It Takes More Than a Village …

I’m the first to admit it.  Eduflack is results-focused.  When it comes to communications, does it really matter what you say or how you say it if it doesn’t contribute to meeting your overall strategic goals?  And when it comes to education reform, do the best of ideas matter if they don’t improve student achievement?  Good intentions only get you so far.  We measure results, effectiveness, and success.

But sometimes, we do need to take a step back.  And Rick Hess reminded us of that earlier this week in his commentary piece in The Washington Post.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/11/AR2007091101927.html.  For those who missed it, Hess looked at the early days of the Michelle Rhee administration at DC Public Schools, giving her strong marks for both intent and results.

Hess really grabs the issue of education reform by the throat with his opening paragraph:

One bit of the conventional wisdom hampering school reformers is the belief that if superintendents taking over troubled districts just concentrate on curriculum, instruction and “best practices,” everything else will sort itself out. This myth has been promoted by education professors and others who think large-scale reform entails simply figuring out what a good classroom looks like and then replicating it as necessary.  

I’m a suscriber to such conventional wisdom, at least as it relates to students.  Give a teacher a research-proven curriculum and an understanding and appreciation of best practices, and you can get students to achieve.  Apply what we know works — what we know is effective in classrooms like ours — and virtually every student in the class has the opportunity to succeed.

Of course, there are classrooms and then there are central offices.  Hess reminds us of that.  Before a superintendent can even think about how to get the evidence-based curriculum, the effective teachers, and the best practices into the classroom, he or she must deal with those management components we often forget about.  Personnel and textbook distribution and bureaucracy and broken systems and a faculty that has lost faith in any missive or idea coming from the central office.

School districts like DCPS — those districts that are in real need of reform and improvement — are not just one step away from the promised land.  One can’t just drop in a new SBRR curriculum or an effective teacher provision and assume that AYP will be met by all from that point forward.  These schools are in trouble, and are in need of wholesale improvement and comprehensive reform.  That’s why the keys are being turned over to a reformer in the first place.

At the end of the day, Hess is saying that the achievement we seek can’t be truly gained until we undergo a culture change.  And nothing could be more true.  Some may chide Rhee or Mayor Fenty for what are seen as PR stunts.  And, yes, some of them are.  But what Rhee and her team seem to realize is that they need to change the way DCPS thinks and acts if they are to deliver the student achievement gains we all seek and expect.

Yes, Rhee’s success is going to be based on how well DC’s students achieve.  Yes, we expect test scores to increase in short order.  But we also can’t expect all of DC’s teachers and parents to follow Rhee into battle if they don’t have textbooks, don’t get paychecks on time, and have lost confidence in the administration.  Effective reform requires more than just the village.  Both Rhee and Hess recognize that.

 

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