I happened to catch Diane Ravitch on public television recently describing her positive reaction to the expressed desire of the Obama administration to eliminate the draconian punitive measures in No Child Left Behind. In her view, we aren’t helping students learn by threatening their teachers and administrators with school takeovers, staff firings, and the like.
“Everyone wants to improve,” she claimed, “what people need is data that helps them know what to improve.” She was advocating the “gold standard” of NAEP tests, and expressed great optimism in the power of data and reflection.
I believe that what Dr. Ravitch is saying is true. However, I think she’s leaving out a critical element - a method for improvement.
Deming used to say “a goal without a method is wishful thinking.” Yet, how many school systems and / or schools are you aware of that have in place an articulated methodology which is applied consistently every year to improve processes and results?
A methodology is a step-by-step standardized process, not a program, structure or initiative. Scientists use the scientific method to conduct experiments in order to control results. Surgeons follow proven-effective methods when they operate. Even artists use specific methods, whether working in oil, watercolor, or other media.
What could we achieve as a country if we could agree on a methodology for improvement in education just as scientists, surgeons and artists do? Instead, we continue to adopt program after program in the hope that the next will be “the one.”
Currently one third of our young people fail to graduate from high school; in urban areas it’s closer to 50%. As the Obama administration works on overhauling NCLB, I have to wonder - without a nationally accepted professional methodology for improvement, is the goal of all students successfully graduating still just wishful thinking?