Arne Duncan recently gave a speech in which he outlined a few targets of education reform that neatly align with our model of schools as ecosystems.
He spoke of the critical need for “wraparound” services, which — as any educator who has worked in a high needs school can attest — is essential. How can children learn when they are hungry, sick, or require glasses?
However, as The Crimson notes, “Duncan said that support services are not enough to bridge the achievement gap and that the quality of schools themselves must be improved.” This is a critical point, but one which needs to be much elucidated. How do we improve the quality of schools? What do we mean by quality?
If we view schools as ecosystems, the answers to these questions become clearer. We improve the quality of schools by fostering relationships and a culture of trust and respect. Quality schools are vibrant communities, rich with interconnections and opportunities and niches for learning.
In his speech, Duncan also succinctly pointed out a key facet in building such environments within schools: “Teacher evaluation should never, ever be based on test scores.”
Of course not. Because if we understand that schools are ecosystems, as opposed to knowledge manufacturing facilities, we know that evaluating children as products is detrimental to the development of a positive, sustainable school community that retains committed teachers and involves and engages parents.
That an influential figure such as Duncan is even talking in this way is a sign of hope. However, as one astute teacher, @KellyDillon1, tweeted in response:
If we’re not to eval teachers based on tests, why does [Race to the Top] push test-based accountability? #mixedsignals
Let’s see if Duncan can put his money where his mouth is and pressure states to focus on the more important necessity for positive school environments and the wraparound community support that he is espousing. And let’s help him deepen his rhetoric with an ecological lens that looks to sustainable growth for every school.