Saturday, February 2, 2013

21st Century School Leaders Must Search for New Ways of Doing School

"Our Education System Isn't Broken, It's Designed to Create Winners and Losers" according to Camika Royal in a post by that title on Good. That argument is made by others as well. Our education system with its grade levels, standardized testing, and accountability measures is all about labeling both kids and educators as either "winners" or "losers."

As Royal indicates, our education system has its problems in the areas of equity and fairness, but it does exactly what it was designed to do: "It sorts and sifts." It chooses some students over others when it dispenses opportunities. It decides who gets to move into management and who will be relegated to unskilled labor. The only problem is, those unskilled labor jobs have all but disappeared, so those being sorted and sifted to that future actually have no place to go and no future. Instead of looking for new ways of schooling, we cling to the old, and continue tweaking the edges.

I have to agree with Royal when she points out our American education system actually does "permit and demand differences in access to opportunities---it compels inequity." Our education system was actually built to perpetuate the educational and economic situation for which we now face. It wants to dispense opportunity according to 19th and 20th century rules, but those rules are not adequate in a global economic and political environment. Where is the answer?

Some of the things Royal suggests include:
  • Shift our blame and focus off students and put it on educational, socioeconomic, and political systems that are allowing this inequity to continue.
  • Focus on educational excellence, opportunity and access, equitable funding, equitable distribution of resources, and search for new ways of "doing school."
For 21st century school leaders, it is time to begin in earnest to question and examine many of these core values, beliefs, and doctrines,  that still drive our modern educational systems as well as our economic and political systems, if we want to survive both economically and politically in a highly competitive global environment. I hesitate to say this because it might be misconstrued by those still caught in nostalgic views of past educational, economic, and political glories, but perhaps we need to hold nothing sacred so that we can critically examine everything about our educational, political and social systems.

Take the accountability and testing movement as an example. In some ways accountability systems are blame deflectors. By default, they look for ways to deflect the blame for inequity of access and opportunity to students (and now teachers), instead of closely examining how our economic, political, and educational system is really the issue. As we tenaciously hold on to those systems and beliefs, naturally our education systems aren't living up to 21st century expectations and standards.

We need to stop clinging to a nostalgic past, and honestly look for "new ways of doing school" as Royal suggests. Instead, though, we continue our tinkering around the edges of education with accountability systems and new standards, and "reform flavors of the month." In the end, none of these things will bring lasting, effective change to 21st century education in America.

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