What's Best for the Best Is Best for the Rest

All great changes are preceded by chaos.” 
Deepak Chopra

In the midst of a week rife with international terror incidents, I recall the chaos that accompanied 9/11 in our own country. Although this remains one of our nation’s greatest tragedies, some “great changes” definitely resulted from the “chaos” that ensued on that day. One example is that air travel is now much safer than before. While we may never be able to guarantee air travel completely free from terrorist attacks, systematic steps we took as a global society immediately after 9/11 almost certainly prevented a number of additional tragedies.

One small, post-9/11 security change in our country was to cease the practice of allowing non-passengers to proceed through security to airport gates. Prior to 9/11, I actually enjoyed walking to the gate 
with friends and relatives who were departing on a flight. 

Even as a young boy, I would head to O’Hare with my dad every holiday season to accompany my grandmother to the gate as she would venture off to San Francisco or Hawaii to spend the holidays with one of her other children. We would watch her walk down the tunnel to her seat on the plane. I would remain in the gate area with my dad, waving to the windows of the plane, hoping “Granny” would see me. I enjoyed this and even now it is a nice memory. Yet, times have changed and I believe that it is simply no longer best practice, nor can a case be made that it is a necessary option for travel in our world today.

So, after the chaos of 9/11, what happened in this area? Almost immediately, every airport in the country ceased the practice of allowing non-passengers to accompany passengers to airport gates and instituted more strict security precautions throughout the entire air travel experience. Notice that this was not left up to individual airports to decide on a whim. What was determined to be best practice for one airport meant that it was best practice for all. Every. Single. Airport. Some people were angry with this new practice. Some still are, while others have adjusted to the change readily after an initial negative reaction. Regardless of whether the general public thought it was a sound idea, a horrible idea, or something in between, the change was made. I do not recall having a vote in the matter, nor do I recall a long, drawn out conversation. It just happened. And, almost everyone adjusted immediately, to the point that a few short years later it actually seems odd that we once could and did do this.

But what does this have to do with education? Well, I find myself wondering if there are some "givens" that should be in place at every school in the entire country. Right now. Today. For all kids. Everywhere. Since 2009, I have flown more than 500 flight segments into more than 50 airports (I traveled for work 100% of the time for three consecutive years). During these travels, I noticed that airports around the world vary greatly in any number of ways: size, parking, car rental locations and protocols, dining choices, tram options, frequent flyer lounges, WiFi offerings, availability of charging stations, and many other variables. 

However, when it comes to matters of critical importance--such as our safety--these widely-varying airports were remarkably similar. The people in positions to make such decisions determined that it was fine for O’Hare to establish a restaurant with a Chicago Blackhawks theme and A-OK for the Nashville airport to set up an annex location of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge within. It was also up to the local sites to determine I would be taking a tram to get from the terminal to the Rental Car center at Newark and San Francisco, but I needed to take a bus to the rental car facility each time I landed in Albuquerque. These decisions are relatively inconsequential. Truthfully, I preferred the smaller airports, like Lubbock or Lehigh Valley, where I could simply walk to my rental car, but I was still able to achieve my goal of procuring a rental vehicle regardless of the local procedures in place.

This pushes me to reflect on certain practices in schools, at least schools in our nation. We tend to value and fight for local control of our schools. In many ways, we should; we know our kids and community best, our relative strengths and needs. 

But are there some aspects of education today that are so obviously necessary--or best practice--for ALL children that they should be in place everywhere, immediately? If so, what are those things? Are children’s futures in the schools across our great nation still subject to the zip code within which they reside? I have worked in schools located in more than half of the fifty states in the past decade and have seen shocking discrepancies in facilities, technology, safety, curriculum, and quality of staff among and within these states. These visits leave me wondering if local control is always the best policy. There are simply some things that the “best” schools have or do that should also be in place or done at all schools. If it is best for the “best,” it is likely best for the rest.

Here is my initial list of five things that should be in place in every school in our country right now. Perhaps there are many more; what would you add to my list? In addition, feel free to let me know which of my five you would not include:

  • A device for every child in every grade. I am a big believer that it is our pedagogy, not our technology, that drives achievement, but in 2015 every child should have access to a device to accelerate their learning and enhance the ways in which they show what they know.
  • Free access to high quality internet both at school and at home. 24/7.
  • Safe, inviting, aesthetically pleasing, inviting, modern, collaborative facilities with classrooms designed for student centered learning.
  • Blocks of time regularly reserved for students to learn about topics/problems of their own choosing.
  • Instruction focused on clear, compelling standards and reporting practices that provide honest feedback to students and their parents about how students are performing to such standards.

Public education in America may not exactly be in a state of chaos just yet, but when I look at the inequities that exist from community to community across the fifty states, I honestly think at times we at least teetering on the precipice. Perhaps that would not be a bad thing, though, if it forces us to finally effect large scale, systemic change for the better--for all kids everywhere, not just in my backyard.

Going to the gate with my Granny as a youngster was fun. I’m glad I have those memories. Having said that, I think it was wise to do away with the practice of allowing non-passengers to do this. Just because it was fun does not mean we should keep that practice in place. As important as it is to START doing best practices in every school in every district, it is equally important to STOP doing the things that no longer make sense, regardless of our fondness for doing them. What we should stop doing in every school in America immediately is, perhaps, a post for another day.

As educators, it is our responsibility, of course, to do what is best for the kids we serve directly. Knowing these kids well, building off their strengths and interests, identifying and supporting their areas of need and wanting them to have the very best goes without saying. Wanting this for every child in our country as well is another way we Teach, Learn, and Lead with Passion!

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