Hybrid thinking

Barnett Berry suggests that policy makers engage in “hybrid thinking that transcends the endless bipolar debates” in order to affect change in education. He suggests new ways of thinking about three foundational ideas in education policy. Read on to learn more!

Once again a Tom Friedman op-ed column in the New York Times has me thinking about how we can advance more thoughtful action in public education.

Friedman’s latest, “Got to Get This Right,” speaks to the need for a new brand of “hybrid politics” that transcends the usual partisan gridlock and pushes difficult choices we must make to rebuild our nation. He challenges the hardened, 20th century policy positions assumed by those on different sides of the political aisle.

In education, and specifically in teaching policy, we find the same calcified thinking — tired strategies that are short-circuiting the energy needed to rebuild our public schools for the 21st century.

Consider these teaching policy choices — and how the second of each of the following pairs offers some hybrid thinking that transcends the endless bipolar debates over “what to do about teachers.”

TIRED: Teachers do not need substantial preparation before they begin teaching. Districts and non-profits, not universities, are best suited to train the next generation of educators — primarily on the job – with no expectations that they’ll stay long enough to become expert professionals.

HYBRID: Teachers — because of advancements in cognitive science, the new science of teaching reading and math, and the growing demands of working with second language learners as well as teaching the “Googled,” social media-driven student— need more preparation than ever before. New public-private partnerships can drive teaching residency programs that deeply prepare teacher leaders to manage a wide array of teaching faculty who enter from different pathways with diverse career trajectories.

TIRED: School districts must tightly define and distinguish administrators from teachers and vest more authority in building principals to hire and fire those who teach.

HYBRID: School districts need to blur the lines of distinction between administrators and teachers and offer more opportunities for the latter to create and lead their own schools and take more control over who enters teaching, how they are evaluated and rewarded, and who advances up the ladder of professional leadership.

TIRED: Teachers will be paid primarily on performance, based on value-added statistical methods that identify those who help their students make gains on current standardized achievement tests.

HYBRID: Teachers are compensated on the basis of their meaningful qualifications and experiences as well as on multiple measures of performance — including advancing student learning. These measures include not only standardized test results but more authentic forms of assessment, as well as the ability to assist struggling colleagues and spread teaching expertise; to support students in coping with life’s exigencies, and to build strong school-community relationships.

These and many other hybrid concepts are explored in the new book Teaching 2030, which I’ve co-authored with 12 outstanding teachers from across the United States.

Friedman frames his argument for a hybrid approach to national and international policy in dire terms: “it’s the only workable course for the country right now…so that never again will we see polls that indicate that half the country thinks our best days are behind us.”

Much the same can be said for policies to improve our public schools: if we want to see better days that assure all students the learning opportunities they deserve, we can no longer frame the solutions in either-or terms. We absolutely must have “and-both” thinking and action.