We Get To Say We Do

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Steve Jobs

Today, Steve Jobs and Co. blew the roof off the house with his WWDC conference today, where he introduced some mega-updates to his software on all current Apple devices. For those of us who have been buying any new devices made for mass consumption, our jaw continues to drop that Moore’s Law (the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years) has yet to fail, which is why cameras get sharper, TVs get flatter, and our phones become more feature-filled. This is all great for technology as a whole, but it boils the blood of even the most mild-mannered of us. By the time we decide on a device, a better one is reportedly on the shelves in a matter of weeks.

And that’s how I feel about these educational models now.

A typical conversation between principals who have to acquiesce to the whims of their district leaders sounds less like Sparta, more like high school:

Principal A: “Wow, we just got this brand new education program for our school. It’s going to be fantastic!”
Principal B: “Oh, that’s alright, but my teachers have that already. What we’re about to get will validate the work we’ve done for the last 10 years”
Principal A: “Oh, wonderful, but our teachers already bought into a foundation of great pedagogy from some of the greatest education speakers of our time!”
Principal B: “Right, I feel that way too, because my teachers brought in UBD and use data on top of the data they already had to continue the work they have to get done!”
Principal A: “Wonderful. Did you know that Heidi Hayes Jacobs came to our school and told us that we had a wonderful curriculum?”
Principal B: “Great, but we’re doing great things. We’re one of the first schools that says we do Elmore [instructional rounds].”
Principal A: “Oh yeah? Well we do Elmore and Danielson.”
Principal B: “Is that so? Well, we do Elmore and Danielson and differentiated instruction.”
Principal A: “Mmm hmm! Did I forget to say that we do Elmore and Danielson and differentiated instruction and Singapore Math and the Santa Cruz model!”
Principal B: “That sucks for me. We could only afford to do all of that and the Teachers’ College model.”

At this point, it’s worse than we thought. Teachers often sit there like the children of a broken marriage, hoping when one or the other will just stop the arguing so they can get back to work. Half the time, we’re wondering, “Who cares about any of these people? Are the children learning?” The other half, we’re wondering, “Does this mean that the thing we just started doing has to change again because a random outsider said so?” And the answer is a mix of no and yes, depending on what day we’re walking in.

For the last decade, teachers have raised the issue of bringing in programs like America’s Choice, some that have had good effects, but mostly that have had deleterious effects. It’s not necessarily that people like Danielson, Elmore, or Marzano are themselves wrong for education or evil on some deep-seated level. It’s that when people execute their systems, they rarely take into account the teacher expertise locally and don’t model very often what these ivory tower speakers have to say.

Now, if a principal said, “Well, I’m doing Freire, Dewey, and Darling-Hammond,” then we would be in business. But instead, we’re talking about band aids that, once these people retire from their work, will be gone like the other programs the way our Gameboys and big flip phones have given way to Nintendo DSs and iPhones. They get in the way of the things we know actually work: authentic assessment, teacher expertise, appropriate and equitable resources for schools, consistent professional development, and reduction of child poverty.

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with our devices right now, ladies and gentlemen. Sometimes, we just want a better battery.

Jose, who likes surprises …