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LTE: It is time to reform the school reform movement

Without embracing change and moving beyond the status quo, necessary progress is not possible.

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In 1961, President John F. Kennedy said to Congress, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.” In the six decades since, our country and world has experienced significant transformation. Personal computers, the Internet, DNA sequencing, the International Space Station, mobile phones, MRI machines, artificial intelligence, and so many other discoveries, inventions, and ideas have completely advanced and impacted the ways in which we live, work, and learn. Yet, the tools and processes in which we measure progress in education have remained largely stagnant.

America’s strength and success comes from our ability to not only adapt to shifting environments, but to thrive when presented with new challenges, possibilities, and opportunities. However, the actions of some in Colorado and beyond have worked to stifle the growth and momentum of our public schools in order to advance political and ideological interests. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the movement to “reform” our public schools.

The interesting thing about the word “reform” is that it implies the implementation of ideas and efforts that are designed to transform our schools for the better. Yet, a core of the reform agenda is to protect and maintain an antiquated school accountability system that not only misleads the public about student and school performance, but impedes a vision for public education that would not only advance student achievement and relevant opportunities for students, but also strengthen America’s position in our complex, globalized, and highly competitive world.

At the heart of what makes our communities and America great are our people – their creativity, ingenuity, innovative mindsets, curiosity, resilience, empathy, and drive. These are the durable, critical-thinking and advanced skills that we should be promoting among all students in Colorado. However, we know that what gets measured is what gets done, and is what determines how and where resources are allocated. Our current accountability model is designed to measure only outputs of student performance and does not account for the quality of inputs such as the quality of programming, innovation, and instructional practices known to advance student achievement and success. When a standardized test is the dominant measure of school performance, based on the findings of a recent third-party audit of Colorado’s school accountability system, the scores are statistically significantly lower among the student sub-groups of those living in poverty and higher percentages of students with disabilities. Even more telling is that this is true even in schools and districts with the highest accreditation ratings.

I don’t believe we are measuring all of the right things, or fully leveraging our investments in public education in order to drive innovation and the skills that our economy requires in this modern era. The measures of schoo​​l accountability have gone widely unchanged for decades, while technology has advanced at an exponential rate, and as other industries in society continue to evolve to meet the rapid pace of innovation.

With a heightened statewide and national focus on strengthening our public schools, why are the same groups who advocate for reform also advocating for the status quo regarding our accountability system? These mixed messages are confusing and contradictory, and, I believe, have been one of the greatest obstacles to the advancement of a public education system that meets the needs and demands of our modern society.

Without embracing change and moving beyond the status quo, necessary progress is not possible. In order for a strong vision for public education to become a reality, we must advance some of the structures around public education that have been in place for decades. If we are not willing to have these critical conversations, we need to stop mistakenly believing that we are successfully preparing our students for the future.

In 1961, Kennedy also said, “Our requirements for world leadership, our hopes for economic growth, and the demands of citizenship itself in an era such as this, all require the maximum development of every young American’s capacity.” This should be the foundation for how we define the purpose of our public education system, and how we ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education that will give them a strong competitive advantage for success. It is time to reform the school reform movement, and come together to create a new vision for public education in Colorado that will ensure a greater return on our investments in our children and our future.