The other day I discussed the first meeting of a new statewide initiative here -- SCORE (State Collaborative On Reforming Education). The group is led by former Senator Bill Frist, and virtually every major leader in the state has bought in. The group is decidedly bi-partisan and contains representatives from politics, schools, businesses, and NGOs. I think the motivation for and aim of the group is laudable -- they want to bring everybody to the table and figure out a way to improve schools in Tennessee.
They give a convincing speech when they explain why their group is necessary. They emphasize that while many groups are doing good things around the state, that it's difficult to know what everybody is doing and who can help with various projects -- in other words, the system is fragmented and haphazard. They repeatedly emphasize that there's no silver bullet, so it's important that they bring everybody to the table for an in-depth discussion of what works and where we should go from here.
While I fully support the group, I have two major problems with the implementation of their plan. My first problem, and the one I'll discuss today, is that the whole program is fatally flawed unless they reverse course on their long-term plans. As of right now, they're planning on conducting the SCORE campaign for about one year. At that point in time, discussions will have been started, policies formulated, people motivated, and all problems fixed . . . or not.
The notion that they can permanently place the system on the right track in a year or less is somewhere between naive and ignorant. They justify their existence by discussing the lack of cohesion currently present -- but what do they expect to happen after they disappear? If we need a unifying presence now, there's no reason to believe we won't need it in the future. As currently formulated, the group is little more than a political campaign designed to excite everybody about education in the short-run. The current design fits perfectly into the reform and fail cycle that plagues education -- keep proposing new reforms every year or two and watch as they fail when everybody declines to buy into this reform when they another is coming soon.
At the end of the year, the group aims to have a number of reports regarding solutions and policies in multiple different areas -- which will combine to form some sort of manifesto for schools in Tennessee. It's entirely possible that a year from now the future of Tennessee schools will be much brighter than it is today, but it's more than likely that any agreed-upon reforms will be well off-track five or ten years from now without the existence of the group that drafted them. The hardest part of reform isn't deciding what reforms to implement, it's actually implementing them -- and this group won't be around long enough to oversee that process.
I fully support almost everything this group plans to do: bringing everybody to the table, having frank discussions, bringing in outside experts, and drafting plans and reports together are all significant steps in the right direction. But until the group has a plan that extends beyond a year, they're destined to fail.