The Overdue Metamorphosis of School

 

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Borrowing excerpts from Merriam-Webster below:

Metamorphosis

  • change of physical form, structure, or substance
  • a striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstances
  • a typically marked and more or less abrupt developmental change in the form or structure

From the Latin and Greek origins, meta and morph are translated to mean transform. [1]

In the educational arena, we often hear the term REFORM. Rarely do we hear the word TRANSFORM.  Reform implies changes or tweaks made with a desired outcome of improvement to existing metrics or accountability results. We often compare our students to each other and those around the world using these various measures.

The schooling system in our country experiences “reform” efforts about every five years. One might ask why and to what end. Do these reforms actually improve learning?

Surviving at least twenty or more reform efforts in my thirty plus years as an educator, has informed and transformed my thinking about the institution of schooling.  I’ve concluded that for every new reform, another one is needed. This will always be true because these efforts only address generalities in teaching and learning, not the unique differences among learners. While the researchers warn us that what works for one may not work for others, the suggestions leave teachers wondering how to faithfully implement so that all of their students might benefit.

Researchers and those who work in schools are miles apart in reality. We ask teachers and principals to accept and implement the latest and greatest research on school reform and wonder why there is overall lack of interest or buy in. Lack of time to process new reform efforts as well as adequate opportunities in which to practice such reforms often lead to poor implementation.

Given the exorbitant amount of training that goes along with new reforms as well as regular school paperwork, teacher evaluation, grading expectations and curricular pacing, among other challenges, there is little time left to truly delve into or examine the pros and cons of most studies. Even with a built-in Professional Learning Community structure or (PLC) time, most teaching teams and their principals must prioritize and weigh their efforts against competing demands.

From an online abstract published on May 17, 2013, titled, Teacher resistance to school reform: reflecting an inconvenient truth,  Ewald Tehert writes the following.

“… David Gleicher developed his well-known ‘energy formula for change processes;

  

…the formula reads that the change in energy C is sufficient if the product of the three factors (a) degree of dissatisfaction with existing state, (b) clarity of vision with respect to goal and (d) first visible steps towards the desired change is greater than the material and emotional cost of change x.”[2]

The costs of most major school reform efforts are literally staggering, both monetarily and emotionally. School reform is basically a jobs project for all related entities that presume their knowledge and materials will effect a positive change in student outcomes.

School reform is a lucrative business. School transformation is not and that is why it is rarely considered.

We don’t need more reforms and especially reforms on top of already existing ones. Imposed reforms produce apathy, skepticism and even contempt among teachers who have no say in the matter. Even well-perceived reforms often fall short of providing effective and lasting results, if any. This is mainly because they are only a small brick or two in a massive schooling structure that needs major renovation.

Rick Hess in his September 14, 2017 article titled, Educators’ time loss and the invisible cost of reform said the following.

“After all, when I reflect on some of the major reform pushes of the past decade or more, I fear that such attention is almost invariably absent…in each case, it’s easy for advocates to insist that this negative impact is negligible. If they concede any burden, they’ll insist it’s modest and obviously worth paying. It’s remarkable, though, that in an era infatuated with data and evidence that no one — and I mean, literally, no one — has made it a priority to figure out how much time this stuff takes or how big a distraction it is. Foundations that claim to value empowered teachers, autonomous schools, and nimble systems don’t invest in any of this. Scholars don’t study it; advocates don’t bother with it.” [3]

We just keep piling it on, year after year, reform after reform and to what end? Reforms don’t necessarily make schools better, they just make them very busy places. There are good, hard-working people in our schools. Many of them believe that our public schools provide the best hope for young people, a place that can lead and guide them into a gratifying and successful future. There will always be those who survive the system’s structures.

The reality is more and more parents and students are finding the compulsory, one-size fits all schooling model, a relic of a bygone era – one that is not providing them with peak learning experiences. They are finding more engaging and relevant ways in which to become educated. They are transforming the narrative one at a time, day by day, year after year. They are visionary learners refusing to accept the myth that in order to learn one must go to a place called school.

Oh, that this transformation could become reality for every young person and teacher who must endure the “latest and not so greatest” school reform efforts.

 

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metamorphosis
  2. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13632434.2013.793494
  3. https://medium.com/@rickhess99/educators-time-loss-and-the-invisible-cost-of-reform-79aaa134de4e

* Butterfly Photo credit to Getty Images

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