Responsive Schools

Last week we started talking about "wave makers" - those people determined to shake things up in public schools. You need look no further than today's election - where education is the top issue for many voters - to realize that there are more than a few of them. And one place they've had a profound effect is changing how schools deal with their public.

You probably know the old routine: You're a welcome presence in school until you try to get answers to tough questions or rattle the cage.

Now, if you're a Ninja parent, the kind who's convinced he or she should just take over the classroom for a day and show the teacher how it's done, fair enough. But for the many others, the accepted procedure of "just take our word for it" got tired.

Why not feel free, after all, to ask about scores? About consistency throughout the curriculum? About pushing forward a child who may not be Einstein but nevertheless needs more of a challenge? About how teachers communicate with one another, and how a school is managed?

Willingness to ask those questions - and frequent dismay with the answers - led to mold-breaking schools that a decade ago were only a gleam in the eyes of researchers as well as frustrated parents and teachers. It spurred corporate support of innovation in the public schools. And those new players have jolted traditional schools and made many realize that if they had built a fortress, it was time to let down the gates.

In many cases, they have. Few now accept the idea that public schools and teachers unions can ignore the parade of new approaches passing by.

Change is hard - and long-established cultures often dig in their heels. But this is a decade that established a beachhead for educational entrepreneurs. And communication and responsiveness to the market are a necessity that schools - like successful businesses - cannot neglect.

* Send e-mail comments to newcomba@csps.com

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