Saturday, January 5, 2008

The "Every Child" Paridigm Shift

The goals of the No Child Left Behind Act are not fulfilled by the accountability mandates that focus on subgroups. The Act has focused attention on underachieving subgroups and held schools and districts accountable to meet the needs of those subgroups. It has not (yet) cause a transformation of public education agencies into organizations that meet the learning needs of every child. The Act was just one step in that direction.

In 2001 there were major barriers rooted in institutional cultures and technological feasibility that prevented monitoring and supporting learning at the individual level. The legislation was developed under these conditions. States took on a new federally mandated accountability role that focused on subgroup performance on once-a-year high stakes tests. States did not have student unique identifiers or the data systems needed to monitor individual student growth.

Progress has been made. Many states have unique student identifiers, and some states are developing models and supporting information systems to measure individual student growth. Some major institutional culture barriers still exist. Based on the original mandate, even the new growth models are designed to measure subgroup accountability based on one-a-year snapshots. However, the technology can and is being made available to LEAs to support assessment for learning.

The institutional culture barriers may prove the most challenging as educator belief and practice need to reflect the notion that every child can learn and has the right to learn.

The following is from the book:

To approach 100% of students achieving minimum proficiency will require instructional practice consistent with what the research says are the best-practices. It will also require an unprecedented ability to address individual student needs. This is especially true as we get closer to the goal, as we attempt to bring students representing the last few percentage points to minimum proficiency. Moving from 50% to 70% could be done by changing the way teaching and learning happens in groups. The new goal, 90% and above (Fullan 2006), will require a focus on the individual learner.

There are many barriers that currently limit our education system from operationalizing the proven practices and organizational changes revealed by the research. And there are even greater barriers to the changes that would be needed to adequately adapt organizational structures to optimally meet the needs of all learners on an individual level.

We can not assume that a classroom teacher can single handedly meet the individual learning needs of every child that might be assigned to her. It is a relatively new expectation that all children will learn.

“Although the United States was the first nation to embrace the idea of free universal public education for all of its children, historically those children have been guaranteed only the right to attend school rather than the right to learn.”
(DuFour, Richard, DuFour, Rebecca; Eaker, Robert; Karhanek, Gayle; Whatever It Takes – How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn; 2004;

It is recognized that the teaching and learning process requires adjustment to accommodate special needs students. However, to address the expectation that all children will learn will require a new paradigm that considers every learner’s ‘special’ needs, and it will require new methods to address the individual needs of every learner. Ultimate success may also require an expanded definition of “learner” to include school staff and other adult stakeholders in a child’s education. The information-driven world we live in does not stand still and the need to learn does not stop when leaving school or acquiring a teaching certificate.

A foundational concept from which all levels of our educational system should operate is that every learner is a person with God-given strengths and weaknesses, and with previously acquired knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The existing educational system operates with a focus on education agencies, schools, and groups of students. Identifying and meeting individual needs of every learner is NOT something that the current structure, capacity, technology, practice, and culture of schools can handle.

The Take Away:

Technology can help bring about a system that optimizes learning experiences for each learner. Thereby, allowing students to develop their natural talents to their fullest potential and in-turn maximizing each individual’s value as a contributor to our economy and social condition. The challenge between now and 2014 is to change professional practices to take advantage the technology and focus the mission of state and local education agencies on individual learners.

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