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Queries and Replies

Replies to Query:


As we adopt new standards and develop courses of study...

Reply 1:

Your note raises a lot of interesting questions in my mind. One is this: In your experience, what is the time-frame that teachers, administrators, parents, or school boards have for reform? How long do you think it will take for the system to gain coherence, and is that longer than most people think, or about in the same ballpark? When I think of all the elements that have to come into alignment with the new pedagogy, and the new scope-and-sequence and frameworks, it seems to me that the whole team (people in every part of a system) need to keep their eye firmly on the ball for a long time, perhaps a decade or more. Is this really possible?


Brian Drayton, 6/18/1999

Reply 2:

Your question and Brian's reply can be seen in a perspective of cultural change . One of my favorite "futurists" is Jennifer James, cultural anthropologist on the west coast, who claims that we are going through a time of tremendous cultural change, much of which people are unaware of, except for heightened uncertainty and fear. In those times, appeals to tradition, such as back to the past, can give folks back the comfort that things can be the way they used to be, even if they can't. Witness not just the reading wars and the math wars, but also Iran and Afganistan. In North Carolina, many of the business leaders have been very helpful in helping school leaders articulate the need for change, esp. what is needed in the workplace. Our district has used a long term strategy, starting with our board, of engaging staff and community in considering what the future demands of graduates, not necessarily what made us successful in our past. Not sure what to suggest except Big Bill Haywood's last words before he was hung: "Don't mourn, organize!" In this case, our best allies are the people in business who most directly see the mismatch between what schools, including many administrators, teachers and parents, think is top priority, vs what business needs when they hire young people. They are the best chance to counteract the mixture of nostalgia, contradictory solutions and quick fixes which are coming out of many legislatures, which I think means people are anxious about their schools and children, but don't really know what to do but feel like they have to do something. We have faced some similar issues, tho not as drastic as the politically organized math wars in California. We are working hard with the state education agency and a consortium of districts to develop a balanced assessment system, which goes beyond the state's multiple choice accountability testing. Our hope is to involve SERVE, the federal lab, in helping us conduct research showing that the approaches we are advocating produce superior results on both multiple choice and performance assessments. Seems like that is part of the challenge you are discussing: how to collect convincing evidence that reform-based strategies do not sacrifice the knowledge and skills on the way to teaching for understanding. Sounds like a lot of fear and uncertainty out there!


Mack McCary, 6/26/1999