Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

Converting Goals to Achievements

Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

Converting Goals to Achievements

Article excerpt

What is called planning in many districts is actually knee-jerk reactions ...

Converting goals to achievements is a considerable undertaking. We often underestimate the complexity of the task and therefore fall far short of our expectations. Almost 10 years ago state governors and President George Bush established goals to raise student achievement in math and science that would put the United States at the top of the world by the year 2000. It is now obvious in 1999 that the goals will not be achieved. Similar shortfalls are common within school districts and school buildings.

Schools and educators generally lack the process skills necessary to convert goals to achievements. What is called planning in many districts is actually knee-jerk reactions to symptoms rather than to the root causes of problems. We typically paper over, patch or otherwise dispose of the symptom, thinking we have dealt with the problem when in fact we have not. Schools, educators, and others interested in the improvement of educational results must learn the skills of systems thinking, root cause analysis, and the proper use of data instead of relying upon opinion and entrenched or unverified beliefs. The many root causes that are within our control and grasp should be tackled before those that are more removed and intractable.

New York State is piloting a Comprehensive District Education Planning process (CDEP) that focuses schools on student results, identifies and prioritizes the gaps between student achievement and goals, seeks to determine the root causes for the gaps, and applies researched strategies to dissolve root causes, establishes an action plan to implement each strategy, and then monitors results. Over 150 school districts have signed on as pilots. While the process appears traditional in form, it is exceptional in concept in that it requires school districts to work with data within a systems perspective. It focuses on dissolving causes for failure rather than developing reactive patches on the system.

Schools have become ever more fragmented, a collection of parts rather than unified systems focused on achievement. We are divided by programs, grade levels, departments, buildings, philosophies, funding sources, and many other walls that keep us apart. New York state identified 23 separate but required school planningprocesses. Additional plans are required if districts wish to participate in optional funding streams. More often than not these plans are developed in isolation and focused on means rather than ends. Is it any wonder that we di, not achieve our goals?

Several years ago I learned that a school system is not the sum of its parts, but rather the product of the interaction of these parts. No part is independent from the whole, and a change in any one part affects; the whole. Improving parts will not guarantee the improvement of the system and may cause the reverse.

Our creation and implementation of a model technology or media center plan will not bring about the hoped for student goals unless it is intimately linked with our school's overall plan for student achievement. A building team's isolated improvement plan can not be as effective as one that is developed from and reinforces the district's plan. A high school in our region, for example, has been identified as a school in need of review because of its high dropout rate. The high school can work alone for the next decade and not solve this issue because its roots are most likely found somewhere between kindergarten and third grade. An elementary school may attempt to resolve a gap in reading scores but will fail because the root of the issue may be found in how the business office orders instructional materials. A state-of-the-art media center may be created but remain unused because the linkages between it and its potential customers have never been forged. Technology may remain idle for lack of training, software, or need to use. …

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