Hosting Colleagues from Abroad
Conversations on School Reform
By Ryan A. Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
I’m thinking ahead to what I will share with a group of overseas educators visiting Indiana State University this week and next. My talk will be on the subject of school reform in Indiana and America.
Thanks to my colleague Dr. Will Barratt for this opportunity.
As former Chairperson for a State Department of Education’s high school reform team prior to joining the ISU faculty, I have some perspectives “at-the-ready,” yet I’m very much hoping that in your reading of my points below, you will involve yourself in this week’s conversation by sending me an e-mail with some additional points to mention, based on your expertise and what you are experiencing, first-hand, in our K-12 schools.
I will even quote you and identify your position and school if you like. Please consider!
A few items finding their way into my PowerPoint slides are as follows:
HURDLES TO REFORM
That a soft bigotry of low expectations has existed, at times and places, in America.
That federal reforms are oftentimes, great moral and ethical initiatives, yet can be prescribed to the point of ineffectiveness.
That lists of failing schools sometimes align more with the socioeconomic status of students and families, than with the quality of education in classrooms.
That so much time and energy is spent comparing test scores of charter schools to those of traditional schools that little energy is spent comparing (and learning from) the innovative educational practices in both.
That America continues to have the Revolving Door of the Principalship and the QVC of the Superintendency. This hurts schools.
That the American high school is oftentimes more culturally rooted in its athletic reputation, than in its academic identity.
That school wellness is oftentimes overlooked, and further … misunderstood.
One of my areas of scholarship interest is school reimagination. School reform is part of that larger arena of possibility. Please take a look at my categories of reform below, gleaned from my reading and experiences. Will you let me know if I’m missing anything or am off-the-mark in the descriptions presented?
Pedagogically Mindful Reform has touted the necessity of fostering rigor, relevance, and relationships in the teaching/learning experience. Of the three, relationships seem the most difficult to assess as to their strengths and utilitarian value.
Coalition-Generated Reform has championed the need for equity and efficiency in K-12 preparation of schoolchildren. Much of this has resulted in the proliferation of charter schools.
Market-Based Reform has touted the benefits that may come about to the larger educational arena with choice and competition accorded to consumers of educational solutions. This has done more to “get our attention” than it has to bring about true reform, as even legislative autonomy has not guaranteed creativity.
Politically Positioned Reform has demanded higher levels of competence from those entrusted to work in a system in need of reinvention and requires that schools be more accountable. This has resulted in improved systems in part, yet it has also unintentionally created disincentives to work with our most needy students. It has driven both “good” and “bad” from our profession.
Competition-Driven Reform has reframed the notion of what we consider to be the definition of a student, from that of client and customer, to that of product in a global marketplace. Originally seen as a callous perspective (“What do you mean, students are products!?!”), the “end game” of enhanced qualities of lives resulting from a focus on robust skill development in students has caused us to re-think what we value and how we define a student’s role in the educational equation.
WILL YOU CONSIDER?
As the week moves forward toward my Friday presentation, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reflections, and even reactions to what I have written and what I plan to share.
I’m hoping that you will help keep me grounded as I strive for an accurate representation of this American phenomenon called SCHOOL REFORM for those visiting from overseas.
Thanks, as always, for your help!
Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (812) 237-8624. Please consider offering him some perspectives for presentation and scholarship.