Dear Sirs: May I respond to the article of Dr. Gary Mathews in your 4/24/11 issue (Professional Learning Communities Needed)? It's been a while since my children were in school, but I have been a disappointed witness to the dumbing down of our school curriculum for decades, and I am a taxpayer, so I do have an interest in the success of our schools.
First, let me say that I generally applaud the changes Dr. Mathews has implemented in our system. He's at least trying.
However, the idea of Professional Learning Communities looks like a mistake in the making. Worse, we won't really know it's a mistake because the way it is structured, there is no way to test for results.
Any program that requires the "early release" of all the students six days a year is a step in the wrong direction. If anything, we need to keep the students in class more hours. There will never be a way to assess, by a cost-benefit analysis, if these lost hours are worth it.
Second, you can tell by the system's nomenclature, what kind of a system this PLC (notice how easily I picked up the jargon) will be. Terms like "communities," "collaborate," "shared mission, vision, values, and goals," "collaborative teams with collaborative culture," and " a collective inquiry" are a telltale indicator that this will be an attempt to stifle individual innovation in favor of "group think." For example, lesson plans will be "tested," which means a teacher will have his lesson plan judged by his peers before it is tried in the classroom. You know that if there is anything in the plan that violates the present accepted paradigm, it will be discouraged. What we need is thinking out of the box, not uniformity in thinking. We need to discourage a herd mentality in favor of uniqueness.
We have three high schools in Newton County. I suppose that means that we have at least three teachers of American history (if the schools teach that anymore). We test the kids all the time. Compare the grades and knowledge level, and if one of the teachers is turning out a superior product, have him share with the other teachers what he is doing that they are not. Next quarter, do the same thing, while encouraging all the teachers to try new ideas. The only place where these things truly can be "tested" is in the classroom.
We should not want all our teachers and their students to be fed the same homogenized Pablum; we should want our teachers constantly to come up with innovative ideas of how to make their students want to learn. Then, when they are successful, find ways to reward them and suggest the others emulate them. But, they can share their ideas in the faculty break room, not at structured meetings while the students are released to the street.