Sunday, November 29, 2009

Knowledge Ecosystems, a record of what works

by Augustus Mays and guest blogger, Candice DePrang

“I would hope that parents make decisions around this program because they feel that this is an educational option that their child really needs, as opposed to, ‘I have to get my child into this program because that’s the only place where they are going to get a good education,’ ” she said. “I just don’t think that’s true — we have a lot of really good schools.”

Those are the hopes of Anna Commitante, the head of gifted and talented programs for New York City’s Department of Education. During this recession, families less able to afford private schools are instead employing test prep tutors to help their students gain an edge on gifted entrance exams.

The desperation parents experience is desperation for choice, any opportunity to raise the caliber of their child’s education, knowing that education predicts life outcomes. As young minds earn entrance into top tier schools, that choice and life opportunity grows.

New York City’s Chancellor, Joel Klein, is known for his believe in this same concept, and for his drive to improve public schools at whatever cost, regardless of the initiative’s popularity. Yet, his innovations and accountability initiatives have yet to quiet parents still hungry for high quality schools across the board.

This commentary isn’t one of pointing fingers or making accusations. Certainly school success lies on the shoulders of strong leaders and teachers, with families carrying responsibility to provide emotionally healthy environments and support for children in their roles as student.

But the desperation, and fear to some extent, that drive families to gain this edge demands an answer to these questions: where are New York City’s reforms? What programs are working, and in which schools? Is their any kind of quantitative cultivation to measure the results over time? Are the testing sites ready for scale up? Why and why not?

If New York City – or any other school system – is to attain education excellence as a whole, not just in a few pockets or neighborhoods, then the external support system composed of test site locations, policy makers, product developers, and the general public must be fully invested in this local school improvement effort. The aim is to have this network of stakeholders participate in a process of sharing implementation experiences and results, designed to enrich and accelerate their school improvement efforts. This depth of understanding would build a knowledge ecosystem and would not only educate students and teachers, but also create a dynamic environment of sharing best practices, and inform policy panels on where investments – human and financial – might be better focused.

This cannot happen in a side bar on the website, or a press release for a successful one – time trial. An knowledge ecosystem in itself must be an initiative, to corral all of the reforms into one arena, and gather research on what’s working and what’s not in public schools. A parent or practioner’s access to information detailing what students are learning and how they best learn it is invaluable to more than reformers – anyone from citizen to chancellor that wants to see their neighborhood schools improve so that all children have life opportunities because they had an excellent education.

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