Practitioners and Practice

By Mike Ward

Comedian Paul Reiser has a routine in which he explores Americans’ inordinate faith in “them” and what “they” say. “They” say it’s going to rain. “They” say if you cross your eyes for too long, they’ll get stuck that way. “They” say we’re in for another active hurricane season.

Think about this as it relates to education. “They” say phonics-based instruction in reading is a superior approach. “They” say whole-language strategies are most effective. “They” say blended approaches will work best. “They” say 85 percent of kids will need at least some postsecondary education.

After working as a teacher, principal, and local superintendent, I served as North Carolina’s state superintendent from 1997 to 2004, a period of great change in terms of accountability, standards, and reform. Today, as a university professor who prepares school administrators, I’m concerned about the lack of depth, foresight, and analysis regarding profound, significant, and sustained education reform at the point of implementation -- the school. I’m concerned about the over-reliance on what “they” say and on what “they” decide are the best solutions for our biggest challenges.

Teachers and other school-level practitioners often think that someone up the school district’s food chain is -- and for that matter, should be -- sorting this stuff out. Board members, superintendents, and principals are so involved with what they are doing that they often do not believe they have the time to plan how to do it better.

There is an ill-founded assumption that some people somewhere else -- “they” -- are sorting out the big issues while administrators and practitioners tend to the daily business of running schools. Yet, the absence of strategic, global thinking is hindering the breakthrough solutions and innovations that are necessary for public schools to remain viable, and more important, for students to be served in the most effective ways possible.

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