Who said anything about reform?
Massive change is coming to public schools in New Jersey. I prefer the term “change” over the term “reform.”- The connotation of the term “reform” makes me cringe. “Change” speaks to opportunity, whereas “reform” speaks to repairing something broken. While certain components may be “broken,” our educational system, as a whole, is sound.
Regardless, the educational landscape is shifting. If we are not careful, we will find our systems fragmented, besieged by poorly implemented protocols to meet the quantum shifts around teacher evaluation (EE4NJ), curriculum development (Common Core Standards) and performance on student assessments (PARCC). Acronym envy, anyone?
I applaud Acting Commissioner Cerf for his willingness to look beyond a “one size fits all” model for schools and to minimize some requirements that have no bearing on student achievement and often bog high performing districts down in the minutiae of bureaucratic checklists. Change is coming- and it is fast approaching. A seismic shift in how we evaluate teachers is slated to be operational by September 1, 2013. The highway to new evaluation methods is littered with recent failed statewide attempts to impose more “effective" means of stratifying and categorizing teachers. I hope we learn from those car wrecks of implementation. I can only hope that we, as a state, are more deliberate in our implementation, more deliberate in our discourse, more deliberate in our collaboration with all components of the school community to operationalize this change. The decision by the New Jersey Department of Education to expand the pilot of new teacher evaluation models to thirty districts for the 2012-13 school year is another encouraging sign. We need time to reflect upon and learn from the mistakes of districts traveling down the path we will be traveling.
The Common Core is replacing previous New Jersey Standards, shifting academic expectations in sometimes dramatic ways (Just take a look at what the typical first grader will now be required to do. It will open your eyes).
Assessment will continue to evolve, dumping New Jersey’s annual High School Proficiency Assessment and adopting fully computerized tests that occur as many as five times each year.
Will all of these changes improve student achievement? Hmmm. That’s the multi-billion dollar question. We shall see. I DO believe that improved evaluation models will assure greater consistency in expectations from one administrator to the next. I DO know that students will be required to grapple with content we tackled at much later ages. And, I DO know that we will continue to focus on standardized assessments as the primary means of measuring student achievement and school district reputation while ignoring other more meaningful indicators of success.
“The times they are a changing.” - and that change will only be an opportunity if we work together as a school community to ensure a seamless implementation of these initiatives without sacrificing other important work in our schools. These new demands will require careful and deliberate development of systems that successfully integrate this work into our daily operations. It will be confusing time, but also an incredible opportunity to closely examine what we believe fosters exceptional education and to develop a shared consensus from all school stakeholders regarding that belief.
Here’s to change rather than reform.