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Opinion | Larry Lee: We don’t listen to our experts

By Larry Lee

Dr. Steve Edwards is the real deal. With 43 years in the education field, he knows of what he speaks. He runs a consulting firm in Virginia and has done work in 49 states and 55 counties. Clients include the United Nations and the World Bank. The author of five books, he has also taught at two major universities.

As he says, “I have been in the profession long enough to figure out what does not work.”

So, when he says A-F school report cards do not work, I pay attention. Here are some of his thoughts:

“A-F scale is looking at education through a 20th Century lens. A very backward approach. Legislators like this because it is easy, an A or B is good, a C is average and so on. Research supports that negative reinforcement does not work. Think about being a child who struggles in school, they find out their school gets an F, what does that do for morale??

A MUCH better approach is to look at a set of both quantitative and qualitative indicators. Have each school establish a baseline on the indicators and then recognize growth. No one individual and no one organization is good at everything but what if you had a set of multiple indicators where schools could highlight growth in particular areas and identify area for specific assistance.

Let me give you an example. If I play golf, I may work hard at it every day but will never shoot par-am I a failure? What if over the next 5 years my handicap drops from a 25 to 15. Now that is growth. I can look at specific elements of my game that I have improved such as, off the tee, short game, chipping, putting. I can work on my mental game, my focus, etc. You get the picture.

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We know there are so many aspects to success and traditional measures don’t always capture these. The other day I was reading an article in Forbes that talked about the vast majority of self-made millionaires were C-D students in school.

Frankly I am one of them. I finished in the bottom 10% of my graduating class in high school, I repeated 4th grade because I could not read. My parents were of modest means (not born with money nor did I inherit money-my parents died broke) and I have become a multi-millionaire. I am not trying to brag, I am trying to make a point.

By every measure in school I was a failure. Our educational system values the wrong things. Look at any of the international education experts, Ken Robinson, Yong Zhao, Tony Wagner, the list goes on and on.

We don’t listen to them, we don’t look at the research. Would you go to a Doctor who made decisions based on 20th Century practices? Of course not, but that is what we do in education.

I speak all over the world on education, leadership and reform. People love to hear what I have to say, but then they go back and do the same thing.”

Isn’t it amazing how we ignore voices like Steve Edwards’?

Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools. [email protected]

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