In business, we know that organizations are structured to get the outcomes they produce. This is certainly true with the educational process that drives public schools all over the nation. The educational process is structured to support the objectives of earning grades and producing test scores.
In the case of grades, it is not so much a matter whether the grade is an A or an F rather that there is a grade to report. This suggests that we have completed our job for that grading period or semester and now it is time to move on. What do we know at the end of this process? We know that some students learned the material and some did not. We also know that there is a big group of students in the middle and we simply cannot be sure whether they have learned or not.
The fundamental question public school teachers and other professional educators must ask is, “are grades and test scores the outcomes we really want for our students? Most educators will respond that, “no, our true objective is to help kids learn.” The more astute educators, after taking a moment to think about what their job should be, would add that their goal is not only to help students learn but also to help them learn sufficiently well that they will be able to apply what they have learned in the face of real-life situations throughout the balance of their lives.
Those real-life situations might be applying what they have learned in past lessons or classes to subsequent lessons and classes throughout their rest of their academic careers; whether primary, secondary, vocational, or post-secondary. The real life situations might also be the application of the knowledge and skills individuals have mastered to earning a living; to fulfilling one’s civic responsibilities; to helping society find solutions to a never-ending stream of economic, ecological, political, and sociological challenges; to the mastering their unique crafts; to exploring the mysteries of science, theology, or philosophy; to finding joy through our relationships with other people; or, ultimately, to the never-ending quest for wisdom.
If educators could all agree that their purpose should be to help their students learn and master subject matter sufficiently well that they can then utilize what they have learned, the next question would be is the educational process structured in such a way that it will support us in that shared mission?
Questions we might ask would include:
Should the educational process be structured so that it starts every student off from the same point of embarkation or should we identify a unique starting point based upon the level of preparation and motivation that the child brings with them on their first day of school?
Should all students be guided to a common destination or should their destinations be determined by their unique talents and interests, along the way?
Should all students be expected to move along an academic path at the same velocity or should each be guided down the path at their own best speed so that no child is forced to move forward until they are ready and no child is asked to wait, idly, while others strive to catch up?
Should the educational process be structured in such a way that kids are evaluated against the performance of their classmates or should it be structured to support our efforts to evaluate them against their own progress?
Should the educational process be structured in such a way that some kids must, inevitably, fail or should it be structured in such a way that kids are taught that success is a process that all can learn?
Professional educators can, no doubt, add to this list so that we can determine whether or not the existing educational process is acceptable within the context of our mission, vision, and values.
If we were to determine that the current educational process is unacceptable, our attention should immediately shift to questions about how can the process be re-engineered to produce the outcomes to which we have all agreed and committed? In other words, what do we intend to do about it?”
Educators must also understand that if we default to passively accept a reality that is less than we feel we want or deserve then we are also accepting responsibility for the status quo and we need to stop complaining. Ultimately, we have the power to either accept or alter the reality in which we live. In the case of altering the educational process, no matter how daunting the challenge may seem, it is simply a matter of choice. Not someone else’s choice! Our choice!