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They’ve Got It… Finally Got It… Almost

It’s frustrating to see someone close to the answer he/she is seeking.. but unable to see that what’s being looked for is closer than they thought.

Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s experienced education writer, who has admitted to being “obsessed” with trying to make sense of schooling by focusing on it’s high school end, shifted his attention and in his  8/30/10 column, titled: It’s time to stop obsessing over the achievement gap.–  concluded:

“Why not work at raising achievement for every child, in every demographic category, instead of obsessing about the gap?

I don’t blame politicians or journalists for enabling this deceptive mindset.  Everyone does it. It is woven into the way we think about schools, from the President on down.

But that doesn’t mean it makes any sense, or that we shouldn’t try to rethink school progress in a more useful way.”

Apparently frustrated after years of trying to help readers make sense from connecting dots among things that seemed to work…(but not for long), his dissatisfaction finally led him to dig deeper into the connected work of schooling to confront —

(1) the nature of the “problem” at the core….(a mindset that doesn’t enable understanding how simultaneously to raise achievement for every child, in every demographic category while it must also effectively respond to the special needs of some.)

(2) where the root of the problem lies …(in “everyone’s” mindset –the interwoven way within which everyone from the President on down” thinks about schools.)  And

(3)  the only way to solve it …(rethink school progress in a way not only makes sense, but is “useful.”)

No wonder he’s frustrated..  He got Covey right, but not Deming.

(Covey: “First understand.” Before you can solve a problem, you must understand it.

Deming: “By what method?” Noble aims, goals and purposes are not enough if you don’t have ways to get you there.)

If it doesn’t make sense to keep on going down a tunnel with no cheese at it’s end, and also understanding that there might be useful alternatives if there were a different way to think about the “tunnel”…   then the frustrating question he’s left with now is Deming’s. How can “everyone” change the way they “make sense” of the daily interwoven work of classrooms, schools and districts today?

Fortunately, a day or so later (9/1/10) the Post printed a response to the same achievement gap issue that suggested a beginning point for Mathews sense-making rethinking process…  And here again, someone frustrated “got it”…almost.

Aleta Margolis (Executive Director of the Center for Inspired Teaching) pointed out that

“a critical precursor to the achievement gap is the creativity gap.”…”when children are denied the opportunity to develop their skills as creative and critical thinkers, it is not surprising that their academic achievement suffers.”

“It is time to embrace an educational approach that integrates creativity and rigor into every aspect of school. Many successful examples of this kind of teaching already exist, in schools with children from all races and all levels of the socio-economic spectrum,

Perhaps programs aimed at closing the achievement gap will devise a way to focus on reducing the creativity gap as well.

All it would take is a little imagination.”

Her diagnosis is exactly right.

First, that as a child’s natural “learning” capacity develops, learning skills aren’t separable by “content” and “process.” But our present way of thinking about the work of “teaching” doesn’t offer a way to understand how to create and manage an alternative way to connect “teaching” and “learning” without unrealistic applications of time and new resources..

Yet, as she frustratingly notes, we already have on-the-ground classroom examples of the actual results-generating power of this approach that produces not only “academic results,” but also the “21st century skills” (problem-solving, collaboration, and creative innovation) that society is demanding from resource starved schools.

And here is where her prescription: imaginative re-thinking …is what’s “almost” right. Missing is the requirement for examples of solutions that match, not just the systemic nature of the problem, but its school system-wide scope.

Rethinking requires examples of how to develop and manage an integrated, rigorous approach that involves every aspect of a school district’s learning-influencing work.

And here’s where I join the ranks of the frustrated. For right next door is the large complex school district that serves as this website’s reality base and the source of examples of how reformers “theories” play out in the interconnected world of “practice.” The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).

It offers a useful example of how a major school district with 144,000 students fits both Margolis’ vision and Mathew’s need for a thinking-challenging method.

Can the story of how the MCPS has been systemically developing into a full-district integrated learning management system — that engages, at one end, it’s stakeholders’ in the development of responses to the needs of all…and at the other, engages each of its students in the creative co-management of their own thinking and learning — offer the missing “ah-ha” catalysts for the critically needed rethinking?

Much has been written lately about the district’s present nature and accomplishments since its superintendent recently announced his retirement.   Much more may be forthcoming if the district gets any of the national honors for which it is being considered.

But little of that may impact the core problem condition that Mathews correctly identified: a “deceptive,” deeply interwoven “mindset” that isn’t “useful” because it doesn’t “make sense.”

Since sense-making is this “SabuSense” site’s primary purpose, if you think, as I do, that both Mathews and Margolis are right…”almost” …and if you would like to learn more about MCPS’ approach… and then possibly engage in some imaginative rethinking with me about how to use it to influence the embedded mindset that frames the way “everyone thinks about schools”… I hope you’ll join in below..

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