Why “Transformation” Does Not Happen In Public Education

I hear a lot about “transformation” in schools. I know there are many well-meaning people that want schools to “transform”…heck, I am one of those! But as I have mentioned in earlier newsletters, “transformation” becomes a “blur word” if it is not defined.In other words, what does “transformation” mean to you?Once you have the definition out of the way, you now must consider the structures that are in play that will need to be overcome to have transformation in education.This graphic reflects the reality of the current structure of schools as it relates to transformation.

The current structure of education is linear. There are inputs into the schooling process which lead to outputs. School reformers and policymakers spend an inordinate amount of time considering the inputs and outputs…and rightfully so.What is not considered enough is the impact of the inputs on the middle section…the whole thing called schooling.The inputs of regulations and State and Federal mandates have an impact on how schooling is done…and that makes sense. No one is saying there should not be regulations and mandates.What we have to consider is the unintended consequence of these inputs.Many times, the inputs are also loaded by policymakers require solutions on a state-wide basis.When asked by reformers and policymakers to “transform” their school, most school leaders are going to look at the “input” section first and then determine what is possible. By doing this simple act, the school leader has severely limited their possible transformation project.They may see that “seat time” is required, and they can’t do anything that impacts that.They may see that course credits are required.In Pennsylvania, the document listing all of the mandates is 74 pages long, so there are a lot of opportunities to limit your transformation. 

A New Model For Transformation In Schools

In this model, there is a constant movement toward transformation. This model still has inputs on one end, but immediately after inputs are grassroots ideas for transformation.Grassroots indicates what is obvious to everyone…the needs, resources, and solutions in the Philadelphia School District are different than the needs, resources, and solutions in the Salisbury-Elk Lick School District in Somerset County.The bottom line: each school district can create its own innovations.On the other end of the spectrum, the grassroots transformation leads to a sustainable output. Sustainable in a way that makes sense for the local school and community in which it is being implemented.In the center of the graph is the most important aspect…collaboration and shared responsibility. In any transformational effort, schools must collaborate with various partners to ensure the transformation occurs. In that collaboration, there is a shared responsibility for what (and how) the transformational project will work.Throughout the process, there is always the concept of transformation, but the transformation is within the context of constant improvement and based on local, grassroots needs.

About 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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