Recently a teacher handed me a copy of Dennis Littky’s book, The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business. The book describes schools as, “The Met,” where learning is truly personalized, based on authentic experiences, and where students and teachers come every day excited to learn with and from each other. My comments are not to promote the book, although every parent, teacher, administrator, and policymaker would greatly benefit from reading and seriously considering the implications of what Littky is sharing. What strikes me more is that even with plenty of evidence from our No Child Left Behind (NCLB) experience, which shows that testing is not the key to improving outcomes for students, our policymakers, educators and educational leaders continue down that same path.
Staff in my district may say, “Hey, look in the mirror: As superintendent, you are leading us down that same path with formative assessments every 4.5 weeks and a tightly controlled curriculum.” I admit that if one sees our current work as the end of the journey, and is not part of the discussions of what we need to do to continue to learn and improve, he or she might reach that conclusion. What I see is that our rigorous college and career preparatory curriculum (beginning at pre-school) is essential in order to provide students with the basis from which they can become learners, thinkers, and creative problem solvers. We have moved away from the Kansas Assessment, a ratings system that has laden us with sanctions and the fear of being labeled as failing based on a single test score (one that will never change outcomes for students.) We have moved toward teaching and learning with measures that truly help prepare our students to compete on a global playing field (for college or careers). However, if we were to stop with these changes, we would be failing our students, and our teachers, just like the single test-driven system of NCLB. Thankfully, we are not.
Teachers, like the individual who handed me Littky’s book, will take us to the next level of success for our students. I am counting on these committed and creative educators to help us learn how to transform our schools into places where teaching is more like that of a coach, role model, motivator and guide. I believe so much in the work of our tremendous teachers and administrators. We have laid the foundation for an education that will allow our students to compete in a global economy. Students, as Littky notes, loving to learn and “continuing to learn even without school, applying knowledge to real life, measure the true success of a school and school systems.” It’s Up to Us.