January 4, 2016
DENVER — A new white paper from McREL International urges education leaders and policy makers to rethink the current, top-down approach to reform and consider what might happen if we improved our schools from the inside out.
In The Road Less Traveled: Changing Schools from the Inside Out, McREL President and CEO Bryan Goodwin shows how the past three decades of education reform—in which teachers and school leaders nationwide have shouldered the burden of large-scale initiatives such as the standards-based movement, No Child Left Behind, and the Common Core State Standards—have done little to change student outcomes. Despite the good intentions of these efforts to improve learning for all students, today’s achievement levels remain stagnant, gaps persist, and the U.S. continues to lag behind on international assessments.
The reason for this, Goodwin writes, is not the initiatives themselves but the way we carry them out—with a heavy-handed, top-down approach to reform that has not only not improved achievement but has led to increased stress among educators and has many fleeing the profession altogether.
An inside-out approach, he explains, instead “puts student engagement, motivation, and true problem-solving abilities at the heart of everything we do”—creating a different, more powerful outcome for all students that sets them up for lifelong success: curiosity.
Curiosity, Goodwin says, is linked with many other desirable student characteristics—motivation, passion, engagement, growth-mindedness, inquiry—but what may be most powerful about it is that it’s not difficult to develop in students, and most teachers and school leaders are already familiar with the practices that allow it to flourish.
The paper outlines a few key, consistent actions schools systems can take to approach reform from the inside out:
- Develop shared understanding about the moral purpose of schooling
- Put student curiosity, engagement, and motivation at the center of learning rather than focusing on teacher performance
- Build on bright spots in current practice and teacher strengths
- Develop leaders as change agents and questioners
- Fail forward with rapid-cycle improvement
- Re-discover peer coaching
- Reframe the goal, balancing standardized achievement tests with performance assessments
Goodwin acknowledges possible barriers to this approach but also highlights examples of schools and districts that have already successfully used it. In the end, he says, “We loathe the constraints of our current reform paradigm, yet underestimate our power to walk away from it”—and experience what could be the freedom of a new, more engaging system of schooling.
The free paper can be downloaded from the McREL website.
McREL International is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving education for all students through applied research, product development, and professional service to teachers and education leaders. For more information, contact Roger Fiedler, director of communications, at 800.858.6830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.