There are Better Options

Join us this week and next as Mass Insight Research Fellow Danielle Allen blogs about exploring educational innovations and making good policy choices, such as aligning 6-12 instruction, and using blending learning in the classroom.  Below is post 1 of 3.

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Rarely in education do we think comprehensively about the totality of interconnected decisions schools – the principle organizing unit of the system – need to make in order to deliver a high-quality education to all students.  We think in fragments.  With the passage of NCLB in 2001, the entire country, following the lead of Massachusetts which passed similar legislation almost a decade earlier, pushed aside “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and made a bet that accountability and assessment would drive quality improvements in education.  In the latter half of the past 10 years, our focus on human capital has led to the emergence of teacher residency programs, substantive changes to CBAs, and performance-based teacher evaluations.  Today, blended learning and the adoption of Common Core standards threaten to disrupt a range of instructional practices.

Each of these movements – unintended consequences aside – represents progress.  But for a school, especially a historically underperforming one, these changes often feel like an onslaught of haphazardly designed and contradictory efforts.  We have to do better.  Supporting decisions that lead to improved student outcomes must follow good policy choices.  For example, recruiting a high quality English teacher, placing him or her in a high needs classroom, and giving him or her sufficient time within the school schedule to implement needed interventions for struggling students requires an interconnected set of leadership, instructional, and operational decisions.  Schools need help understanding how these linked decisions are derived from policy and put into practice.

Strong policy change, whether it be around assessment and accountability, human capital, or blended learning, alone are not sufficient to address our educational challenges.  As one of my colleagues, Matt Bachand says, “There are no silver bullets, but there are better options.”  We’re busy at MIE teasing out what those better options are and the set of supporting decisions that ensure successful implementation.  Our work is not about creating more noise in schools, but rather about integrating and simplifying the efforts of schools in ways that ensure every student is college ready.

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Danielle Allen is a Research Fellow at Mass Insight Education and a joint degree candidate at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Stanford Graduate School of Business.