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Lydia Dobyns Headshot

Schools for Tomorrow Are Here Today.... so Why Aren't We Doing More of What Works?

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A critical challenge in the national discourse around education is to stop the frequent changes in direction (looking for the new, quick fix), being held to a failed national policy (No Child Left Behind) and the tendency to present choices in "either/or" terms.

The choices we face in changing education are not black and white. The menu of change does not consist of either 'keep bad public schools' or 'open more charter schools.' I have news: there are many examples of innovative great public schools and there is much evidence to suggest charters are no better than the public schools they replaced. Teacher unions are not the cause of great teaching nor do unions prevent innovation. The use of technology in teaching and learning is no longer a question we need to raise, but asking whether your child's daily classroom experience feels relevant to the world he will face in college and work is debate worthy. That's what's frustrating about elements of national and regional debate on education reform.

I've been fortunate to be part of four intriguing convenings in the last month where calls for radical innovation in education dominated. Rich conversations took place in NW Indiana (One Region/One Voice); Portland, Oregon (Strive Cradle to Career National Convening); and New York City (Education Nation and Schools for Tomorrow). Each of these gatherings featured thoughtful, passionate education practitioners who expressed a common desire to better serve youth everywhere. So why isn't change happening more quickly?

Here's what I heard from education and community leaders:
  • Tremendous passion exists desiring to improve the way we deliver educational services for all students.
  • Stakeholders in education -- including teachers -- want the teaching profession to be seen as a respected career, where the best and brightest individuals teach, are encouraged to be innovative and participate in measuring what matters in student achievements.
  • Teachers and administrators want to demonstrate consistent collaboration and effective teamwork, but don't always have the tools to do so.
  • Parents are welcomed and needed as active participants in their child's education.
  • Students need to learn important skills, along with content mastery, so they're ready for college and career.

So with almost everyone agreeing on what they sincerely "want" in education, but faced with the evidence that too many schools continue to fail, I'm reminded of the Peanuts cartoon that features Charlie Brown bemoaning a baseball loss of 184-0 when he says "How can we lose when we're so sincere?"

How do we better convert sincerity to implementing systemic change in education? Well for one, we would be well served to stop characterizing education in "either or" terms and help set realistic expectations around innovation: change is hard work and takes years to stick.

Discourse is a necessary step to affecting local, regional, state and national reform. The more we come together with a willingness to embrace systemic change rather than layering new programs on top of dysfunctional infrastructure, the sooner we will see our sincerity lead to meaningful action that better serves students everywhere.

Note: To watch the NY Times Schools for Tomorrow panel, click on the video library and choose session B, K12 stream.