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VOL. 7 | NO. 24 | Saturday, June 07, 2014

Editorial: Lessons Remain With Schools Transformation

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When enough time has passed, the story of the historic changes in public education underway in Shelby County will let us know what worked out and what didn’t.

We suspect those reading the account may not see what was so radical or unprecedented about some of the changes because they appear to be the direction public education is taking. The really compelling story may be what public education in our county was like before the changes simply because it may seem so unfamiliar.

But with the reformation of public education in Memphis still moving we’ll venture some predictions and a few suggestions.

First, we think there is quite a bit of distance between the current philosophy around “blended learning” and the approach not that long ago to computers in classrooms, which seemed to equate the mere presence of screens and keyboards somewhere in a school building with achievement gains through mere presence.

That attitude is still present among far too many educators who still show off computer labs in their schools not realizing how outdated the idea of a computer room is.

We predict Common Core standards will ultimately survive the political challenge that equates those standards with sorcery or federal over-reaching. The method of testing to see if those standards are being met, however, may be another matter.

Here, educators have a properly cautious take on what can be a proprietary game played by test writers and their companies that needs to be put in perspective.

We want to measure student growth and results in the most accurate way possible without teachers feeling compelled to teach to a test. Common Core standards, we think, play a large part in the evolution of making the standards more than a number on a scoreboard. But the standards alone cannot be the only sentry against a tendency and experience that has spawned cheating scandals and cynicism about trying to enforce any standard.

The best motive underlying such standards is to make sure that every child is able to achieve and is given what he or she needs in school to achieve to their fullest potential. That is the most basic revolution in public education policy to come along in quite a while. That public policy belief is not a matter of percentages.

We may never be completely comfortable with whatever methods are used to judge student achievement, especially when those measurements are a key factor – but not the only factor – in judging how well a teacher is achieving.

We have to have some way of doing both. And it is a discussion that will grow the more we change assumptions about public education. The change is necessary.

So, when the book on what is underway now in our schools is written, the chapter on how to measure objectively the success of what is underway will likely still be a work in progress.

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