There is No Master Plan

Tuesday, 4. December 2012

I had the opportunity to meet Massie Ritsch, deputy assistant secretary for External Affairs and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, among other Department staffers, in December – 2012. Massie, along with his colleagues, was attentive and friendly.

I came away from the meeting with a fresh perspective about the Federal Government’s involvement in education, which is primarily state funded. One of my observations is that there is no master plan. Although ESEA (reauthorized as NCLB) identifies influential legal structures, entitlements, and compliance activities, the importance of communication and local cooperation are critical to sustaining successful change.

Clear communication is difficult to achieve. Initiatives begin at one end of the country, Washington DC, and are discriminated to state governments, districts, administrators, and finally classroom teachers. The intent of these initiatives is altered as they circulate from one entity to the next. Context and purpose are stripped. Teachers often feel that they are on the objective (business end) of these efforts, without the benefit of understanding ideas as they were formed, spoken, and written by original authors.

Another observation, one that was a little inspiring, was that our educational leaders need our help. Without the commitment of locals (teachers, administrators, and parents) on the ground to follow through, reform efforts will be relegated to the “graveyard of lost ships,” or worse, future reform efforts will be met with cynicism (a some are already). A critical element of local cooperation is leadership. Schools are full of leadership opportunities since teaching and learning is a social endeavor. It might be an oversimplification, but without teachers taking the lead in their schools, not much will change.