Systems Matter

One risk of promoting school turnaround is that folks will get distracted from the broader project of reforming the systems in which schools operate.  It’s fun to think about education systems like a set of Russian nesting dolls.  The student is the little doll in the middle, and we tend to build larger, more complex, concentric entities around the student.  The challenge is to make sure that each subsequent superstructure increases the likelihood of success and positive outcomes for the student.  That’s why the federal government is interested in promoting equity through Title 1, why states are interested in certifying teachers, etc.

But I’ll go back to the nesting dolls, because the dolls don’t really interact beyond fitting together.  Too often, the same is the case with education, because we don’t tend to formally acknowledge the effect of each hierarchical entity on student outcomes.  I was at an event the other day with a gentleman from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and he remarked that the principal is the only individual in education that is consistently held accountable for student outcomes.  It’s a good point.  Many states are pursuing strategies that would make teachers accountable for student results, but even the most progressive collective bargaining agreements make it incredibly difficult for teachers to lose their jobs for actual job performance.  And superintendents lose their jobs all the time, but it’s rarely due to student achievement.  Until each layer of the hierarchy is really held accountable for student outcomes, we will have a ton of waste and weak performance in our education systems.

Which is what brings me back to my initial point.  We may be able to turn around some schools without fixing the broken systems in which they live, but we certainly will not be able to do so consistently and at meaningful scale.

One Response to Systems Matter

  1. Kathleen Smith says:

    You finally got it right! We are spending way too much on the micro system and not enough on the mega system! Doing this is a train wreck waiting to happen. We need turnarounds for districts and school boards. No one will tackle this lever and it is the lever that will cost less in the long run and bring about sustainability. I am really perplexed by the effort to place all of the federal dollars at the school level.

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