The American educational system is no stranger to educational reform. As an educational leader, I’m always ready to share my thoughts and opinions, deeply rooted in my almost 20 years experience, regarding educational reform. I started my career as an elementary assistant principal at a school located in San Ysidro about two miles from the United States/Mexico border and continued my work as a principal within six miles of the border. I am proud to have worked with many intelligent, committed, resilient and passionate students, teachers and other administrators who traveled across the border every day to attend or work at schools in the United States. I found that students who completed up to high school in Mexico, did so by paying for private school, and were exceptional students who had high levels of literacy and numeracy, but they were unable to graduate do to the cost to their families. Our classrooms and schools benefit tremendously from the students with a private Mexican education who joined our classrooms as they are models of biliteracy, respect, diligence, and activism. While I celebrate what our schools have gained by having these students, it saddens me that the Mexican educational system misses out on their brilliance.
Today as I reflect on what’s happening in the educational system in my motherland of Mexico, my grandparents migrated to the United States in the early 20th century, I am struck by an essential component that is missing in what I’m reading about their five year reform. But first let’s review what has occurred.
As election season is underway, and as it occurs in the United States of America, education is a key political platform that Mexican politicians are using in their campaigns.
In a nutshell, the core, and most divisive, component of Mexico’s educational reform is a teacher assessment and evaluation system. The reform was approved by Mexican senate in 2013 under the current President of Enrique Peña Nieto and came as a response to the rampant corruption that ruled teacher hiring and firing practices largely blamed for low student achievement. Five years later Mexican University researchers, current government education leaders and reform opposition are all calling for transparency and analysis of the data showing the outcomes of the teacher assessment and evaluation system. There have been deadly protests as teachers see that the results of the testing are being used to fire teachers, as opposed to using the evaluation as a tool to provide professional development and training. The leading presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is running his campaign on the promise to rescind the current educational reform, in its entirety, and bring together teachers, parents and experts to form yet another reform.
Here’s what my experience has taught me. Doing away with an entire system is a mistake. Good practices have emerged from even the harshest of reform initiatives. While No Child Left Behind was wrong in the way it sanctioned “underperforming” systems, it brought a bright light of responsibility, that didn’t exist before, for all learners including English Learners, African-American and Latino students. It showed our country where we thrive and where we had to make drastic changes to serve ALL students with a lens of equity and inclusion.
If you are a teacher, principal, superintendent, or even a country looking at educational reform here are five key steps that I recommend.
- Implement a cycle of improvement that guides all educational policy decision. The cycle includes the following: Identify the need; with experts create a plan; implement the plan; evaluate the plan; use the results of evaluation to modify the plan; and continue cycle. Some places to research and review are Paolo Freire’s work that has come to include the cycle of praxis and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges also has great tools regarding the cycle of improvement.
- Assessment matters. As human beings we have an inherent desire to know how we are progressing in life. We want to know our strengths and areas of growth. The tools used to measure things such as student achievement or teacher efficacy must be utilized ongoing and created with input from educators, educational researchers, educational leaders, student advocates. Assessments must be fair and include a culturally responsive lens meaning they take into account prior knowledge and experiences.
- Data matters. If you are going to assess and measure something such as student achievement or teacher efficacy then the data needs to be collected, shared, and used to guide instructional, curricular and programmatic decisions. Data should not be seen as good or bad, it is information used to guide educational leaders, teachers, students, and parents. Feedback is critical to growth which is the purpose of change and reform.
- Resources and funding matter. Once you have data in hand, a team of stakeholders should come together to discuss the data and identify areas of strength then create a plan to implement changes for improvement. If training or materials are a part of the plan, then the funding has to be there to ensure that it can be put in place. The use of these funds and the impact they have on the plan should also be measured.
- People matter more than anything. Here is what Mexico’s current educational reform has left out. There is little to no focus on what students, teachers, or educational leaders are doing well. We all need to feel valued in our lives and in our work to grow and improve. We show people they are valued by giving them a seat at the table and providing opportunity for their voice and input in the four steps above. We show people value by providing timely, clear, direct, and positive feedback. We show people value by celebrating success (as determined by a team) and creating a collaborative plan to improve the areas of growth.
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