Let’s Not Expect Everyone to Run a 4 Minute Mile

I don’t know about you but when I occasionally run in a 5K a 9 minute mile average pace is pushing it for me. Now I’m sure there are some very fit, athletic 50 year olds who can do much better, but clearly if we expected (or mandated) that everyone at my age should run a 4 minute mile the results would be much like what we see in the recently released NYS assessment failure rates. The standard setting equivalent of expecting all to perform at high levels that are dubious in terms of attending to the stated goal of college and career readiness is akin to saying that the health of individuals is tied primarily to how fast they run.

Our first obligation is to do no harm. I am convinced that those who claim to be pushing a reform agenda in the name of helping children are doing quite the opposite. There is great harm being seen and heard in the aftermath of the release of these results to all who live and work with children as well as the students themselves. Those of us who support, and celebrate the individual uniqueness of our students have strong aspirations for all of them.

No, we should not expect everyone to “perform” at the same level using a select set of measuring sticks. In reality, we all have unique strengths that must be honored and celebrated. In fact, let us insure that we do not marginalize the poets, musicians, and artists of the future in the name of getting the data to show higher percentages of 3s and 4s. The engineers, mathematicians, and scientists would also do well to experience a strong well-rounded foundation in their primary and secondary educational experiences. All current and future citizens benefit from time to play and ponder as they develop the creative and collaborative dispositions needed to solve the problems of today and tomorrow.

No, we are not intentionally or unwittingly keeping the bar low—we simply do not seek to cause children to fall on their face as we pull the bar well above their head.

No, we do not want weak standards for our students or our profession—we simply do not want to standardize the complex concepts associated with engaging the hearts and minds of those within our learning communities.

Rather, we seek to build strong professional learning communities where trust and respect flow naturally from a culture of high expectations. The false representation of testing ourselves into oblivion is not making us more globally competitive. The divisive, destabilizing, and destructive patterns now emerging under the current wave of reforms will not serve our schools or our nation well.

We welcome the challenge of promoting 21st century learning skills in our students, and could easily point to the evidence that many educators of the 20th century did well to support student achievements that mark numerous accomplishments of American education as a beacon for democracy and innovation the world over. This is not some nostalgic and oversimplified view of days gone by. It is a reality that nations with increasingly successful educational systems are not adopting the corporate, standardized regime of test-centric, overly scripted and non-public agendas now being pushed and supported by billionaires and the mainstream media.

To think that charter schools, and schools of choice represent a solution to poverty and inequality that still befall many communities throughout our nation is as far sighted as an expectation that we should all run 4 minute miles.

To think that a steady diet of incentives or public humiliation will build a better system of education that insures American economic competitiveness in the century ahead is as far from the research base on successful systems as the eye can see.

The race is not to the top, but to a place where we see the dignity of honest brokers committed to deep learning, unbridled by the constraints of a stopwatch that measures every interval in the name of accountability. We have much to attend to in the name of educating the whole child in 2013 and beyond, not least of which is the social and emotional well being at a time that is rife with fear and anxiety.

It’s time to grab the stopwatch and end this race. Let us chart a new course and recapture the wondrous, inspirational, and joyful places of learning that our children and nation’s future so richly deserve.

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