‘Tis the season for children and adults alike to reflect about what they believe, with Santa and matters of faith at the top of most lists. It’s also prompted me to reflect on my beliefs as they relate to our work in serving students and the community. I share many of these beliefs in conversations with our Board of Education, principals, and groups of employees from time to time, but I believe there is value in setting those beliefs out to a broader audience. So here goes….
1. We’re not Waiting for Superman in Adams 12. We have thousands of super men and super women – support staff professionals, teachers, administrators, and volunteers -- who pour their hearts and souls into serving our students and who do their work exceptionally well.
2. It’s been fashionable, dating back to release of A Nation at Risk in 1983, to describe public education throughout the United States as a failed enterprise requiring reform. Adams 12 is not failing its students and does not require reform. There are, however, many areas in which we need to do much better in serving our students and our community, and we cannot allow the current financial crisis in our state to serve as an excuse to accept the status quo in our performance. We can – and must – do better.
3. Some of the most important lessons that we teach our students are in areas that cannot be measured well in standardized test scores. Integrity, creativity, ethics, problem-solving ability, interpersonal skills, healthy living habits, good behavior, strong work ethic, determination, empathy, teamwork, and similar traits often have much great bearing upon an individual’s success and happiness in life than CSAP and ACT scores. Our student test scores serve only as a partial measurement of our success or failure as a school system.
4. The adoption of content standards identifying the things that our students need to know and be able to do is a positive development at the national, state, and District level. Students in rural Wyoming, suburban Colorado and urban New York all need to know and be able to do the same things in order to have all doors of opportunity open to them in our international economy. It’s time to move past the control and power issues concerning standards adoption at the local or state level and do more of this work at the national level. Let’s spend less time and money reinventing or tweaking standards at the state and local level and invest that money instead in helping our students master these standards inside our schools.
5. Notwithstanding the point made in item 3, CSAP, ACT, and other standardized tests are good things when they are aligned with the content standards. The ability to read, write, engage in scientific analysis and solve mathematical problems can be measured more effectively than the traits described in item 3, and given the investment of taxpayer resources into our work, we need to account to them for our performance just as corporations account to their investors for their performance.
6. There is great disdain in some circles for “teaching to the test,” but teaching to the test is a good thing when assessments are tied to standards and the standards set forth those things that students need to know and be able to do in a global economy. Students able to demonstrate mastery of standards on a reliable assessment should be able to apply those skills to changing circumstances, facts, and problems in the future. That’s the type of education I received in law school and value today. We spent a lot of time dissecting specific court decisions – not for the purpose of reciting them back to our professors, but so that we’d soak in the legal principles described in each one, see how those principles often required adjustment/modification to result in a just outcome, and be well-prepared to apply those principles and means of analysis to the diverse legal problems we’d be called on to address for clients in the future. We seek that same outcome for our Adams 12 students in our focus on standards mastery; if we’re successful in our work, students will have an impressive mix of content knowledge, analytical ability and thinking skills that will allow them to thrive in higher education or the workforce.
It is my belief, then, that we should be “teaching to the test” in Adams 12 – but not by ignoring the need to develop the types of traits described earlier. As much as possible, we should be teaching to the test/developing content mastery through teaching strategies that also help students develop the traits described in item 3, and when those methods are not adequate to develop the traits, we should provide supplemental activities that develop the traits appropriately.
7. Accountability for student academic performance in our schools does not rest solely on those employed by the District. I noted earlier that the District can, and must, do better in serving our students. That statement applies with equal force to our students and parents. Too many of our students demand too little of themselves in our partnership to educate them well; too many of our parents demand too little of their children in taking advantage of the educational opportunities offered to them; and too many students and parents allow poverty, limited educational completion/success by parents/relatives, and similar factors to serve as an excuse for not setting high expectations for our students’ achievement and for the services provided by the District. Setting high expectations for performance and for effort required of all of the key partners in this endeavor – students, parents, and staff – is essential if we are to make meaningful strides forward in student achievement. We cannot place all of the responsibility for student success or failure at the feet of school employees; students and parents own important and significant pieces of student outcomes as well.
8. We need to invest more resources into public education in Colorado. Members of the public often state that public education needs to “operate like a business,” and I’ll describe in future postings how our District already operates as efficiently as a private sector business in numerous ways. Some of those who advocate strongest for us to “operate like a business,” however, also suggest that one of the key components for business success – adequate capital – does not apply to our work in public education.
I agree with the position that money alone does not guarantee better outcomes in student education. I also agree that “throwing money at the problem,” whether “the problem” exists in the private or public sector, is not a sensible problem-solving strategy. I wish, however, that more of the critics of public education also had the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that money is not irrelevant to student education outcomes. Some of the loudest critics of public education, and government in general, recite the mantra that these systems are top-heavy, inefficient, and overstaffed without bothering to become informed about the resources invested in specific systems and how those resources compare to high-performing private entities.
Some school districts and units of government throughout our country – just like some business entities – are undoubtedly bigger than they need to be to provide efficient and effective service. An objective analysis of facts and data, however, shows that Adams 12 is not a bloated, inefficient government bureaucracy, and that we need to invest more resources into public education in our state if we want to provide our children the skills and opportunities to compete in the global economy.
More on that later….For now, please enjoy the holidays with your friends and family. I look forward to connecting with you again in the new year.