Swickard: Assuming our way to school change

© 2017 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.   Let us look at assumptions. They are the building blocks of change. American public schools provide an example. Not everyone agrees that they are broken; some just think they should be improved.
            As to public schools: in the past and now, there are calls for educational change by political leaders wanting to make political hay and get votes. Some say we need to innovate while others say we must reform the schools. What is the difference?
            Innovation assumes things can be better. Reform assumes things are so bad that they must be changed. Now assumptions do no harm so long as no one acts upon them. Unfortunately, people are acting. There are many attempts to reform schools when what is needed is innovation.
            Worse yet, many attempts to reform schools are not tied to research. One of the most problematic assumptions people make is that educational research is not essential. The truth is that any school change not research-based will be a disaster.
            Want proof? Every politically driven reform movement in the last fifty years has not been research-based. Constantly some politician has an idea for changing schools and everyone jumps on to the fad.
            The change may not make things better or the change will make things worse. It is like when an airplane is flying along and the pilot finds something isn’t working quite right. The pilot may fiddle with it to the point the aircraft quits flying completely.
            The standards and accountability movement is not research-based. Someone thought, hey, let’s try this. The public schools are busy accounting for themselves without a clear notion what it means when the accountability numbers vary.
            The general assumption is that the schools did something wrong when the numbers are poor. However, research assures us that schools can only teach students who want to learn. No one is attending to this truth.
            So, what is the accountability movement really measuring? The school’s effect is comingled with out-of-school influences. Do the people in the accountability reform movement realize this? No, they assume poor scores are automatically the school’s fault.
            A change should be made in the way we change our schools. Since students ultimately benefit or are harmed by educational change, those political leaders changing the schools should have to put something in escrow before making sweeping changes.
            Then, if they are right, we should reward them well. If they are wrong, they should pay a penalty. Make them risk their retirement. Then we will see how sold they are on school uniforms or quarter hour math ladders or whatever new fad.
            There would be a rush to use research. It would then be more dependable than just driving down the road, running over a turtle, and thinking that Flat Turtle Math Programs are the answer.
            That is not to say that the public schools are not ripe for innovation. Schools can be made better or worse. It completely depends upon the research assumptions. And please ignore the political school change fads.