February 22, 2022

"If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime."--Jack Kerouac

The following is post from my weekly newsletter, The Learner-Centered Leader. To subscribe to the newsletter you can click on the button below.

Too often, people complain about something, whether it’s a situation, an institution, or a governmental entity without offering solutions to the problem. Well today, dear friends, I am offering a solution to the problem facing public education. The problem is an overreliance by those who make education policy on testing and shaming of learners and schools.

The solution will create hubs of innovative practices across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

With this solution, learners will become more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

We can create a world where staff will be more than vessels to vomit information into the minds of learners.

So, here we go...

The Pennsylvania Department of Education needs to create the conditions to allow experimental school districts.

Now, before you start saying "that's what charter schools are supposed to do"...just stop it! The foundational principles of charter schools (that innovation can occur when the right circumstances are created) should be done in good ol' "regular" public schools. We don't need charters to be innovative. It seems to me that everyone should want regular public school districts to have the freedom that charter schools provide.

The solution of experimental school districts is based on three tenets.

1. Experiminatation can only be effective when it is a local solution to a problem faced LOCALLY. What works in the Austin Area School District in Potter County is different from what will work in the Penn-Trafford School District in Westmoreland County. Let's accept the obvious fact that a one size fits all approach to education policy simply does not work.

2. PDE will loosen the stranglehold that over-regulation and "accountability systems" have on public education. I just shared a document with superintendents that lists all of the regulations (State and Federal) that school districts must follow. The document is 74 pages long!! It seems to me that creating the conditions for experimental school districts can be done in 2 steps.
           First, learn to trust school boards and those people that work in education. That should be easy. Really, it should be. If you can't trust elected officials at the hyper-local level, why should anyone trust elected officials at the State level? Come on, school boards (although not perfect) know what the pulse of their community is like and can craft programs to meet their needs.
           Second, allowing pilot programs to flourish for 5 years untethered from some of the over regulations, will give a school the necessary time to prove that what they are doing is best for learners. If their program works, great. If it does not, then how can it be adjusted?

3. There will be 25 school districts vying to become experimental school districts. Their application must reflect the outcomes the program is addressing, the method in which they will address the outcomes, and they must be willing to publish the results on what they learned at the end of their program. By the way, they must also list the specific regulations they are seeking relief from following during the course of their program.

There you go...a solution that is doable...IF there is courageous leadership among State policymakers.

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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