Peter Burrows: Schools need educational balance

In the midst of the current educational landscape, the number of reform issues is overwhelming. As new educational leaders enter the field, they find themselves struggling to know who to listen to and where to put their limited leadership capital. Am I pro-Common Core or a charter school proponent? Is this the year to focus on assessment or whole child? In education, we’ve been drifting along for quite some time shoring our rafts to large ideas that have risen to prominence and receded from view in disturbingly short windows of time.

Schools want to innovate and change, and must do so. We know that the traditional model of instruction will continue to produce the same outcomes we have seen for decades, as national and state-level data show. We must work to increase the achievement of students across the academic continuum to establish a system that pushes and supports each student to move beyond his/her current level of achievement.

However, we must find a way to build a degree of thoughtfulness to the change agenda. We must find a way to take stock of what we have in place that is working, and avoid hitching our wagons to reform ideas that promise to solve our educational issues with a simplistic formula. Those that have spent a considerable period of time in education understand the fervor with which new ideas wax and wane. It has been one of the most challenging aspects for educators. One need simply look at copies of Ed Week over the last decade to see the confluence of marketing, research, and politics at play in laying out the direction of our educational policy in America.

I believe the way forward must move us away from our desire to debate, to pit our ideas against others, and move closer to designing a system of education that supports the learner outcomes we believe, as a community, are imperative for student success. We must hold back from launching headfirst into the promise of a utopian education. What are the elements of a sound educational system? Where must we go? What do we want all students to carry with them as they embark on the wondrous journey beyond graduation?

Unfortunately, we’ve grown susceptible to claims of the next great reform idea, and it is here that we find our vessels aground. In our great desire to reach every student, we forget that the root of innovation is a sense of what’s possible and true. As we move into the shifting tides of the Common Core, it’s essential that we bring with us the decades of knowledge we bear about the practice of teaching and learning. The innovation we pursue must incorporate the voices of our students. It must be built upon sound instructional practice that is not lost in the vagaries of the moment.

Editor’s note: Peter Burrows, D.Ed., is superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union and has more than two decades of experience in education.


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