Why the Deficit Model in Public Education Counters the Spread and Scale of Best Practice

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about overcoming the deficit mindset in public education. My post concluded with this thought:

There is an enormous opportunity in public education right now for us to create a new view. That perspective is one in which we balance our approach with an assets based culture and exploit the strengths of educators in our effort to mitigate our weaknesses. We can begin by creating a structure that makes the celebration of what is going well in our classrooms, schools, and districts routine and expected. We can create a new narrative, one that elevates the profession and encourages educators to continually find ways to improve at the same time.

If we were to spend our time and efforts on identifying the practices and pedagogy that are working, effective at helping us to achieve the results we desire, that improve both learner outcomes and teacher practices, we’d use our best skills and knowledge to spread and scale what we know is effective. We’d exploit our strengths instead of spending so much of our time identifying the deficits our kids have based on a high stakes assessment. We’d spend more time planning how we would do more of what’s working instead of planning for the implementation of a new concept when our teachers are still attempting to master the ones that were initiated last school year. The constant change in strategy works against us in so many ways. This lack of stability and focus counters the idea that effective concepts should be scaled and spread and we should figure out how to do just that instead of figuring out which new instructional program to implement to address the deficits we’ve identified.

To be clear, I am not suggesting we ignore the areas where our children need additional support. What I am suggesting is that we look to what we know works and find ways to replicate effective practices to address said deficits instead of the addition of new pedagogies that are somewhat experimental in nature when we have yet to see evidence that that the newest innovation works for our students. I was particularly moved last week by a workshop I sat in led by Dr. Anita Archer at the MTSS Innovations Conference. Dr. Archer spent several hours talking to us about the high yield and effective learning strategies and pedagogical methods that are supported by evidence. One particular item she highlighted moved me a great deal. It was a slide with some of John Hattie’s effect sizes for various teaching practices.

When I saw the effect size for problem-based learning I was immediately moved to share the information. I’ve read Hattie’s book, Visible Learning. It’s a critical read for anyone who intends to be an instructional leader. Dr. Archer went on to clarify that there are some critical pre-requisites for problem-based learning to be effective and to me, therein lies the often missing pieces.

She went on to highlight nine essential teaching strategies that can support reducing the variation in instructional effectiveness in our classrooms. I’ll be sharing those in a later post, but many of them can be found in the tool my colleague and I developed: Elements of An Effective Lesson

We’re at a critical point in public education and there is a grave need for us to shift the conversation, the narrative, the mindset, and the work. Our focus needs to be centralized in how we replicate what is working for our students. Our efforts must be driven by their needs and their learning. Far too often, the high stakes assessment environment leads us to abandoning what we know students need or rejecting a concept we know is effective for learning because we are unsure if it will manifest on the test. We must have the courage to do what is best for our students to learn and to improve the practices of teachers. We are professionally and morally obligated to be loyal to their needs well before we are loyal to any high stakes test. I dare you to be courageous!

Until next time! Be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!



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