Saturday, December 10, 2011

More and Less

I love Jamie Vollmer's list. I think of it often, especially in times like these. I know he works to add items to the list as they arise. I have some suggestions: Common Core Standards, RTI, PBIS, SBAC, GOALS, STEM, Google Apps, Early Learning, Creativity, Global Literacy, Environmental Literacy, ELL and SIOP, ISTE NETS, MAP, EHCY, ISES, CCLCs, and the list goes on.

While we add high-cost, labor-hour intense items to Jamie's list at a lighting speed (No, wait. At the speed of special interest lobbying), schools are the targets of the biggest cuts in the history of education. Is it any wonder schools are struggling? We have myopic special interest groups dividing our precious human and financial resources into a cacophonous tune of impending collapse. Argh. We are being asked to implement more initiatives than we have the capacity to execute. We are being asked to do more while doing so with less. And then we are audited.

There are so many public schools where leadership, fiscal, and human resources are already stretched and overextended, where there is little margin for error. Rural schools and urban schools with high transiency and poverty just don't have the capacity to undertake another massive initiative, much less the list above; consequently, those schools are more exposed to difficulty in acceptable implementation of new initiatives, or sheer non-compliance.

While each initiative isn't unreasonable without considering any other initiative, the overall networked-effect of Jamie's growing list is detrimental and pedagogically divisive. I think of this often when sitting at an education service agency listening to the details of a forthcoming federally-driven initiative. Earlier this week I had the strong urge to challenge some well-meaning consultants trying to "help" our school district implement "best practice" in our school wellness policy. After taking the self-assessment, I found that the guidelines for foods from vending machines, concession stands, or parents for special occasions are not up to par. To align ourselves to current nutritional thinking, all foods must "be less than 35% sugar by weight, less than 35% calories from fat, less than 600mg of sodium, less than 200 calories, with at least 50% whole grains, but less than 2 grams of saturated or trans-fat, individually sold of only one serving size per individually wrapped package, and if liquid less than 12oz." See how helpful that was. We can add Wellness Policy Policing of Best Practice to the list above. As for the healthy consultants, I suppressed my urge to scream and merely nodded as they lectured.

So what do we do? How do we cope? How can we advocate for balance? How do we determine the most salient initiatives on which to focus? Indeed, with the great people we have, we push forward. With the PLCs we've developed, we cope and filter. With the associations to which we belong, we advocate. And tomorrow, we will have another new initiative to add to Jamie's List. So it goes.

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