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Op-Ed: A Successful Education Needs All the Right Inputs

Education is no different than most important things in life: the quality of what goes in is inseparable from the quality of what comes out

Ross Danis is president and CEO of the Newark Trust for Education.
Ross Danis is president and CEO of the Newark Trust for Education.

As another year draws to a close and a new one begins, I find myself reflecting on all of the changes that are now taking place or are about to take place here in Newark in order to ensure that all of our children have access to a quality public education. It is clear that what we are experiencing is a monumental shift in thinking about education. Not just in Newark, but also all across America.

And what is this big change that is causing so much tension and resistance? It is the shift away from a general concern about inputs to a relentless focus on outputs.

When I started teaching in the 1970s I was evaluated based on inputs. Did I submit my lesson plans for review on time? Did I have an objective written on the board? Did I summarize the lesson for students in the last five minutes of class? Did the students behave themselves during the observation by my supervisor? I was never held accountable for whether or not I taught them anything. If my students did not do well, it was somehow their fault, not mine. That, thankfully, is changing. And of course, not everyone is happy about that.

Even as a school principal in the ‘90s, I was evaluated on whether or not all my reports were in on time, if parents, teachers, and students were happy, and if the hallways were clear between bells, and clean in the morning. I received more positive feedback on organizing a flag ceremony with the Boy Scouts, the local VFW, and the Rotary Club than I ever received on whether or not the needs of our special education population were being effectively addressed, or whether our students were achieving state growth measures. Thankfully, that is all changing, and again, not everyone is happy about that.

Even universities are faced with alternative licensure and certification programs emerging that are not based on amassing a specific number of courses (inputs) but on candidates demonstrating competency against clearly defined criteria (outputs). And because universities sell courses, not guarantee competency, they are either quite upset, or in complete denial that this is happening.

The entire education sector is publicly confronting unprecedented, but predictable, challenges associated with the implementation of outcome-based systems. For example, everyone understands that parent engagement and parent involvement are important for the successful education of children. Parent engagement is an input. So is breakfast. So is coming to school. Smart boards, iPads, class size, and cultural competence: All inputs.

Why do public school leaders encourage parent involvement and evaluate school principals on how effectively they engage their community? Because it is proven to increase student achievement. Why do public school leaders support culturally relevant programs, meaningful, rigorous, and engaging instruction delivered in safe, nurturing and supportive environments where all adults have high expectations for all children? Because these are the inputs that lead to all students being prepared to lead successful lives.

To be clear: I fully support having all of the right inputs in place and demanding the resources to ensure that our children are able to learn in well-equipped facilities with quality materials, in safe, nurturing environments. But as we look ahead to 2014 and beyond, let’s fervently demand for equity around the only output that matters—ensuring all of our children graduate prepared to lead successful, meaningful lives.

Ross Danis is president and CEO of the Newark Trust for Education

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