Opinion: Exploring what is possible in education

The 2014 legislative session has finally come to a close. There were many education-related bills that quietly made their way through the session as the majority of our focus was on H.883, the bill that would have made significant changes to our school governance structure by changing all supervisory unions into consolidated school districts. Following the trajectory of each education bill was challenging, as it seemed that the iterative process didn’t necessarily lend itself to logical development.
A central motif to much of the legislative chatter was evaluating the efficacy of Vermont’s educational outcomes and financial formulas. Many legislators and community members pointed to data that reveal significant high achievement scores on national and international assessments, to suggest that changes shouldn’t be made to a system that is already working. Vermont has outperformed most of the states in the union in both math and reading for a long time. Our costs per pupil are among the highest in the country, but our investment in education has borne positive results overall when looking comprehensively at summative standardized assessments. The most strident voices have been calls for fiscal conservatism rather than academic innovation because there is a sense that what we are doing is working for all of our students.
There is a challenge before us. We must not become complacent and believe that we are in a position to maintain rather than grow and expand. In looking at our graduation rates across the state, we know that there are many students that are not engaged in their educations. We know that there is much room to innovate and challenge, to prepare students for global citizenship and the intellectual rigors of our modern workplace. Students can be challenged to think more critically, expand their creativity, and explore the analytical and technical realities that confront them.
Clinging to data that reveal higher student achievement scores in comparison to other states can be a means to resist change and narrow our vision. By confronting the belief that we do not need to change, we can do the work of engaging a vision that embraces all students. We can explore what’s possible, addressing the significant achievement gap that persists in our schools, while making our classrooms a place of innovation. Our students find themselves in an ever-changing cultural landscape, and our educational systems must respond to a world so drastically different from what it was 30 years ago.
Vermont is in a place to build on its strengths if it can get beyond what has worked to discover the limitless possibilities that lie outside of what we already know.
Editor’s note: Peter Burrows, D.Ed., is superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union and has more than two decades of experience in education. He came to Vermont from Oregon last July.

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