One key question: Does giving control over curriculum and standards back to states and communities improve the quality of learning?
This really is a post to explore legitimate questions about how best to educate American children. One of the first times Education has come up in any presidential debate occurred last night, and the favorite Republican talking point – we need to get the federal government out of public school – was the only piece of policy on offer.
So the question today is: Does giving total control over curriculum and standards back to states and communities improve the quality of learning?
I think the answer is that it can, but that doesn’t mean it will.
Back in the 1980s, the Leander school district – a now-sprawling area representing thousands of children – was one of the worst-performing in Texas. So a committee went to the state and petitioned to be allowed to create their own teacher evaluation system.
Leander is now a top-performing school district.
What did they do differently? They emphasized teacher collaboration and student assessment. They put a premium on extra time built into the day for conferences – two periods, not one, for middle school teachers. They created February Conference, a two-day teacher training every year, put on by and for Leander educators.
The timing is not accidental. February is when teacher fatigue sets in, and gearing up for state testing is paramount. Giving teachers time to reflect, to collaborate, to have community: this is strategic.
But none of this exempted Leander from the yearly Texas high-stakes testing. Students are required to pass the same standards as everyone else.
And Leander students regularly knock the ball out of the park.
So I think this joint effort is the best way. Having rigorous standards is imperative to ensuring all students get an education that allows them to compete. But giving local districts control over how to train and assess their own teachers passes that power back to communities.
Of course, this is just from my own experience. I worked for Leander ISD for several years, and saw firsthand how superior their resources were for teacher support and improvement. Decades in the making, I reaped all the benefits of a group of educators and administrators committed to supporting their teachers AND giving students the highest quality education possible.
Now what I want to know: Your thoughts.
Photo: Flickr/US Department of Education