Worried about Continuity and Stability of Schools

We received the following letter from a business leader in Jeffco.  Also the father of 3 children in Jeffco, he has significant investment in our Jeffco Schools.  We have heard from a few business leaders mirroring the solid points in this letter; a few to summarize what we should all be thinking about –

I’m worried about the continuity and stability of their schools when principals (and other staff) leave for districts with Boards of Education that put students first rather than political ideology.  I’m worried that they will go to college or the workforce without the skills they will need to succeed.  From a business perspective, this will have significant and potentially deleterious effects on our economy long term. 

 

What Business Needs From Education

 

In my 20-plus years in the professional world, primarily in Data, Content and Knowledge Management and Systems Integrations arenas, there’s one constant:  it’s always changing.  From unstructured to structured data, from small data sets to Big Data, technology and innovation are growing more complex at a pace equaling and sometimes exceeding Moore’s Law.  I’m constantly learning.

 

Over the years, I’ve interviewed numerous candidates for various positions in this space.  There are three important qualities I look for (in addition to basic competency in the field):

Ability to think outside the box

Ability and desire to be lifelong learners

Perseverance

 

It might sound like typical business jargon, but these three qualities often have higher predictability for career success than knowing how to create an algorithm for a Fibonacci sequence by memory or knowing the best method for storing and retrieving object graphs.  I can teach prospective candidates algorithms and best practices.  I can’t teach someone how to learn, nor can I teach them to think critically, and I definitely can’t give them dogged determination.  All three of these qualities are essential for innovation, and that’s where education comes into play.

 

One of our core strengths today is our amazing ability to innovate and harness creative energy.  It’s the ability to persevere and learn from many failures to finally arrive at success. Our economic growth is predicated on our ability to continually test and implement new ideas. This isn’t something standardized tests can measure.  Nevertheless, it can be taught.

 

Today, school reformers overemphasize assessment as a means of measuring achievement.  It’s an oversimplification to suggest that a student’s performance on a battery of standardized tests can predict success in business.  Certainly, it can measure the amount of information they can effectively store and retrieve at a point in time.  What it can’t measure is their ability to know how to learn, or to think about concepts in new and creative ways.

 

The current wave of school reform assumes that measuring and evaluating teacher effectiveness through value-added measures, vis-a-vis student assessment scores, will ultimately improve student achievement by raising the bar for teachers and weeding out those who can’t cut it[1].  Of course, teachers, under greater pressure to elevate scores, are spending more time preparing students for these tests (let alone the amount of time administering the tests).  They’re spending less time on subjects that encourage creative thinking, investigation and synthesis of concepts and facts to arrive and new ideas[2].

 

For teachers, this is demoralizing.  Increasingly, we’re hearing about experienced, skilled educators leaving the profession because they  are evaluated in part by test scores.  As they leave, they will be replaced by younger, less experienced teachers.  As it stands today, nearly 50% of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years[3].  Losing seasoned, veteran teachers who have been in the profession longer than 5 years will have a greater negative impact on student achievement.  It just won’t scale.

 

We haven’t accounted for the unintended consequences that constant testing will have on our kids.  We already know that test fatigue is a real thing, especially for students in middle and high school.  But more importantly, with higher priority on testing what students “know” is a Pyrrhic trade off for what they could learn.

 

Parents in Jeffco need to be aware that this process is underway in our district.  The current Board of Education’s majority is applying tactics that directly affect their children’s education.  As a parent of three in Jeffco Public Schools, I’m not worried about my kids’ TCAP or CMAS scores.  I’m worried that these scores will force good teachers to leave if they are not “high enough”.  I’m worried about the continuity and stability of their schools when principals leave for districts with Boards of Education that put students first rather than political ideology.  I’m worried that they will go to college or the workforce without the skills they will need to succeed.

 

From a business perspective, this will have significant and potentially deleterious effects on our economy long term.  The highest paying jobs and careers in the future will require today’s students to have the three qualities of creativity, continuous learning and perseverance in large doses[4].  Testing won’t measure or teach that.  Even today, I don’t place very much weight on a candidate’s GPA, ACT or SAT scores.  The best and the brightest are the ones who can adapt and evolve with the business trends and are willing to take risks (and sometimes fail) trying out new ideas. 

 

[1] Not to mention that they wrongly assume that low test scores must be a function poor teachers.  There is a large body of evidence showing that socio-economic status, race, gender and language proficiency are far more predictive variables for test outcomes.

[2] Let me be absolutely clear: My numerous conversations with my children’s teachers and principals about this topic consistently show this isn’t because teachers don’t have the desire or ability to teach or encourage students these skills, it’s because they don’t have the time or latitude to incorporate them into their lesson plans and ensure that students learn the material that will be included in the assessments.

[3] Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/03/08/high-teacher-turnover-rates-are-a-big-problem-for-americas-public-schools/

[4] Source: http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2012/09/10/where-the-jobs-will-be-in-2020?int=986a08