Sunday, September 5, 2010

Technical Change and Public Education and the Role of Local School Boards

Once again the United States is focused on the technical components of change, as the country continues to grapple with closing the achievement gap and creating an education system that meets the needs of 21st century learners.  This week, two articles in the New York Times talk about testing and teacher accountability.  U.S. Asks Educators to Reinvent Student Tests, and How They Are Given describes efforts to create a testing system that more accurately assesses student learning and provides feedback in a more timely manner.

When Does Holding Teachers Accountable Go Too Far? looks at a project that analyzed teacher performance, connecting student test scores to teachers using a value added model.  The article presents a balanced view of the practice, laying out strengths and weaknesses of using value added to evaluate teachers.

Finally,  the Common Core State Standards Initiative is linked to the development of the new testing systems and I include it here for reference.

Yet again, we are focusing on the technical aspects of change.  The focus of these initiatives clearly reflect the technical aspects of the Key Work framework--Standards, Assessment, and Accountability.  Once again, little is said of the need to focus on the adaptive, or cultural, aspects of change--Vision, Continuous Improvement, Collaboration and Community Engagement, and Climate.

For decades states and the federal government have focused on the technical aspects of reforming the public education system, eroding the power of local school boards in the process. Where does this leave local school boards as governing entities?  It leaves them with the entire range of adaptive change at their disposal.  And who better to lead the adaptive change process?  Local school board members have the potential to engage with local stakeholders in ways that state and federal policy makers will never be able to do.  The "localness" of their position provides opportunity to engage in conversations about the vision for their communities and their schools.  The can model continuous improvement, celebrating success while continuing to ask "What can we better tomorrow?"  They can lead efforts to create a climate that builds social capital, building trust and creating strong relationships that ultimately leads to better outcomes for students.

The role of the school board is changing.  For all practical purposes, they no longer have much influence over the technical aspects of change.  At the same time, they have tremendous power to lead the adaptive change efforts that are needed to ensure the work of revising standards and creating new accountability systems is not wasted.

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