A first step in moving beyond belief-based school reform


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The Far Side Gallery – Gary Larson

Climate Change Thinking as model for education improvement 

 NOTE: This is an updated version of a piece that appeared earlier this year in  NJ Spotlight and is inspired by a recent post by Jan Resseger that reported on a newly released book of research dealing with data and studies that reveal the failure of the last two decades of “school reform”. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that,  during the primary season, a number of the candidates raised the issue of climate change to new heights (or depths) of absurdity.

Look at this…

In 2013 the American Association for the Advancement of Science released a report on climate change. Now keep in mind that this non-profit organization, founded in 1848, is currently the largest such organization in the world and is hardly a hotbed of liberal, progressive thinking. According to the report, only 42% of American adults understood that “most scientists think global warming is happening” and 33% said, “… there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.” Twenty percent said they “don’t know enough to say.”

The report continues with the fact that polls continue to show that there is a belief that scientists are not in agreement about climate change and its cause. At the same, the AAAS reports that in 2014 about 97% of climate scientists conclude that humans are changing the climate.

They conclude – An increasing number of folks are telling us that we run the risk of significant irreversible damage to our planet because we would rather continue to act on our beliefs rather than confront the possibility that science has revealed that we have been in error.

So here’s the connection to education reform.   In the arena of public education, we are engaged in a battle of belief vs science. But much like the climate issue, we are seeing an increase in the number of folks who are calling attention to the nakedness of the belief system that has ruled the direction of education and schooling in our country for the past several decades.

This is being greatly aided by the work of the authors of the volume that Jan highlights in her post. As she points out in her blog “If you were to undertake a research paper on the impact of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top here collected in this new volume is much of the scholarship you need”. She continues…

This volume presents a comprehensive collection of the most rigorous research evidence about both the test-based reforms reforms and policies that have become the new normal, and the less common, most promising strategies for the future… “In its entirety the scholarship in this volume points overwhelmingly to one unambiguous conclusion – heavy-handed accountability policies do not produce the kinds of schools envisioned under the original ESDA…” (Emphasis mine… see above referenced link, pages  xix-xx)

In my original piece, I referenced the work of Russell Ackoff and an interview conducted with him before his death in 2009. Ackoff was a new name for me. A little research revealed that he had a long, varied and distinguished career, including a time from 1986 until his death as professor emeritus of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

In Ackoff’s interview he noted that, while we frequently used the terms synonymously, there was a growing recognition that there is a difference between efficiency and effectiveness and that Peter Drucker had captured this by saying that there’s a difference between ‘doing things right’ and doing ‘the right thing’.

Ackoff expands by suggesting that doing things right is about efficiency but doing the right thing is about effectiveness. He makes a strong case for the connection between wisdom and doing/identifying the right things. He notes further that when we try to do things right about the wrong thing, we actually make things worse… such attempts at improvement actually take us further from both the recognition and accomplishment of the “right thing”.

So here it is. How long can we continue to deny the obvious?

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The Far Side Gallery – Gary Larson

I have spoken with hundreds of educators throughout the country who , while working hard to implement the “reforms” based on ever more rigorous standards and ever more extensive (and expensive) assessments, recognize the folly of the direction.

It is time for those of us who have read the science and have lived the misguided attempts to do the wrong thing better to speak up. Not because we are concerned about the ways in which such reforms and the attendant emphasis on accountability threaten us, but because they threaten the future of our kids, take us further away from the goal of learning, and distract us  from the exploration of new structures and experiences for kids (and adults) that demonstrate our commitment to the ideal that minds matter.

In my next blog I’ll be exploring the ways in which we, the people who have the most regular and potentially meaningful contact with students in our schools, can take action. For now though the issue seems to be, on a personal and individual basis, “Can I continue to allow the risk of irreversible damage to our children because some ideologically and politically motivated people would rather continue to act on a belief system that has been demonstrated to be both wrong and harmful?”

Please share your thoughts and reflections.

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