Race to the Top and School Reform: Rubik’s Cube or a Six-Layer Cake?

Is Race to the Top and its numerous components being presented by statewide Network Teams as a layer cake or a Rubik’s Cube? We’ll answer that question in a moment.

Yesterday at the January New York State Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching (PSPB) meeting, Regents Task Force member Dr. Lloyd Jaeger shared beautifully the challenges districts, administrators, and educators face in implementing the newest Race to the Top (RTTT) component: Student Learning Objectives (SLO). He began his presentation with the three stages of Wiggins and McTighes’ Understanding by Design, explaining the need to first identify your desired results and the evidences of understanding before you can go out and plan your learning experiences. Lloyd then followed laying sheet after sheet on the table with the titles of Common Core Learning Standards, New York State Teaching Standards, Danielson Frameworks for Teaching, Teacher and Principal APPR, the 12 Math and ELA Instructional Shifts, National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, Response to Intervention, and Curriculum Mapping.

After Lloyd had described each title, there was a row of sheets set across the table. Sweeping his hand across the table, Dr. Jaeger asked if schools are seeing these various components as part of a layer cake, all separate from one another, or as a Rubik’s Cube, interconnected. In particular, he asked if people understood how Student Learning Objectives (SLO) fit in to the mix. Board members nodded their heads, confirming the anxiety some are seeing and feeling in their schools, particularly when it comes to SLOs.

Yesterday reminded me of the complexity of change. From the National Association for Secondary School Principals’ Breaking Ranks, we know there are steps to the complex change  process which must be honored for success. Let’s face it; reform is complex. Race to the Top is complex. In fact, most anything which stretches people and asks them to think differently is going to be complex. We are creatures of habit, after all, and we enjoy structure and continuity in our lives. Consequently, when our schema are altered, it can be both physically and mentally disturbing. However, with rose-colored glasses on, I lean on Paul DiMaggio’s explanation of how discrepancies in one’s environment can arouse attention to details and deliberate modes of processing which we ordinarily might miss. DiMaggio (1997) states, “When sufficiently motivated, people can override programmed modes of thought to think critically and reflexively.  Such overrides are necessarily rare because deliberation is so inefficient in its rejection of the shortcuts that automatic cognition offers” (p. 271). Critical thinking and RTTT: that’s a good combination.

As a New York State Race to the Top Network Team Senior Facilitator, I have found invigorating and challenging the wild ride of rolling out RTTT deliverables with my Network Team colleagues.  Our hard-working members of the New York State Education Department have done their best to provide the structure and support for these important efforts, and we in turn do our best to revise and improve the material for our schools. I appreciate first hand the dizzying speed we are putting our districts through, and my team and I have worked hard to remind people of the interconnectedness existing within the RTTT framework. However, I wonder if most see RTTT more as a layer cake than a Rubik’s Cube. I think we’ll need to do a better job showing how the various pieces fit together.

RTTT is changing the landscape, and unfortunately, the interconnectedness of its components are not yet evident to all. With SLOs now entering the lexicon of teachers and administrators, the depth of complexity appears to be deepening, and with it, anxiety. Building a plane in the air is an apt metaphor for what we’ve been doing, but it’s now time to land the plane and have people step back to see the big picture. Then we can resume riveting the pieces together.

DiMaggio, P. (1997). Culture and cognition. Annual Review of Sociology, 23, 263-287. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/199592010?accountid=13645

5 responses to “Race to the Top and School Reform: Rubik’s Cube or a Six-Layer Cake?

  1. This most recent blog is a gift to many of us… reflection and review help clarify the complexity of the efforts to establish performance review standards that are effective. Thanks for sharing. Susan Mittler

  2. You say, “It’s now time to land the plane and have people step back to see the big picture. Then we can resume riveting the pieces together.”
    I agree. Teachers are feeling totally overwhelmed with the changes that they are being asked to make. They are not fighting the changes, and they feel that they are capable of making the changes. However,they feel that they need to be given time to have staff development, to plan sequences and strategy, and to see how the various aspects are going to go together. Right now it is not layers or cubes, but mush. And, they would like to see the APPR specter held off for a couple of years. Betty

  3. Betty, you are so right. Teachers and administrators in our region are doing all they can, and in a proactive manner, to implement RTTT. We’re making good headway, but the more time we and they have, the better. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Pingback: Celebrating A Great Teachers Academy | racetothetopdannas

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