Could the News Media Play a Role in Shifting Toward Innovative Practices in Schools? by Meredith Johnson

Many thanks to David Culberhouse and David Geurin for this graphic

I just finished reading What School Could Be (2018) by Ted Dintersmith @Dintersmith and almost every page contains examples of schools who are jumping into innovative practices. Ted shares that we roll out, “Yet another round of teaching all students standardized material, in standardized ways, to a new battery of standardized tests.” He shares six variables that stand out which educators can use to capitalize on an innovative change model that empowers teachers and students (pg. 189 – 190). The hundreds of educators I worked with during my forty-year career would certainly agree that I adored innovation. I also stood solidly behind the new standards when they were released. I fully embraced them as a motivational tool to cease educators spending two months on a unit about dinosaurs and a student who endured this only to have a different teacher, two years later, spend three months on the same topic. When I began in education students took standardized tests, but the data went into three-ring binders that collected dust on the shelves. Teachers rarely, if ever, saw the results. As the assessment corporations increased their data reports to include sheets that both teachers and parents could easily understand, the amount of money school districts were spending increased ten-fold. We grabbed hold of those data sheets, pouring over the results, to locate gaps that, once filled, would help our students’ achievement continue to increase. What has happened in the decades that have followed (No Child Left Behind, 2001 and Race to the Top, 2009) with both standards and standardized assessments, haven’t led us down a path to innovate.

All this standardization lead to developing “good little soldiers” who could learn the standardized curriculum and spit out lower level responses to standardized assessments. This leads me to the question, “What if …..” as I don’t believe most of us have the desire to settle for “What is ..” “Standardized-testing regimens cost states some $1.7 billion a year overall, or a quarter of 1 percent of total K-12 spending in the United States, according to a new report on assessment finances. If the money for standardized assessments was instead put toward teacher raises, the report estimates that each teacher in the country would receive, on average, a rise of $550, or 1 percent, based on data about teacher salaries and other factors from the 2012 Digest of Education Statistics” (Education Week, 2012).

I wonder what will be the impetus that will move our country toward innovative practices that will prepare students for the future that lies ahead? Perhaps, carefully studying history will provide answers to this question. What has previously occurred that provided the motivation for systemic shifts in our education system? The initial idea of No Child Left Behind began somewhere. Since a great deal of the power to shift our current system has now been given to the States, policymakers at the State level rarely stay in office the necessary three to five years to positively affect a change, where does this leave us? Does it feel to you as if we have shifted into an automatic “cruise” mode?

What if …. news associations like CNN and Fox News reported daily on innovative practices that are happening in schools across our country? Families adore hearing about how the places they send their children each day are in the spotlight for something terrific. If the news capitalizes on innovation as a stellar approach, on a consistent basis, I imagine many will sit up and take notice. Ted Dintersmith’s book certainly has enough schools mentioned to last for almost a year of daily coverage. Is it true that Americans only tune in and watch the news to hear the latest and greatest tragedy, negative comment, problem, disaster, or politician arguing with each other? As a child, I sat and listened, year after year, to Walter Cronkite sharing the number of youths who were returning home each day in body bags from the Vietnam War. You bet that made an impact then and on the adult I am today. Could news reports, flashed across your screen, about innovative practices impact others in a positive way? What will occur that will shift current practices, in most schools across the United States, in order to prepare children for the future ahead of them?

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Meredith Johnson