys, leaders and teachers in those districts are re-energized as learners and facilitators of learning. Students become engaged as learners, questioners, and problem solvers. If the focus became building a better school design for the 21st century inclusive of all students and designing ways to transform teacher practice who wouldn't want to come to the table to solve that problem? 

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