You can’t have one without the other. This is true of love and marriage, a horse and carriage, and steering and rowing mechanisms in educational innovation plans. Most education reform plans “steer” (withdraw funding from failing schools) or “row” (develop plans to turnaround failing schools). Few do both.
As educational reformers pioneer strategies for successful school systems of the future, all too often their proposals focus on either the “steering” or the “rowing” and hope that the other set of conditions will be taken care of by other policies or market mechanisms falling into place. The technical term for this might be “The Zone of Wishful Thinking.”
A new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) outlines the concept of steering and rowing in American education. Steering sets the terms under which organizations provide education. Examples include collecting and analyzing performance data, providing at least one effective school option for every child, and ensuring civil rights, including those for disabled students. The rowing principle refers to government regulations on the market, like operating schools, and recruiting and identifying talented teachers and administrators.
Andy Smarick lays out a proposal to improve education in his book, The Urban School System of the Future. Smarick envisions the future of education being predominantly run by charter management organizations. However, this plan is dependent upon governance that favors the reproduction of effective school model and the closure of failed schools. This is his zone of wishful thinking.
The zone of wishful thinking, a phrase coined by the CRPE authors, refers to plans that seek to improve the education system by prescribing a set of conditions that are dependent on other conditions that are assumed or “wished” to exist. For example, portfolio management strategies refer to an education system where a central office is responsible for running a diverse portfolio of schools, including traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools. The authors explain that portfolio governance proposals create new roles for elected officials and public agencies, but its success depends on the supply response (the creation of new schools).
CRPE’s report does not only draw attention to portfolio strategies and charter management organizations, but it brings to the forefront an important message for education reform: the need for proposals that complement one another. Education reform plans need both steering and rowing mechanisms. Without them, the ship will find itself trapped in the zone of wishful thinking.
Photo Credit: Mind the Science Gap