We have high expectations of our education system, and rightly so. Educators have one of the most important jobs with the greatest ability to impact Michigan’s economic recovery. Do we want and need effective teaching and learning? Of course. Do we want and need accountability for educational outcomes? Of course. Do we want all schools to be of the highest quality? Of course. The need and impact are too great and we certainly don’t have public funds to spare. The Legislature is currently debating the best way to communicate our schools’ effectiveness, but the question that we should be grappling with is how do we support and evaluate our education system to be best able to promote that effective learning.
Effective learning demands a great deal of things. I like the ASCD’s Whole Child language, which I’m paraphrasing here. Michigan children and youth need to:
- enter school healthy and learn about healthy practices as they progress;
- learn in physical and emotional safety;
- be connected to the broader community through their learning;
- have access to learning tailored to their challenges and strengths;
- have access to caring and competent adults involved in their learning; and
- be challenged throughout their educational careers so that they can be prepared for college and career.
Much of this is obvious, and all is well documented in research. When kids are hungry, when they haven’t slept, when they aren’t feeling safe at home or at school, as just three of many possible examples, their ability to engage with even the highest skilled teaching in the best run school is challenged.
The responsibility that falls on classroom teachers and other school and district staff for effective teaching and learning has been and continues to be discussed, and the best way to measure its effectiveness hotly debated. What is perhaps less obvious and certainly not discussed enough, is the responsibility that falls on other systems that impact students for the rest of their learning, beginning well before kindergarten and continuing outside of the classroom through their educational careers.
The question has always been, and rightly so, how do we ensure the best use of public dollar for education – how are we using what we know, in this case what we know about effective teaching and learning, to assess the best use of the resources that we spend within the education system, and within other systems that impact learning as well.
Can we assess and support and reward educators, schools and communities in addition to skill in subject area and teaching and learning pedagogy, and also in their prowess in those practices that serve to close achievement gaps? In the ability to connect early and often with children, youth and their families? In the ability to consistently engage each student? In the ability to move students individually on their own trajectory? In the ability to provide 2nd and 3rd chances for the most challenged students to succeed? Can we assess and support and reward the ability of educators and schools to collaborate together and connect with outside supports – parents and community resources?
Can we not punish educators and schools for structures and impacts beyond their control, BUT not end the conversation there? Can we expand responsibility for educational success a little to rest with us all, and support that responsibility accordingly? At this point, the Michigan Legislature is discussing yet another school accountability system. We urge them to expand this conversation to evaluate how all of the components of our teaching and learning system are doing and invest support and resources accordingly.