A few days ago, a commentary appeared in Education Week titled “Doing More With Less: A State Checklist for Sustainable School Transformation.” I wanted to use today’s post to share with you my thoughts after reading this article, whose authors (part of a non-profit consultancy called “Education Resource Strategies”) try to outline the key action steps that states should consider in order to transform their school systems to achieve success at scale. While some valuable items have been identifed, it greatly misses the mark because it focuses on process, not substance. More on this below:
The authors outline a series of steps that states should undertake to sustainably transform schools. These include:
- Revise funding systems to promote equity and flexibility
- Revamp teacher compensation, including benefits and pensions, to increase rewards for teachers who have the best results and contribute the most to improving student performance
- Revamp regulations taht strictly define specific staff positions and the use of school tme.
- Redesign graduation requirements linked to taking specific courses to put greater emphasis on demonstrating skills and knowledge.
- Create new models of accountability and support for special education students and English-language learners taht redirect resources to more integrated early-intervention efforts.
- Design turnaround strategies that restructure existing resources and attend to the challeng of displaced teachers.
- Invest to build and support strong school leaders, including providing more and better information tools.
- Remove barriers to the creative provision of education and support services through untraditional providers.
- Promote the use of technology as a productivity-improvement tool in education and school support services.
- Report useful comparative data on school and district resource use taht includes information on spending by student.
The third to last bullet point is one that I feel is one of the most critical elements, and on this particular point, I fully agree with the authors. But it is more than just archane laws that prohibit districts from contracting out services on instruction and other support areas such as food services. Until the states begin to centralize certain functions and build some consistency into the system, this will continue to be a system that is indicative of the clusters of oligopolies that have plagued many commercial industries such as cable and telecommunications. In addition, school districts in the same state must be funded on the same criteria. For example, if have two schools, one with 15% free lunch students and the other with a whopping 47% free lunch students, how does the 15% school get Title I funding while the 47% does not? Consistency and elimination of redundancies will reduce the waste in the infrastructure, while not ignoring the school-specific flexibility that administrators will need to respond to the needs of their specific student body.
All of these points neglect a few important factors:
- We need to fundamentally redesign the school day, and the learning environment, so that the schools become intrinsically motivating places for both teachers and students. You can’t change compensation structures and accountability criteria without nvesting in professional development, technology training, and reallocate funding for instructional products.
- Technology cannot be “crammed” into the system. Everyone keeps harping on technology, but what is needed is an investment in content creation that best leverages the use of these technologies. Computers are inherently “lean forward,” not “lean back” mediums, so lets stop relying on video streaming tha comes through to the desktop computer, but rather focus on interactive media applications, such as online games, that are part of the blended learning experience.
I agree that our administrators must become better managers; however, just like in commercial industry, the technological revolution has given them a unique opportunity to more efficiently use their limited capital through use of online-enabled resources, including educational content, and classroom management tools.
We can do more with less, but lets get our priorities in order, or else our efforts will most surely fail.