Are We Accountable For Fostering the Freedom To Fail?

by | Jun 24, 2015 | Board Savvy Superintendent Blog Archive, Board-Superintendent Involvement in Innovation/Change Management

iStock_000020585606LargeBoard-savvy superintendents know that they’ve got to work closely with their school board members in coming up with practical ways to carry out one of the preeminent responsibilities of the board-superintendent “Strategic Governing Team:” measuring district educational performance.  Easier said than done, of course, since educational performance is a many-splendored thing that defies easy measurement.  Before selecting particular assessment tools, your district’s Strategic Governing Team must answer a preeminent strategic question:  What are our bottom-line educational targets?  These ultimate goals must drive any kind of performance assessment system if it’s to be meaningful, and merely relying on standardized test results would be abdicating one of the preeminent governing responsibilities.  As Shaker Heights superintendent Greg Hutchings points out in the April 24 post at, “Measuring What Matters in the Shaker Heights Schools,” he and his board members “passionately believe that a world-class education is so complex and multifaceted that state-mandated standardized testing only scratches the surface in measuring educational performance.”

James B. Stewart’s article in the Business Day section of the June 19 New York Times, “A Fearless Culture Fuels Tech,” deals with a fascinating aspect of educational performance assessment that all K-12 Strategic Governing Teams should ponder:  creating the kind of educational culture that is characterized by what Stewart calls the “freedom to fail.”  Stewart, drawing on recent research in examining reasons why Europe lags so far behind the US in the growth of high-tech businesses, observes that the “freedom to innovate is inextricably linked to the freedom to fail.”  And he goes on to suggest that one of the culprits accounting for Europe’s stunning lack of high-tech industrial growth is an educational system that with “its emphasis on early testing and sorting” tends to be highly rigid.

With our current widespread reliance in the K-12 community here in the US on standardized testing as our preeminent assessment tool, is there a clear and present danger that we’ll give short shrift to really important facets of educational performance, like fostering the “freedom to fail” that Stewart’s article links to the capacity to innovate?    If your answer is “yes,” then what are you prepared to do about it in your district?  That’s the question every board-savvy superintendent should help her board answer.

About the Author: Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists CEOs in building a high-impact board-superintendent partnership.

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