We have some new leadership in my building that is making me very optimistic. One of the movements being promoted by our leadership is the concept of PLCs, or Professional Learning Communities. We've had these in our building for a while, but the current push involves analyzing student data to assess past practice and inform future endeavors. Makes good sense, prompts a good deal of collaboration, and seems to be ready to push teachers toward improving practice. If it sticks, I see good things on the horizon.
Not too long ago I talked to a retired teacher whose building in a different state had attempted PLCs in her last few years of teaching. "We dumped that pretty quick," she explained. When I asked why, she explained that it didn't seem to be doing any good. When I asked her how she knew that, she couldn't really answer the question, but she knew that she and her colleagues didn't really like it. They said their principal called it "reforming" their school culture…they knew it was just another passing education fad.
This small is example is all you need in order to see why major education reform will always fail.
I've only been in the education industry for seven years, but it has become obvious that it is but a tiny sideways step to move from "reform" to "fad." Curriculum reforms, system reforms, the classrooms-without-walls or schools-within-a-school, the whole-language-approach or the new-new-math, the testing movement or the no-grades movement, are all based on some kind of sound logic and offer the promise of changing education. I'm sure in some pockets of the country, any education fad to ever be conceived is probably thriving.
And that's kind of my point: if you give certain "fads" enough time, they just might result in reform. Unfortunately, we're an impatient bunch as a society. We want our burgers hot and now and our schools "fixed" yesterday. We may say we understand that change takes time, and we may say that we are willing to allow time for that change (even the misguided NCLB has given a lengthy timeline before schools are to achieve the expected degrees of perfection), but when it all boils away, we want immediate results and start looking for something "better" if we don't get those results immediately. The obvious problem is this: we're talking about systemic change in a system containing 49.8 million students served by nearly 3.2 million teachers. Add to that the families, the taxpayers…everyone with an opinion on how schools are flawed and what needs to be done, and we are talking about a paradigm shift which must "move" a hundred million people in a generally similar direction. You gotta bet that will take time…there is no immediate fix.
Speaking of time: that teacher whose building built and then abandoned PLCs? Her building had tried PLCs for one year before abandoning it…it had been a mandate from a principal who left a year after starting the program, and the staff was not invested enough to continue it a second year. Besides, she said, it hadn't resulted in the changes they wanted to see. After just one year.
We need to realize that we can throw piles of money and the best of minds at "fixing" education, but it won't matter if we don't promote the patience it takes for real change to take root.
I wonder what fads have come and gone which actually might provide an answer to our problems in education–if we'd just have given them time to evolve and establish?