Failing at Education Reform

There are three keys.

1st) Spend lots of money and time coming up with goals so lofty that they aren’t really achievable and so vague that they can’t be meaningfully assessed. As a safety measure, make sure the goals are irrelevant to the teacher-student relationship so that if they’re accidentally accomplished, they won’t have much of an impact on student learning.

2nd) Prepare lots of PowerPoint presentations and write reports filled with JAA (jargon and acronyms) to mask nebulous thinking and create an insider “we’re in the know and you’re not” feel to things. If successful, few people will understand well enough to ask questions so no real rationale for proposed changes will be necessary.

3rd) Most importantly of all, exclude teachers as much as humanly possible. Always think top-down. Teachers aren’t that smart and they just get in the way with their insights into classroom life and such. This is easy to do, just don’t communicate much about scheduled meetings, and as a back up, schedule them during the school day. Be consistent in sending the message, “This work is too important to include you.” Remember, you attended school for 12-13 years, you’re an expert. Teachers need you to tell them what to do. They’re depending upon you.

That’s all there really is to it.

Washington State’s 2010 Education Reform Plan provides an especially fine example of these principles at work.

1st) Four goals:

1) Enter kindergarten prepared for success in school and life.

2) Compete in mathematics and science nationally and internationally.

3) Attain high academic standards regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or gender.

4) Graduate able to succeed in college, training, and careers.

All in all, lofty, vague, dancing around the teacher-student relationship. Exemplary application of the goal-setting principles.

2nd) See the PowerPoint and report links above. If you’re not a teacher, read them. If you’re a teacher, you should be grading or preparing for tomorrow.

3rd) Note in the report the PowerPoint slide titled “Process for Soliciting Feedback”, bullet point two, “Engage stakeholder groups”. This is the reformers finest moment. This slide is worth a thousand words.

Granted, there’s never a perfect example. Turns out there are a couple of classroom teachers on the Professional Educator Standards Board, and I’m not sure, but there may be a few more lurking within other groups. But Washington State deserves major credit for articulating goals and planning how to meet them with teachers almost entirely excluded.

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