Well, it is that time of year again, when my CASTLE colleague Scott McLeod posts an entry on his blog Calling all bloggers! – Leadership Day 2014. I’ve participated in this initiative for the past five years.
For the past year, I have been a faculty member in an educational leadership program at Sacred Heart University. Prior to joining the faculty here, I tended to describe educational leadership broadly to include educational administration (i.e., the preparation of principals, district officials, and superintendents) and educational policy (also sometimes called educational studies). Given my own professional and research interests, as well as my political and policy background, I had always identified more with the educational policy/studies aspect of educational leadership. Over the past year I have come to understand (or learn) that educational leadership isn’t as cut and dry as I had initially envisioned it, but at the same time it is that cut and dry.
The field of educational leadership is about developing leaders. It is really that simple. Leaders of departments, leaders of schools, leaders of curriculum, leaders of athletics, leaders of districts, leaders of states, leaders of policy – simply put, leaders. This is what connects all aspects of educational leadership, a focus on providing potential leaders with the knowledge, skills, and aptitudes they will need to become actual leaders.
What does that mean within the field of K-12 online learning? Well, I’m reminded of a news item from the Washington Post that came across my electronic desk just yesterday…
Seven things teachers are sick of hearing from school reformers
By Valerie Strauss August 14 at 4:00 AM
1. Don’t tell us that you know more about good instruction than we do.
2. Don’t talk to us about the importance and rigor of the standards.
3. Don’t tell us about testing data.
4. Don’t tell us “The research says…” unless you’re willing to talk about what it really says.
5. Stop with the advice about teaching critical thinking skills.
6. Stop using education reform clichés.
7. Don’t tell us to leave politics out of the classroom.
I felt that these were particularly important today, given that we are talking about leadership. How much of this applies to the world of K-12 online learning? For example, in describing the first item the reporter writes ”
This tells us there is an institutionalized disregard for our professional judgment. Some teachers get scripted curriculum that is often sub-par and that gets in the way of real teaching and learning. Others work under policies that are so broad that they are essentially meaningless.
The purpose of the policies is the same in both cases: to serve a top-down structure that is in place not to help students but to serve a kind of aesthetic of educational toughness, which itself is in place to combat a “crisis” in education that scholars such as David Berliner have thoroughly exposed as a sham.
In the K-12 online learning world, virtual school teachers are often provided an online curriculum that they aren’t allowed to modify, that has built in assessments that the teacher has no control over (and that represents the vast majority of the student’s overall assessments). In other instances, virtual school teachers are hired to teach an online course and the online content simply doesn’t exist – and the teacher has to build the plane as he/she is flying it.
Or more importantly, in discussing number four, the author writes “Research is also of varying quality. Peer-reviewed journals are to be taken seriously; ideological think tanks not so.” Wow! That pretty much slaps down 95% of the “research” neo-liberals use to argue in favour of expanding access to online learning!
My very favourite was what was written about number six.
“After consulting the research and assessment data, and involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process, we have determined that a relentless pursuit of excellence and laser-like focus on the standards, synergistically with our accountability measures, action-oriented and forward-leaning intervention strategies, and enhanced observation guidelines for classroom look-fors, will close the achievement gap and raise the bar for all children.”
Sound like something out of the mouth of many of the proponent of expanding access to K-12 online learning? Could Jeb Bush or Tom Vander Ark or Susan Patrick have said something like this (or even this exact statement)?
As individuals working with future leaders, it is imperative for us to counter these dominant narratives that are based on ideology! We can do that be creating the critical thinkers that the educational reformers, and neo-liberal proponents of K-12 online learning, want us to create. As Strauss writes, “critical thinking means analyzing ideas to understand them completely and find ways to improve them or dismiss them, including ideas about the value and purpose of technical and technological innovation.” Given the research available right now, anyone who approaches K-12 online learning with an open mind can come to one conclusion – that the policies being pursued by most proponents of K-12 online learning are based on ideology and not what is best for the student. The critical thinker leaders we are developing need to promote policies and activities that are in the best interests of the students, not of the corporate sponsors of these individuals and their organizations!
To view my past entries, see: