Dr. Randy Pausch, in his landmark book The Last Lecture spoke of brick walls as indicators of how much we wanted something. If we see them as excuses to stop, we may not have really wanted to achieve the goal. I wonder if he also meant the brick walls of our schools being resistant to the winds of change. We really have all of the content knowledge we need. The question then is, do we have the intent to do what’s right?
A study by Mussio and Associates looked at the impact of birth month. Their conclusion – December babies are less likely to attain benchmark standards at grades 4 and 7 on time, and are less likely to graduate on time. I don’t think I’m the only educator who already knew this. In my province of British Columbia, the graduation rate (defined as six year completion) continues to hover around 80 percent for all students and around 50 percent for Aboriginal students. This also is not news. We know that our most disadvantaged learners struggle with a two month summer break and come back for the start of the next school year having lost much of the gain attained in the previous school year. Yet we still run a school system on the agrarian calendar and talk about how this works for the majority. We know about the impact of poverty and of children living in disadvantaged homes and still resist making substantive change to the system that will address these issues.
There are pockets of brilliance that exist across all systems. These should be the norm and not the exception to a healthy education system. When one of the schools in our district had an incoming class of kindergarten students who screened significantly below standards for kindergarten readiness, we didn’t shrug our shoulders and say, “Let’s hope they catch up”. Instead, the teacher, with support from district staff, embarked on direct instruction with the intent to close the gap. By the end of the school year, the students were kindergarten ready. They could not be abandoned in grade 1 and so the process must continue.
The point is that we have a wealth of information at our disposal and we are not using it to create the systemic change that is required for today’s learners and tomorrow’s community members. We cannot continue to address the needs of the future with the unmodified recipe of the past. I cringe when I hear educators say they are tired of the assessment conversation or hearing about personalized learning or that RTI is the latest “flavor of the month”. My response to that is simple – you are having the wrong conversation! Instead of dismissing a topic, shift the dialogue to student success. Make it about what we collectively need to do in altering the inputs to improve the outcomes. Look at the impact of substantive practices like RTI that have the capacity to almost triple the rate of student learning (based on John Hattie’s research which indicates RTI has an effect size of 1.07).
So, armed with the knowledge of what needs to be done and engaged in the right conversation—are you ready to change education?