School Days in America

You can hear the pinewood burnin’/You can hear the school bell ring/Gotta get up near the teacher if you can/If you wanna learn anything… – Bob Dylan, “Floater (Too Much to Ask)”

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In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better by Richard DuFour (Solution Tree, $34.95, 256 pages)

Money Where the Mouth is

In the “old days,” Mr. Zimmerman’s conventional wisdom might have been considered the best advice going on how to do well in school. Conform, comply, raise your hand, turn in your work on time, please the teacher, memorize facts, get your “A” – and away we go. Some will go to college, some will not, and que sera sera. But times have changed. We know better now, and the stakes are too high to continue to proceed in a business as usual approach. Despite this, far too many schools and districts across the country – much less policy makers and elected officials, refuse to address culture, adjust practice, and change education policy in ways that establish systems and funding mechanisms to support a changing profession.

Imagine if you went to a doctor who butchered your knee instead of performing a simple scope? Yet, all too often emotion and nostalgia, not knowledge, drive decision making in public education; the system goes limping along. Then, when low results do not coincide with high expectations, it’s blame the teacher and fire the superintendent time.

The title of Rick DuFour’s latest book, In Praise of American Educators, is a tad deceiving. While he does indeed laud educators for their many accomplishments – such as record graduation rates – he also addresses the urgency for improvement. However, unlike many who criticize for profit or personal gain, DuFour actually offers a solution. Not surprisingly, that solution is Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

PLCs are not a structure or a program, but, rather, a way of life focused on professional collaboration and capacity building in which it is unacceptable for some students to fall short of mastery. Learning targets are clearly identified, student progress monitored in real time, and a system of interventions and enrichment for all students institutionalized. DuFour cites the top research from leaders in the filed, most notably Fullan, Hattie, Marzano, Hargraeves, Stiggins, McTighe, and Darling-Hammond.

For educators who have embraced DuFour’s work, many of the concepts will be familiar. But while the approach and presentation is unique and insightful at times, I don’t think this book was primarily written for educators. I think the intent of this book is to move a larger audience to both sensibility and action. Though many educators will read and enjoy this work, like Diane Ravitch’s mea culpa The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn’s Coherence, or Sir Kenneth Robinson’s classic TED talk, How to Escape Education’s Death Valley, the book’s greatest impact would be if those in positions of power and the general populace actually read it, and – even better yet, listened.

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DuFour is battling cancer. In the Acknowledgments section of the book he writes, “It is because of them (his professional colleagues) that I know the number of educators embracing PLCs will continue to grow and flourish long after I am gone.” For the good of the kids, and for the good of the country, let us hope he is right, as he has been so many times before. Oh, and thanks, Rick.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Dave Moyer is the Superintendent of the Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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