In a classic sense, what people mean by sustainability is that they are going to preserve what they have. In our work with the Carpe Vitam Foundation, we prefer to say that we want to conserve, not preserve. We have trademarked the term ‘open architecture’ to describe that process. You begin with the core values and beliefs of the whole community, not just the district. That’s the foundation. But you need open architecture because ideas change, people come and go. A program can’t remain fixed in a point in time, as if hairsprayed. If it does, it will become obsolete very quickly.
“The process of gathering and analyzing data should be used to assess the reform and to guide the changes that need to take place. For example, your core belief may be something like, ‘All kids can learn.’ But you need an accountability system to track whether in fact all kids are learning, as opposed to just some of them learning. In the New England Comprehensive Assistance Center, we have done a great deal of work in helping teachers collect and disaggregate the data that show who is learning and what they are learning. When you disaggregate the data, teachers are often shocked to see that there are whole groups doing much less well than other groups—whether it’s girls or boys or Latinos or African Americans. When teachers learn to analyze data in sophisticated ways, it can be a tool to motivate them to change their teaching or to learn and implement something new.
“In the Comprehensive Center, we work with urban, poor schools, and they’re struggling with the pressure to improve performance without a lot of resources. We actually welcome the state assessment and the emphasis on accountability. It’s the first time anybody has paid attention to the fact that not all the kids are learning here—especially the poor, urban, or minority kids. We’ve found that the assessments have helped us to shift some of the mindsets in these schools.”
Originally published on May 31, 2002