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Are Your Systems Adapting Interdependently, or Just in Parts?

Education systems, like so many other complex living and non-living entities, are made up of interdependent component systems. The human body, for example, has seven such systems. These systems each have unique purposes that another system cannot accomplish. Four major systems, respiratory/circulatory, digestive, skeletal, and muscular, work together with the urinary, reproductive, and skin systems to complete the fully functioning human body. When one part is malfunctioning, it affects another, yet not all malfunctions will have identical impacts.

Education systems include legislation and regulation, human capital, professional learning, school improvement, data and assessment, curriculum and instruction, business, and facilities operations. These systems work together to support teaching and learning to produce college- and career ready students.

Federal legislation, for example, influences state policy. State policy shapes school system policies and actions in some ways. How teachers construct learning each day in classrooms influences student success. What students need to learn influences the content of professional learning for educators. Curriculum drives assessment, and assessment drives instruction. Curriculum also influences professional learning, which in turn affects instruction and leadership. Human capital systems assemble and support the education workforce to accomplish the many tasks these systems require.

Humans become ill when any one system is malfunctioning or when the body's systems fail to work together. The same is true of education systems. Their overall health suffers when the component systems fail to be fully operational and working coherently toward the same end result. Inefficiencies and ineffectiveness result when education systems fail to work interdependently to achieve full health.

Core to the success of every student is the capacity of education systems to work interdependently toward student achievement. Federal policies drive state policies, which in turn shape local policies. To be fully healthy, core education systems — curriculum and instruction, professional learning, human capital, data and assessment, school and district improvement, business and facilities operations — must operate interdependently to achieve college- and career-readiness for each student.

When one system changes, such as the introduction of Common Core standards into the curriculum and instruction system, every system must adapt to accommodate the change.

  • The curriculum and instruction system defines with clarity what students are expected to learn, develops the curricula to guide student learning from preschool through graduation, and provides pedagogical guidance to meet the learning needs of every student — including those who have been traditionally underserved and who have disabilities.

  • The human capital system recruits, hires, places, and supports a highly qualified education workforce in every position.

  • The data and assessment system provides information to inform decision making about student learning, system operations, and educator effectiveness.

  • School and district improvement focuses on establishing the conditions for effective teaching and learning to achieve college- and career-readiness for every student.

  • Professional learning provides continuous growth and development for all members of the education workforce for achievement of all improvement goals and deep implementation of new initiatives.

  • Business and facilities operations provide the equipment, resources, facilities, transportation, and support services that use effective professional learning as a vehicle for change.

Too often, though, internal education systems fail to be remodeled, synced, or interconnected for success with new initiatives. Change in one part, within a fully functioning, interdependent education system requires reexamination and revision of every other system. Sometimes, new initiatives prompt temporary changes in other parts of the system, yet those adaptations weaken or are dismantled over time because they are not deeply integrated.

The purpose of any single part of an education system is realized only when those components are interconnected to achieve the vision of college- and career-readiness for every student. Until the parts become a meaningful whole, they remain parts.

Joellen Killion
Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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