What an interesting start to the weekend #eNoobs Matt Esterman has provided in his weekly blog post. If you haven’t read it then please do because I am about to address his comments 🙂

Let’s have a look at Matt’s first point regarding the lack of clarity as to what school is. This is far from a new rhetoric. A couple of years ago, Seth Godin offered these suggestions:

To create a society that’s culturally coordinated.

To further science and knowledge and pursue information for its own sake.

To enhance civilization while giving people the tools to make informed decisions.

To train people to become productive workers.

However, these were merely planting seeds, creating drama whereas his conclusion followed much the same line as many celebrated edu spokespeople on the circuit:

Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers built school to train people to have a lifetime of productive labor as part of the industrialized economy. And it worked.

All the rest is a byproduct, a side effect

Looking at recent debates on #whatisschool led by @mrkempnz and from a few years ago, Will Richardson’s book Why School? plus the discussion ‘What’s the purpose of education?’  led by @dajbelshaw, one thing is plainly obvious to me, coming up with a short, definitive purpose to schooling is difficult.

So we agree on the existence of the grey area in terms of definition. I also agree that parental choices are difficult. As a parent of two primary age children in Australia, the process of school shopping I recently went through was not really a pleasant experience. I had to go through much soul-searching, spousal discussions on values and ultimately compromise. Despite heavy involvement in movements to transform contemporary education, the decisions were not easy in reality.

Where I would like to challenge Matt and his ‘grey area theory’ is not in its existence but for 2 reasons:
Firstly, if the goals are not understood by all parties involved in a school and clearly articulated to all including those considering sending their child, the grey area stops right there. There is no real point in expecting anything more than a mish-mash of expectancies around grades, well-being and so on. Surely, like any successful organisation, the goals need to be very well established, transparent to all parties and all work seeks to meet those goals. I am not going to delve into vision and mission statements here because that would no doubt induce snoring but I think you get my drift.

Education as a whole, teachers, school leaders, Governments, parents, students are far from having consensus as to what they want school to do for the children who attend. The models are archaic and the systems in place attempt to meet many different objectives (not goals as they are different) with wishy-washy, ‘grey’ goals. As a result, working in the grey area will only continue and probably get messier as Governments seek to compete with each other over who has the ‘best educated’ children rather than addressing the issue of what ‘best educated’ actually means and what the goals are.

Moving on from my argument that the grey area has it’s foundations in lack goals and assuming you disagree with point 1, I propose that what everyone wants from school are opportunities for students to maximise potential. If that is the case, which I believe it is, having students work towards maximising potential requires a number of factors be in place. One of those factors is some way of measuring progress.

Why progress? Progress shows where is a child is at, where they are expected to be and whether they have reached that expectation. That is completely different to a measurement of achievement which many schools and authorities rely on. Just have a look at my first hand experiences of this when I received reports on my eldest child and you will see what I mean here: http://largerama.creativeblogs.net/2014/07/08/schoolreport/

A strong system for measuring progress allows for transparent understanding of what is expected by all involved including the student themselves (and we should all know how powerful that is). Measuring progress answers the question of whether a student is achieving well or not by showing a measurement largely based on the individual and not in terms of comparison to others.

Of course there are factors that affect progress, winds that blow students off course but clever, well-managed systems coupled with highly trained staff who understand the psychology and theories that show us what effects learning and learners, can allow us to deal with the impact on progress. Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not challenging Graham Brown-Martin’s fears (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wmErzOhuGw) in talking about data analytic systems here that profile students and calculate where they should be going then bleep really loudly or something when they fail to get there then send them into the counselor sector of the education compound to be reprogrammed for success. However, I can see the merits of using data when we look at arguments offered by George Siemens.

The bottom line is that if we concentrate our, their and the WHOLE communities’ attentions on students maximising their potential while they are in school, much of the greyness fades to….erm… a paler grey, maybe whiteish-grey. We all know where the students are supposed to be going and can see their progress if we have a measurement of progress established and transparent.

Love your work Matt but, to me, there are bigger issues to address here.

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