There are no silver bullets!
Instead we would like to suggest 12 categories or areas, where effectiveness needs to improve. Some may be more important than others, (all twelve are not necessarily equal), and some/all have sub-categories making each complex in its own right. This list of twelve solutions is not meant to be comprehensive, but it is designed to underscore that there are no silver bullets. If we, as a society, can piece together enough of these “8.5% solutions,” then we can reach a tipping point that will help improve education by the quantum leaps we need to remain competitive in a global economy. Here are twelve categories we must improve performance in if we are to going to make sustainable gains in student achievement.
Twelve Categories for Improvement in Education
Improve School Board Effectiveness
Improve District Leadership/Management
Improve School Site Level Effectiveness
- Improve Stability, Equity and Transparency of the Way Schools are Funded
- Improve School Governance-Federal/State/Local (Includes Charter Organizations)
Improve Teacher Effectiveness
- School Principal Leadership
- School Culture
- School Support System
Modernize Teacher Training in Universities to Reflect 21st Century Needs
- Address Structural Issues – Unions/Tenure/Accountability etc.
- Fair and Effective Teacher Evaluation
- Strengthen Teacher Professional Development
High Quality Curriculum
- Develop more effective teacher recruiting and retention efforts
Students Enter School Healthy, Safe, Ready to Learn
- Expand Ed Tech/Blended Learning
- Expand STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math
- Expand Inquiry-Based, Hands-on Learning
- Create Opportunities for Students to Work in Teams and Collaborate
- More Effective Assessments, Use of Technology/Data
Extended/Expanded Learning Time
- Expand Access to Preschool, Early Literacy/Math, Health, Social-Emotional
- Align With the Regular School Day
- Extend, Expand Best Practices from List Above
- Offer Opportunities Not Available During School Day
- Innovate/Pilot Ideas for Broader Use in School Day
- Expand Access to Holistic Wellness Programs, Including Anti-bullying and Conflict Resolution
- More Effective Parental Involvement
- Outcomes-Oriented Collaboration
- Public/Private Partnerships
- Stronger Candidates/Voter Participation in Local School Board Races
Education Reform’s Current Focus
Today’s silver bullets seem to be charter schools and teacher effectiveness as the “silver bullets.” But charter schools are a form, not a function. The charter form is designed as a way around some of the governance issues outlined here that often stifle innovation and effectiveness. But there are two problems with charters. One, they are not likely to be scaled at a level that will greatly impact society as whole. In California, about 6% of our students attend charter schools. About one-in-five charters outperforms its similar public school counterpart. So, about 1.2% of students benefit from charters currently. That is a long way from a tipping point. The best charters do serve as pockets of innovation and islands of excellence. The challenge for society and school leaders now becomes how to replicate and scale the best of what occurs in charter schools within the public school system so that these innovations can be replicated and scaled so more students benefit. Make no mistake, we are fans of high-performing charter schools. We just don’t see them as scalable enough to be a solution for society.
The other silver bullet de jour, is teacher effectiveness. This is clearly a critical element to improving education. But, if schools are not funded at appropriate levels, if we have a meddlesome/dysfunctional school board, poor district leadership, an ineffective principal, students with all the challenges related to poverty and unsafe neighborhoods, parents with low expectations and no sense of urgency and a disengaged community, then the greatest teachers in the world will struggle. Even teacher effectiveness, critical as it is, is not a silver bullet.
Good Things are Happening in Public Schools
We believe in many ways, the stakeholders interested in school reform and school transformations in and around public education are having incomplete conversations. While we have been pretty good as a society about identifying the problems in education, the solutions that are being held up often are not replicable or scalable. There is also a fundamental untruth that has been accepted as gospel in education reform circles and amplified in the media. This untruth is that public schools are flat-lining (not getting any better) and that the only real progress that is being made in K-12 education is in high-performing charter schools.
There are a number of places where this is simply not true! While we agree broadly that education is not improving at a necessary rate, there are public school districts that are having great success. As it relates to serving low-income students, four of the top districts in California in closing the achievement gap are THINK Together partner-districts. These include Lake Elsinore Unified, Little Lake City, Baldwin Park Unified and Santa Ana Unified. And, there are other districts such as Irvine, Tustin and Elk Grove that are doing a great job for middle and upper-middle class students.
Success Doesn’t Travel Well in K-12 Education
One of the phrases we hear over and over again is that “success doesn’t travel well in K-12 education.” It is our observation that this is certainly true. There are good things happening in individual classrooms at most schools. There are “islands of excellence” in almost every district. The problem is, that success doesn’t get replicated and scaled the way it does in business or other areas of our economy.
At THINK Together, we believe that we can build an organization that can facilitate the learning from the promising practices of these districts and share and support the implementation of those practices (the “how to”). Many successful educators consult after they retire. But, for the most part, these consulting practices are either small or, if larger, focused on a particular niche and therefore, not comprehensive. We believe THINK Together’s very robust infrastructure can provide a platform for these consultants to reach a larger audience and build the follow up coaching and peer-to-peer learning systems necessary to replicate and sustain success and make sure that it travels well.