We seem to be at a crossroads in education. If we go one direction, we will continue to judge schools and their success by a single test without giving consideration to the growth that has occurred. Teachers will feel it necessary to resort to test preparation as that is how they are judged. Our best teachers will avoid the demanding classrooms so as not to put themselves at risk of judgment, mandates, and additional paperwork. Students will be limited in what they learn because what is assessed on a test is only a fraction of what they need to know to be successful in life. Parents will become disillusioned with the progress and those with means will move them to other options. District will put pressure on school leaders and will, in turn, pass this on to teachers with more paperwork and documentation. In the meantime, our society becomes more and more segregated. The ones left behind become angry and the ones who left become fearful of them because they can no longer relate to each other. What if this approach results in more violence in the future than what we see even today?
But what if we choose a different future?
What if federal and state governments quit trying to define student success with a test? What if they quit trying to quantify complex human development by a test score? What if they encouraged schools to use these assessments to improve their instruction and meet needs of students, but left the true definitions of school success to the communities where those schools reside? What if special interest groups took “special interest” in our schools and pledged support rather than trying to find out ways to take the public funds that they haven’t yet been able to touch?
What if communities stand behind their schools? What if when they feel the school is struggling, they step up to help, provide support for students, staff, and families? What if those with criticisms couldn’t sling mud at public education without having direct
knowledge of the situations with which they are passing judgment? What if wanted to speak about a school and it’s performance, you must first spend time there with the people volunteering? What if you couldn’t lump schools all together but had to speak specifically about situations in which you had personal experience? What if our media spent as much time talking about all the accomplishments of public schools and didn’t just highlight the isolated negative examples?
What if school administrators don’t have to worry about spending funds to survive, but can use dollars in practices that promote thriving such as professional learning for teachers? What if they felt free to restructure schedules to provide teachers with ongoing collaboration and professional learning so that they could be sure that teachers were always at the forefront of their profession, masters of the learning standards and best practice in instructional techniques? What if when they saw a teacher in need, they could provide that teacher with the support they needed to grow and improve rather than feeling pressure to get them out?
What if because schools feel supported, teachers feel less stressed and feel they have the time to stop and build strong relationships with students and their families? What if teachers feel they can develop innovative, meaningful lessons that actually apply to the future that our students will live in because they aren’t scared about test outcomes? What if they could collaborate and share without the pressure to hold back so that they could ensure they weren’t the bottom performer? What if we valued teachers as the creators of all other professions and compensated them as such?
What if parents didn’t abandon schools for homeschooling, private and charter schools in an effort to isolate their children from those with experiences that may be very different from their own? What if they were adamant to model that when something isn’t what we want it to be, they stick with it and become a part of the solution?
What if we had children from all different backgrounds that learned to value each other and learned to live together without fear and without anger? What if these students were able to learn the skills needed in reading, writing, math along with skills like collaboration, grit, growth mindset, technology, and problem-solving?
I can say I am fortunate to be a part of a district where our school board fights for local control. I work in a district where our district leaders don’t point fingers, but rather ask “what can we do to support you?” and give campuses the freedom to do what they need to do to make a difference with their students. I have parents walking my halls taking care of all students, willing to take part in conversations when they have concerns, rather than resorting to silence and abandonment. I have teachers that are the epitome of lifelong
learners. They have become masters of state standards and design meaningful learning that is resulting in stronger students with each passing year. I have students that are learning the value of diversity. They are learning to work things out together and hold themselves accountable for high levels of learning and growth. My campus has gone from plummeting scores and declining enrollment to scores and enrollment on the rise. I am one of the fortunate principals who has had the freedom not to be defined by a test and the feel the support of my district and community.
What if all schools had this?