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Great Ideas Stifled by Backward Legislators

March 19, 2016

My daughter just sent me the link to a creative presentation of findings from a recent conference of the League of Innovative Schools, a group of educational leaders sponsored by Digital Promise. Written in the quasi-cartoon format used by Robert Reich in his video presentations, the conferees identify a set of seven challenges and a separate set of seven problems innovators face and offer solutions to each. The general direction the League Members want to head is promising: they want to individualize and personalize instruction; move toward formative competency based metrics as opposed to summative norm-referenced standardized tests; and want to abandon the factory model put in place nearly a century ago. The challenges and problems identified are on target, and all but one of the solutions to the challenges and problems could be addressed in an ideal set of circumstances. But– alas– none of the solutions are attainable given the one irresolvable problem: state and federal policies…. and the League of Innovative Schools’ “solution” to this problem isn’t direct action, like refusing to participate in meaningless and counterproductive state assessments or targeting elected officials who block the path of true school reform. The Leagues solution is to identify “policy enablers” and lobby them.

Alas, lobbying “policy enablers” will do no good whatsoever given the recent passage of ESSA… because the newly adopted federal legislation not only perpetuates the testing regimen at a national level, it enables states who chose to do so to impose harsher sanctions on public schools and teachers based on standardized test results. The only way to bring high stakes standardized testing to an end is to elect local board members and state legislators who oppose the test-and-punish routine and support parents who chose to opt out of the tests. The 40-year-old me would have joined the League and advocated the kinds of “solutions” they propose… but the soon-to-be-69-year-old me senses that the opportunity for transforming schools is slipping away after 16 years of standardized testing….

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