Perhaps the biggest single obstacle to progress all across the K-12 field is the notion that ‘We’ always have to agree politically on any change.
For a current example, consider the debate about ‘teacher autonomy’. For years the argument has see-sawed back and forth: “Teachers need more scope for discretion”; then, “No, teachers have too much scope for discretion!”. You’ll be familiar with others. Traditional school vs. the dreaded ‘progressivism’. Phonics vs. whole-language.
So it goes. Across one area after another. Think about the ‘either/or’ with respect to achievement. Some people insist on the ‘equity’ agenda: We have to close the gap. Others focus on the ‘excellence’ agenda: We have to excel at the top. The two fight each other. Why can’t we be working both?
In the conflict between the ideologies—religions, almost—time goes by and nothing meaningful changes. The convictions run deep: This is right. No, this is right. Neither side prevails.
Well, many say, that’s just the way the world works. No. That is not the way most systems work.
Think about most any field: Something new appears, the ‘early adopters’ pick up the new model, those uncomfortable with the change stay with the traditional model. Nobody is coerced into change; nobody is prevented from changing. Both models run along side by side. Over time people move as they are ready. Tractors replace horses; computers replace typewriters. (The country has just finished its transition from analog to digital television, right?)
Gradually one system after another evolves; some new model replacing the old. Often the transition is not without political controversy. But the policy of gradualism, tolerance, holds the conflict to a minimum. We could do this with K-12, too, couldn’t we?
Back to teachers and teaching. We could have some schools in which teachers had a very large opportunity to innovate; to try things they believe might help the students they actually have enrolled. Some teachers would thrive in that environment. Some would not; would prefer to have decisions about instruction made by the principal or by the district. Some families would prefer one model; some the other.
Education|Evolving thinks about this as a ‘split screen’ approach to change. Before about 1990, when there was only a single organization offering public education in a community, an effort to run two different approaches created big conflict in the district, in the board of education. But today students—through chartering or through open enrollment—students have access to different choices. So isn’t the ‘split screen’ approach conceivable?
Take a few minutes to think about it, yourself, in the issue areas you know in K-12. Are we wrong about this?
—Guestblogger Ted Kolderie, Education|Evolving