Definition of Education Policy

I have often been impressed by Eduwonk.com, a fantastic blog focused on education policy issues. During my policy stint in DC, I found how easy it is to get trapped into thinking about one education-related issue. Eduwonk provides a well-rounded view on a variety of different and current education policy issues in DC and all over the country. (Nice little plug – right?)

Many of my associates, colleagues, friends, or family have asked me to define education policy, and what my hopes are for the future of education policy. I read this article on Eduwonk posted by Sara Meade on July 26, 2011. I was not sure I wanted to post it here, but the words seemed to strike me over and over again. So, I am sharing it with you and encourage you to click on the link to read the entirety of the article.

If Dogs Became Kings and the Pope Chewed Gum

“….[A]rticulating the kind of experiences we want children to have in schools is not policy. Policy is about going a step further and asking, ‘Given the types of experiences and outcomes we want schools to produce for kids, what are the structural and systemic arrangements we can put in place that maximize the likelihood that adults and school systems will deliver those experiences and results for kids?’ And to a large extent those systemic and structural arrangements may not map obviously or intuitively to the experiences we want for kids. If anything, our experience seems to indicate that piling on mandates that schools do “good things” for kids leads to a kind of organizational incoherence and churn that reduces, rather than increases, our schools’ and educators’ ability to actually deliver the kind of experiences and results we all want.”

During my journey through the in’s and out’s of education policy issues and trying to define what systems would be ‘best’ for students, parents, teachers, communities, etc., I find that there is not one clear cut answer. We all know that when it comes to ‘social issues’ that the answer always seems to be ‘It depends.’ It find that ‘It depends’ as an answer is actually positive. ‘It depends’ reinforces the idea that answers on how to solve educational discrepancies are so very case by case, and not because the answer is complex in nature. In fact, the answers to education problems are not complex at all. The article above is a plea for policymakers to start thinking about what is possible by stepping aside and letting the experts practice their expertise. Instead of mandating recycled answers and research into already limiting policies, policymakers should practice flexibility and creativity by involving state and local-based know-how. I reaffirm my original thought that communities/educators and policymakers need to work TOGETHER instead of fighting this battle separately. It is my hope that these actors can begin conversations about what they can do together to design systems that work.