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Professional Opinion

When I was young, I loved puzzles. My favorite childhood toys were the Rubik’s Cube and the wooden tangram set my grandmother gave me. I’d request logic problems over bedtime stories from my father. He preferred withholding puzzles until morning to prevent me from staying up all night solving them.

For many, an instinctual reflex is to marry the term “college town” with images from the movie Animal House. While stories of youthful exuberance make for interesting water cooler conversation, they serve to conceal real opportunities for public schools to collaborate with postsecondary institutions.

After more than a decade of writing about educational accountability, I have come to a conclusion that we can't wait for Washington, or for that matter, any state capital, to get accountability right. The most innovative models for educational accountability will happen in districts that are willing to say to the president and secretary of education, "We do not fear accountability. In fact, we will be more accountable than any federal or state program has ever required. We will report not only our test scores, but we will also report on the other 90 percent of the work we have been doing.

"Yeah, but I don't have enough time."

"Yeah, but I can't do that and cover my content."

"Yeah, but what if it doesn't work?"

"Yeah, but that's not how it was when I went to school."

What do you hear when people say, "Yeah, but?" Resistance? If you listen differently, you can hear opportunity.

Among the many challenges facing district leaders, student safety can be particularly difficult as new technologies allow for instant and constant communication. Recent tragic events, most notably the suicide of a Rutgers University student after an intimate sexual encounter was broadcast live via the Internet without his knowledge or permission, have brought increased attention and awareness of the danger of misuse of these technologies. But what can school districts do to protect students and staff without violating their constitutional rights?

"Readiness" is in. But are educators prepared for the implications?

The push for common core standards—coupled with the distressing numbers of college students who need remedial courses and the dissatisfaction among business leaders with the preparation of high school graduates—has ignited the institutional and political movement to tackle the "readiness problem."

There is nothing new about the fact that school superintendents come and go. Some retire, and some are recruited into other school districts or opportunities. But let's face it, some are let go.

Ask any random college educated American adult to recall the processes of cell respiration so painstakingly memorized in freshman biology, or to rehearse the dates of the Progressive Era that had been absorbed as part of the standard American history survey course, and you're likely to receive a blank stare, proving something that cognitive scientists have been shouting from the rooftops: Coursework focused on memorization of a broad body of content knowledge will not produce the sort of learning that lasts.

I've been personally and professionally blessed to have had the opportunity to serve some very diverse and large urban school communities in several states as superintendent of schools. These varied locales have given me the unique opportunity to look at the world of system reform through a broader range of lenses. These multiple perspectives have provided me with insights into the role state policies and infrastructure play in the pace at which systemic reforms can be implemented and accelerated.

You can't walk away from the movie Waiting for Superman and not be convinced that public education in the United States is a dismal failure, that it's the sole fault of the teacher unions, and that the only solution to this obvious crisis is more charter schools. Wrong on all counts. The film depicts the classic "simple solution to a complex problem" by featuring a few examples of successful charter schools. It delivers a huge but unwarranted condemnation of the nation's public schools.

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