The Time is Now

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

The time is now . . . to seize this unique moment of disruption while we have the opportunity.

The time is now . . . to reexamine our educational goals, existing policies and practices and honestly evaluate where we need significant change in our state education systems. 

The time is now . . . to set higher expectations and evaluate where are systems are falling short.

The time is now . . . to reexamine systems, policies and practices that aren’t achieving their desired outcomes and replace them with those we know will.

The time is now . . . to muster the courage to ask the hard questions, make difficult decisions and put student outcomes first. 

The time is now . . . to ensure that all students graduate ready for college or career.

The challenges above are taken from a new report out from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in the US, titled The Time is Now!

The report describes their adoption of NCEE’s Blueprint for a High-Performing Education System as a policy framework to improve state education systems, focused on these common elements found in the most effective systems.

  • Effective Teachers and Principals.
  • Rigorous and Adaptive Learning System.
  • Equitable Foundation of Supports.
  • Coherent and Aligned Governance.

It would appear that there are many education systems around the world that are beginning to think this way – perhaps finally realising that our education systems are no longer fit for purpose, despite decades of attempts at incremental change and policy re-alignment. There appears now to be calls for a fundamental shift towards a more radical and transformational view of what education could be and can become.

Report after report over the past decade or so has signalled this need, and yet, despite efforts in so many contexts the changes have yet to be seen. What we have observed is a mix of tokenism in some parts, short-lived experiments in others or a folding back into the use of high stakes assessment and standards – expecting improvement by simply raising the bar (see my earlier post titled weigh the pig!)

The NCSL report states in its introduction:

… there lies an enormous opportunity, not just to correct course but to chart an entirely new course and create even better, more effective state systems based on what research tells us works. By studying research, policies, practices and outcomes of the highest-performing systems in the world, we can reimagine effective education systems that better meet the needs of every student.

Four things stand out in this statement that I see as essential:

  • It’s about charting an entirely new course – this is the essence of transformation, and requires new thinking and out of the box ideas. We can no longer be satisfied with simply improving what we already have or are doing. This will be uncomfortable for many of us – we tend to be creatures of habit, placing confidence in what is known and has worked before.
  • It’s about building effective systems – in New Zealand, at least, we’ve had more than three decades of watching a thousand flowers blooming – pockets of innovation that burst forth and then wither. We need to be more intentional about creating a sense of ‘systemness’ in all that we do. (for more see Michael Fullan’s right drivers paper.)
  • Many of the answers already exist – it’s worth the time exploring and analysing the research and case studies from around the world in order to understand what’s possible and the lessons that can be learned from what has been done elsewhere. We can accelerate the change if we do this – rather than becoming tied up in endless cycles of re-inventing the wheel.
  • It’s about the learner – most modern education systems already have statements about placing the learner at the centre, but most change efforts become hampered by the interests of teachers and the constraints of traditional structures (buildings, timetables etc.), where such things become prioritised in the strategic planning process, and the dream of a truly learner-centred system become subsumed in the process.

As a grandparent now I find myself becoming increasingly concerned at the lack of real progress here – despite there being so many wonderful pockets of innovation, and schools with caring cultures etc. we, as a system, are seeing continual declines in achievement overall, lowering levels of engagement by learners, an erosion of the teaching profession and a failure to realise the potential in all learners to be able to flourish in the future world.

So it’s good to see the challenges from the NCSL laid out in such plain language. Now it’s up to all of us, in whatever role within the education system we inhabit, to rise to the challenge and ask:

  • “what am I doing in response to these questions? – what actions am I prepared to take?”
  • “Who am I working alongside?”
  • “What’s informing my thinking and decisions?”
  • “What do I do when I feel uncomfortable or challenged?”
  • “Whose interests are truly driving my view of the future for education?”

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