Governance shouldn’t be focus of education reform
Jun 09, 2014 | 3052 views | 0 0 comments | 80 80 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ann Manwaring
Ann Manwaring
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One of my great concerns about what might happen next legislative session regarding “education reform” is that it is poised once again to be driven by the notion of “governance changes” as the next step toward solving Vermont’s education “problem.” I put all these terms in quotation marks as I believe that there is no consensus either at the state level, at the school level, or among parents and taxpayers about just what is the problem.

I was strongly opposed to H.883, the education governance bill that failed to get final approval at the end of the session. I believe that it was based on last-century, top-down organizational thinking and was not in touch with some of the really good new thinking about education as a system with many pieces, all of which need to function together to get the best outcomes for all Vermont children at a price that voters and taxpayers value.

We are also poised on the brink of the need for our system to educate students to very different standards than is the basis of much of our current system. The three “R’s” are still important, but so are the newly identified skills needed for today’s job markets – the ability to think critically (to keep asking questions until satisfied), to be creative and willing to take risks (including embarrassing failure), excellent written and verbal communication skills, and the ability to work with others.

In many, many schools around Vermont, including our own here in the Deerfield Valley, there is what I sometimes think of as a bottom-up revolution going on where teachers and principals are already adapting to the new framework with good results for kids. This is where, in my opinion, we need to spend our energy and resources, not on the reordering of education middle management.

The other place I believe we need to spend our collective time and energy is to bring education funding and policy into the same conversation and keep it there. We need to know in considerable detail just what we are buying for the $1.5 billion in spending from the education fund, two-thirds of which is property tax revenue.

One tool that was enacted this year, in the appropriations bill, was funding and direction to the agency of education to accelerate its work on completing the data systems with which we can answer this question.

We do not have to take apart Act 60/68 to move forward into a 21st century education system for Vermont. We do not need to be on a path which results in the state taking over our schools or abolishing local school boards, because even if that happened, we would still have a large number of schools disbursed throughout the state which would have to be managed within the equity framework of Brigham. And each would still need to make the shift to a 21st century outcomes framework.

But Brigham promises equal education opportunity for all Vermont children, not equal spending. So funding, outcomes and governance all need to be considered as we define just what “problem” needs to solve.

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