Former Chief Accountability Officer of New York City SchoolsJames Liebman's Education Week Commentary, "Ending the Great School Wars," takes a step towards a framework for understanding our educational civil war.
He argues that "the real fight" is between three methods of rejecting central mandates and promoting school-level autonomy.
But which of the three is the right one?
Alas, it's not the one Liebman endorses.
Liebman condemns "Managerialist" strategies where educators are given outcome targets by administrators who do not know what it takes for educators to succeed.
Liebman then dismisses the approach that I favor, "Professionalism" or "craft" strategies, where the intuition of teachers is trusted. Liebman, I'd argue, caricatures that strategy, claiming that it rejects both input and output mandates and trusts the "magic" of gifted teachers. But Liebman is correct in doubting that our incremental effort to improve the craft of teaching, by itself, would overcome the legacies of generational poverty.
Liebman favors Institutional-learning strategies. He laims that those strategies worked for his old district. (Why an attorney like Liebman believes that his old position allowed him to know what was actually happening in his district's schools is beyond me, but that is a different issue.) He then makes recommendations that are inherently contradictory. Liebman wants data to be used diagnostically, as well as for accountability. He seems to believe that such a dual role is not only possible in an age of high-stakes testing, but that it has already worked in NYC. (Emphasis by Liebman.)
The bad news is that true believers in "output" accountability tend to kill the honesty that is required before the "structured-inquiry teams" that he favors can foster peer review and spur innovation. The good news is that the heart of Liebman's preferred strategy is consistent with the one he rejects - professionalism.
The collaborative effort of improving the craft of schooling is very compatible with his call for "systematic and accountable inquiry" into how empowered educators succeed. So, the way to end the great school wars is to replace primitive numbers-driven mandates with collaborative efforts that respect the professional wisdom of educators.
The combination of the "craft" and the institutional-learning approaches could monitor results and make adjustments based on what does and doesn't work, as opposed to making the accountability numbers look good.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via