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Who Should Be Driving School Change?

One big reason why almost every major effort to reform American education has fallen flat over the past couple of decades is that they weren’t implemented from the classroom up. Instead the ideas, and the drive to make them work, have come the national, state or district level. This is not to say that every good concept for improving schools must come from teachers. But let’s fact facts: any idea that’s going to work must have enthusiastic support from the people doing the work. (And no, this has nothing to do with union votes.)

This incredibly obvious (at least to anyone who’s been part of education for more than a few years) piece of logic flashed through my little brain last week as I sat through a meeting. The topic was a rather large grant being implemented in a small group of schools in our district. The result will be that, over the next three years, several large technology companies are going to put a lot of hardware and software into the classrooms of these schools. By "saturating" them with technology, it’s expected that student learning (read: test scores) will improve dramatically.

That sounds very nice. What struck me, however, was that the discussion around the table had nothing to do with teaching and learning or with how the technology could be used as an agent for changing either. The talk was about boxes and connectivity and contests and surveys. In fact, there were no teachers around the table at all, or even anyone involved with curriculum and instruction. The kick off for this grant is in two weeks and I got the impression that most, if not all, the teachers in these schools had no idea what was coming.

I won’t even attempt to predict if this project will be successful, mostly because I still haven’t seen any specific goals or a detailed implementation plan. But the fact that it was planned and is being executed without any visible input and support from the teachers – the people who must make it work – doesn’t give me a good feeling. From all appearances, the project is being driven by the technology companies with the enthusiastic support of district administration. And haven’t we been down that road before?

Stay tuned.


  1. Joe Thomas

    Hello, I am new to blogging, so please let me know if I do something wrong. I wish to learn the boundaries of this new realm of journaling and conversation. The sign said “post,” so I did. 

    You bring up a valid point in pondering how well a new plan will work minus enthusiastic support from those that are expected to implement it. If policy makers want something implemented, they need to include the “implementers” in the process of creating the policy. Education is one of the only professional settings where this rarely happens in any form. Teachers are increasingly expected to “do,” while administrators interpret the “what,” “how” and “when” from state and federal regulations.

    I am in my 9th year of teaching, and I have yet to attend a stakeholders meeting. I have, however, altered my teaching techniques in that time to include state standards, outcomes-based teaching, social-emotional learning, collaborative learning, technology infusion, computer-based trainings, high-stakes testing, and our latest direction, Accelerated Reader. In only one instance did I have the power to determine my level of immersion.

    My teaching degree got me in the door, but it seems inadequate (to some) in affording me the final judgment to select materials, set independent learning goals, and determine teaching methods. Certainly, I have autonomy in my classroom, but only after adhering to district-mandated, state-mandated, and now federally-mandated criteria.

    Learning occurs at the classroom level, between the student and teacher, yet every year less and less decision-making power inhabits that arena. I can see little benefit or sense in federal regulations over what occurs between my students and me. My district can better decide what content is important, what methods, materials and resources from which I may select to teach that content, and what qualifies a graduate of that city’s schools.

    The federal and state governments should occupy themselves with ensuring equal opportunity for all students to learn. They do this well with the Department of Agriculture’s free and reduced meals, the Department of Education’s Title I funds for high-poverty schools, and federal grants for reading programs and the infusion of technology. These funds (and other like the) ensure that local districts can provide the best opportunities possible for their students, no matter the local resources.

    In short, which this post definitely is not, if you want teachers to support implementing change, you need to involve them in the discussions leading up to that change. There is a practical impossibility of that happening in federal or even state top-down directives, which is why they seldom work.

    Bankers are useful in financing the building of a new hospital, but it doesn’t mean they should direct new methods of surgery.

  2. Jeff

    I couldn’t have said better myself. I have been teacher for 10 years and have noticed that all the “change” is education is done from the top down. Even when they do get educators involve, these tend to be people who have been out of the class room for a while.

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