Bill Honig, former State Superintendent of Instruction in California, suggests a replacement for the current approach to schooling. “Build and support,” he writes, is a far better strategy than “test and punish.” Unfortunately, NCLB and Race to the Top locks most schools into “test and punish.”

Honig writes:

“I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of Alice’s question. As more educators, parents, community, political, and opinion leaders become aware of the harm done and the lack of results from high-stakes accountability based on reading and math test scores ( “test and punish”) and privatization (“choice, charter, and competition”), they are increasingly open to alternative strategies. A viable replacement is staring us right in the face–not primarily from the limited number of excellent charter examples but mainly from our most successful schools, districts, and states which follow a more positive, engaging “build and support” agenda.

Massachusetts could offer a powerful model. It performs better than just about every country in the world. Similarly, our nation’s most successful districts and schools such as Long Beach, designated as one of the three best in the country and among the top twenty on the planet should inform this alternative to the top-down, harsh reform agenda. Many comments on this blog describe such schools. Several years ago, a broad coalition in the state of California rejected the major tenets of the “reform” movement, used Massachusetts and high-performing districts as a model, and is pursuing this more positive “build and support” agenda.

What are the hallmarks of the alternative “build and support” approach? First of all, it is patterned after what the best educational and management scholarship has advised, irrefutable evidence has supported, and the most successful schools and districts here and abroad have adopted.

These states, districts, and schools have placed improving instruction and teaching as the main driver of raising student performance. Their policies and practices center on implementing a rigorous and broad based liberal arts instructional program aimed at not just job preparation, but also citizenship, and helping students reach their potential. Curriculum, instruction, and materials embody a shift to a more active, collaborative classroom incorporating questions, discussions, and performances. Implementation efforts build on and improve current practice and endeavor to deepen learning for each child.

Crucially, successful states have provided local schools and districts the leeway and resources to accomplish these improvement goals. They have substantially increased school funding. They attend to class size, teacher pay, and investing in building capacity to continuously improve.

In addition, these “build and support” entities stress fostering the capability and motivation of educators to support improvement efforts by emphasizing improved working conditions, respect for teachers, the value of teacher engagement, and school-site team building. They also encourage the use of significant information about each student’s progress to better school and student performance. Policies have broadened the definition of accountability from primarily relying on test scores. They have also divorced accountability from high-stakes testing measures and instead employ it primarily for informing collaboration and continuous improvement efforts in mutual fruitful discussions.

These successful schools and districts have also focused on student and community support, adopted enlightened human resource policies, and concentrated on hiring and training principals who can build teams, encourage distributed teacher leadership, and support instructional improvement efforts. They also have instituted effective recruitment, induction, and avenues of eventual teacher leadership for new teachers. Most importantly, these states and districts have avoided the more damaging initiatives proposed by the “reformers” to rely on measures that actually work.

Of course there are some healthy differences of opinion about some of the components of the “build and support” approach such as whether Common Core envisions the type of active, engaging curriculum students need (in California we think it does), the importance of an organized curriculum, the role of published materials both proprietary and open sourced versus teacher designed efforts, and the relative roles of teacher, principal, district, and state. Positive discussions about these issues need to occur and many legitimate different ways to proceed are warranted. But those discussions should not detract from the viability of the overall build and support approach as one anti-reformers should support and promulgate.”