I’ll admit up front that the title is meant to be provocational. However, I think the time for patience is running out, and it is becoming more and more urgent by the day that the paradigm shift happens now in education. Therefore, I’m going to quit beating around the bush in my presentations within my district and without.
Last Friday, our district gathered for convocation. The most significant portion of the event, aside from the weekend getaway drawings, of course, was the speech given by our superintendent, Dr. Stephen Waddell. Dr. Waddell is quite unique among the 5 different superintendents I have worked for to date. He takes 1,000 mile motorcycle rides, flies into the gymnasium suspended by wires, unblocks sites such as Youtube, and is not afraid to get political or to get in the faces of politicians. He recognizes the need for meaningful instruction and advocates it to anyone who will listen. He repeated this call at convocation, and I was particularly pleased to hear him repeatedly use the phrase “21st century skills.” He made the brazen claim that there was more to education than test scores, and asserted that our students deserved better. While certainly supportive of the campuses and teachers who have achieved high scores on the state assessment, TAKS, he has demonstrated with his actions that he truly means what he says. The district has made great efforts to educate teachers on ways to ratchet up expectations, involve students in learning, effectively use technology, and to prepare students for life outside of the classroom.
Additionally, Dr. Waddell and a number of other superintendents recently crafted a draft of a document entitled “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas.” The document is a good read, and should be a must-read in Austin and Washington. It acknowledges the need for measurement of student achievement. However, it envisions an educational environment where the ultimate goal is to develop:
“Students who are prepared for life, for pursuing further education, for taking the first steps on their career paths, and recognizing all options open to them.”
The vision also involves rich, meaningful use of technology, and its writers recognize that the world of today and tomorrow is significantly different than yesterday’s world. They also clearly understand that today’s classroom is often so test-focused that students leave ill-prepared to meet these challenges.
The title of this post centers around a question that has been going on in my head for a week or so, prompted by a discussion with a co-worker. While so many efforts have been made to equip and inform our educators about the needs of the world of tomorrow, far too many still operate in denial mode, opting instead to use methods which do not take advantage of their abilities or the tools available to them. Goals continue to focus on TAKS scores, rather than broader, more meaningful student achievement. Given the culture that exists, the opportunities for professional growth, the technology resources available in many, many districts/campuses, and the pressing need to take advantage of these resources through forward-thinking instructional practices, the question I would pose is this:
Are teachers who do not use available technology effectively, who do not allow and enable their students to use technology in meaningful, engaging ways, and who limit the goals of their instruction to achievements measured by today’s narrowly-focused standardized tests guilty of professional malpractice by failing to properly equip their students to thrive in the world outside of school?
Please understand that I recognize that the environment that I am referring to was created largely by forces outside of the school building. However, enough research exists that shows that the desired test scores can be achieved in a stimulating, relevant, meaningful instructional environment, thereby achieving the narrow goal of meeting state/federal requirements while simultaneously meeting the greater call of the profession. In our district, this has been demonstrated using the works of Phillip Schlecty, Robert Marzano, and others. Surely, there has been enough study of theory and practice, and the excuses are no longer valid. As stated in the IBM commercials, “Stop talking. Start Doing.”