This post is part of a series of interviews with international educators, policy makers, and leaders titled “One Good Question.” These interviews provide answers to my One Good Question (outlined in About) and uncover new questions about education’s impact on the future.
In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation’s role in the world?
Our investment in accountability structure and high-stakes standardized testing reveals the fact that adults think of kids as problems to be solved, rather than assets to be nurtured. In Jal Mehta’s, The Allure of Order, he outlines how the investment in accountability at the back end of the system is an effort to make up for the fact that we haven’t invested as aggressively in the front end. We don’t put enough time, energy or strategy into good school design, preparation of teachers, or capital development. Because we don’t put enough resources into those areas, we try to make up for it in accountability structures.
From substitute teacher to education policy, you’ve worked in practically every level of education impact and have deep understanding of how all of these roles influence opportunities for all students. What is standing in the way of deeper, effective collaboration for public education in this country?
We were working off of an old industrial model of education and when that industrial model stopped getting results, we had different expectations for what schools could do, but we never changed the design of the schools to catch up to the new expectations. When we didn’t change the design of the schools or invest in the people who could populate the new generation of schools, we started accountability structures instead. If we’re going to deal with the lack of effective design, it’s going to mean dealing with both the accountability structures to make sure that it’s rethought around clear design principles. We have to do both at the same time. You can’t have accountability structures built around industrial factory schools when that model isn’t solving the problem. You have to get both right and right, but now we’re not doing either. People are trying to deal with the metrics questions but aren’t willing to give up on the design. Even those who are thinking about innovative school design, they’re still doing it within the confines of the existing model i.e. replacing teachers with blended learning. These are add-ons, not really answering questions for what’s happening in the instruction.
Do you think we have the right people in the conversation about school design? I don’t. What’s happened is that we’ve let two camps develop: traditional education interest groups/educators vs. high-stakes standards educators. The traditional camp is dominated by teacher unions, school administrators, Diane Ravitch, etc. and the high-stakes camp is dominated by those who believe in econometrics. They think that if you get the econometrics right, then align the systems and create the right incentives, everything will come out in the end. The discourse on school design is dominated by those two camps and they’re not the right people to be in the conversation. The trappings of the existing system make it difficult for both camps to imagine anything else. We need youth development advocates, neuroscientists, community leaders who are not from education sector, social service providers who understand cognitive and non-cognitive human development—those are the people who ought to be in the conversations. If we had them in the discussion and designed backwards, we’d have a much differently designed school than our current models. At Leadership High School Network in Albuquerque, we operate and founded a network of schools built around 3 pillars: learning by doing, community engagement, and 360 support for kids and families. All pillars are equally important and they all hold up the institution. What we found is, when any two of the three pillars converge, the impact for kids is exponential. It’s the convergence that creates the impact, but they have to be seen as equal partners in their work in the schools.
Tony’s One Good Question: Can we give the community a new mental model for what school can look like? And then, can we create a new assessment system that allows for people to have confidence in that new model?
Tony Monfiletto is Executive Director of New Mexico Center for School Leadership. He is a father, husband, educator, visionary, thought leader, and ambitious builder of ideas and schools. He is charming, focused, intense, productive, and deeply committed to both his work, his family, and our community. Tony grew up in Albuquerque with both parents as teachers in the South Valley, family roots in northern New Mexico as well as Chicano activism and Catholic social justice as part of his life.