An AASA Commission Plots Path to Excellence

Type: Article
Topics: Curriculum & Assessment, District & School Operations, School Administrator Magazine

April 01, 2021

Executive Perspective

Organizational excellence is key to the success of a school district and the children it serves. Earlier this year, AASA established a National Commission on Student-Centered, Equity-Focused Education. The commission’s charge was to examine “what we should continue doing, stop doing and start doing to ensure that the American educational system prepares all students for the next decades of work.”

I was fortunate to have Bill Daggett, founder of the Successful Practices Network, serve as co-chair of the commission with me and have Ray McNulty, president of the Successful Practices Network, facilitate the work sessions along with AASA’s Mort Sherman. Twenty-six superintendents, business leaders and nonprofit heads served as commissioners.

At the first meeting back in January, we challenged the members to be bold in their deliberations — and bold they were. They believed that access to a high-quality, culturally relevant education is a basic civil right. They believed fundamental changes would be needed for a student-centric, equity-focused and forward-reaching education that imagines when, where and how well we prepare children for success. Here I am excerpting liberally from the summary of that meeting.

Beyond Academics

We would begin by focusing on the whole child, including cognitive, physical, emotional and social growth, supporting children with mental health and specialized services. The current emphasis on cognitive development is reflected in our accountability models focusing almost entirely on academic test results. While cognitive development has been the focus of education from day one, in the 21st century the role of schools and society’s expectations have expanded well beyond academics.

Today, educators must prepare students to be effective citizens and workers by providing multiple postsecondary paths that lay a foundation for an educated, employed populace. Success can be benchmarked using innovative academic and non-academic measures.

Equity must be addressed directly by insisting on inclusive and equitable opportunities so all children will thrive. For too long, education has been about exclusivity. Children most in need of school often are excluded. Children are denied access to the highest-quality teachers and programs because they lack the grades or the scores on a test. Children who live in impoverished school districts are denied the resources available to students in wealthier school systems. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated how millions of students were denied an education because they lacked the technology and the internet access.

A need also exists to reconceptualize teaching, learning and leading to include both the art and the science of educating and a diverse talent pipeline that reflects America’s children and serves them well. The transactional model of teaching must become a relationship-first model.

Shift the focus to a model that provides a personalized learning path for each student. Transition local instructional programs and assessment systems to a growth model based on formative data. Remove outdated grade/age-based groupings and shift to readiness learning. Use technology to transform learning by increasing engagement during the school day and extend learning beyond the classroom. A learn-everywhere model requires that access to technology be considered an essential public utility.

Taking into consideration the general teacher shortage and the lack of diversity, a diverse teacher corps might be built by providing forgivable loans for high school graduates who complete accredited teacher education preparation programs (a GI Bill for teaching) and serve three years in a Title I school. A similar approach could ensure a diverse principal corps for those completing an ac-credited principal preparation program and then serving in a Title I school.

Demonstration Sites

Alignment with the final recommendations of the National Commission on Student-Centered, Equity-Focused Education will be sought in demonstration districts, a cross section of forward-leaning urban, suburban and rural school districts whose leaders are implementing or willing to implement innovative policies, programs and practices based on the commission’s recommendations.

By the end of April, the commission will have issued a final report that will be more extensive and bolder than what has been outlined here.

Bold action also will be required at the state and national levels on such issues as providing universal pre-kindergarten, waivers and technical assistance to districts willing to reimagine education, and including career pathways, industry credentials and licensure acquisition in the development of students’ preparation for postsecondary options.

The commission does not want to return to the past. Rather we want to go where education has never gone before, to a student-centered, equity-focused world.