Policy Change is not the Only Path to School Reform

fordham instituteA recent opinion blog, written by Michael J. Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, discusses the education sector’s exhaustion with policies on education reform. Mr. Petrilli writes:

It strikes me, and several others with whom I’ve spoken in recent months, that education reform is at a turning point. It’s not just the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which sends key decisions back to the states. It’s bigger than that—a sense of exhaustion with policy as the primary driver of educational change.

To be sure, there are many policy battles still to fight and win in almost every state: to ensure that school and teacher accountability do not disappear, to defend and expand high-quality charter schools and other forms of parental choice, to do something about chronically low-performing schools, to see that high-achieving poor kids don’t go ignored, and much more.

It’s as critical as ever that advocacy organizations attract the funding and talent to ensure that kid-centered laws and regulations are put in place.

Getting the right policies enacted and implemented can do a world of good. But it can’t do it all. And it’s certainly not the only way—or even the best way—to change practice for the better. In The Missing Half of School Reform, Rick Hess argued:

While public policy can make people do things, it cannot make people do those things well. This is especially salient in education for two reasons. First, state and federal policy makers do not run schools; they merely write laws and regulations telling school districts what principals and teachers ought to do. And second, schooling is a complex, highly personal endeavor, which means that what happens at the individual level—the level of the teacher and the student—is the most crucial factor in separating failure from success. In education, there is often a vast distance between policy and practice.

Following are five ideas beyond policy change to reform our schools and encourage effective practice. They are listed in order from the most radical to the least:

  1. Build a new system via charter schools, education savings accounts, or similar mechanisms.
  1. Spur “disruptive innovations” that target teachers, parents, and/or students directly.
  1. Invest in leadership.
  1. Professionalize the education system by identifying evidence-based practices and developing mechanisms for getting them into the schools.
  1. Develop and sell new products into the education system.

For the full piece, see http://edexcellence.net/articles/policy-change-is-not-the-only-path-to-school-reform