What happens when we turn the educational hierarchy upside-down?

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There is no doubt that the federal role in U.S. public schools has increased dramatically over the past decade with the adoption of No Child Left Behind and its equally intrusive successor, Race to the Top.  Local and state control has eroded significantly as mandates (surreptitiously disguised as incentives in the latter) force states and local districts to give up control of assessment and curriculum.

With the locus of control shifting further and further away from the classroom,  external curriculum modules and standardized assessments attached to the Common Core dictate what is happening in classrooms. In an attempt to implement a one-size-fits-all education reform model, the individual needs of students and communities at the district level are being plowed over, leaving students, teachers and schools pressured to comply with a top-down hierarchy that many feel is inescapable: a hierarchy that sadly puts teachers and students at the bottom.

Maybe Washington can take a page from the Finnish National Board of Education, and re-imagine how we look at the educational framework.  Here’s how the Director General, Timo Lankinen, represented the Finnish education system:

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This decentralization of steering powers, coupled with the autonomy of local education providers to organize schools and implement educational policies, leads to communities and educators playing a much bigger role.  But more importantly, rather than relying on the concept of an “average” learner, students’ needs, diversity and differences in motivation in the specific educational context of an individual school district can dictate what is taught and how.

Students at the top…imagine that.

Democracy works when citizens are able to change their minds when presented with new information.  In the U.S. we have been challenged by the Department of Education to think differently and to fight for quality education and social justice. It is time we all challenge ourselves to think about the early effects of these initiatives manifesting in our local schools and classrooms; it is time to think about what education might look like if we were to turn the top-down hierarchy upside-down.

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About christine mccartney

I am a teacher, a wife, a proud aunt, a dog rescuer, a person who has been rescued by my rescued dogs, a hiker, a four time (phew!) cancer survivor, a runner, a tattoo addict, a vegetarian, an advocate, a friend and a happy traveller. Enjoy!
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9 Responses to What happens when we turn the educational hierarchy upside-down?

  1. Pingback: The Broken Hierarchy: Education in America - Moral Communities Project

  2. Reblogged this on Timbered Classrooms… and commented:
    With the locus of control shifting further and further away from the classroom, external curriculum modules and standardized assessments attached to the Common Core dictate what is happening in classrooms. In an attempt to implement a one-size-fits-all education reform model, the individual needs of students and communities at the district level are being plowed over, leaving students, teachers and schools pressured to comply with a top-down hierarchy that many feel is inescapable: a hierarchy that sadly puts teachers and students at the bottom.

    “Maybe Washington can take a page from the Finnish National Board of Education, and re-imagine how we look at the educational framework. Here’s how the Director General, Timo Lankinen, represented the Finnish education system:”

  3. I just found your blog while researching a topic for an article I’m writing. It looks like I’ll be following as a fellow writer and teacher.

  4. Zane Wubbena says:

    Reblogged this on PHIGURITOWT and commented:
    There is something wrong with a hierarchical organizational structure in education.

  5. Richard DiNardo says:

    Christine, I share some of your concerns regarding the kind of top down, one size fits all approach to education. Still, that leaves a question, namely what do we expect students to learn? As someone who teaches adults, my expectation is that when they walk into my seminar room, they can string together several sentences that are both grammatically correct and express a coherent line of thought. You would be surprised how often I am disappointed. As for simple history, too often they are ignorant of even the most basic facts of American History, let alone more esoteric topics. That strikes me as a failure of the educational system that produced them. Finally, I note that in your post that the Dept of Ed wants you to think about quality education and “social justice.” Exactly what “social justice” has to do with education is a mystery to me. In fact, I have never heard a coherent definition of the term, and when I do hear it, my first reaction is to reach for my wallet, to make sure it is there. That is perhaps curmudgeonly on my part, but I do think that if we have to have a Dept of Education (how did we manage without it before 1979?) it should best concentrate on education, and only education. Yours, Richard.

  6. This reminds me of something really profound that was said by Michelle Rhee in “Waiting for Superman” as she ran up against the educational system in place; that she realized the system is in place primarily to take care of the adults as opposed to the students. I found that really profound and am unfortunately finding that to be true as I launch my career in education. I wonder then, how we can remind ourselves and others that students are truly our priority and to make it so. I’m also learning that as a country we are so quick to throw whatever solution we can think up before truly understanding the root cause of the issues to begin with. It’s time that we took a long pause and serious look at what to, working together as a cohesive unit and remembering to make the students our priority. Thank you again for sharing! I can’t tell you how important it is to know there are teachers like you out there as I experience the world of education as a new teacher.

  7. blkdrama says:

    I like the fact that teachers are put close to students, where they belong. I wonder how those fantastic, passionate educators can keep coming back day after day, suffering from a lack of respect and appreciation. I remember what respect feels like.
    Bonnie

  8. Christine, I wholeheartedly agree with the Finnish model. I would hope all teachers believe that students should be at the top. What I ask myself and others is, how do we go about making that a reality in our educational system? If in our district we (the teachers) believe this, is there anything we can do that can have an immediate effect? I think it is so valuable the posts that you are writing. I am always amazed at how other countries hold students in a higher regard and give them the choice to pursue the education and skills they want/need while our system now forces them to do what legislators want. Hopefully your posts will educate some of us and help us make some change at whatever level we can.

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