Let’s Stop Talking about “Excellence”

In talking about CPS moving forward, let’s take a couple of tired words off the table, starting with “excellence.”  This word does damage of two types. First, by talking about how we want CPS to be “excellent,” or “to go from good to great,” and so on, we are always rejecting where it is now and where it has been. Since our school system is, by our estimation, not yet excellent, it is chopped liver, because “good” is obviously not good enough or we wouldn’t be pining for excellent.  Second, this image of being an “excellent school district” is mythic, and stops us from being empirical. What would excellent look like?  We’ve never defined it.  Does it mean everyone scores at least Proficient on MCAS? That all parents attend every school event? That the school day be 6.5 hours rather than 6.0? That every child is mastering every Common Core Standard or is in a band in middle school? What, exactly, is this excellence we keep talking about wanting and how would we know whether we’ve achieved it?

Perhaps we keep talking about excellence because if we set real goals, we are then responsible for trying to achieve them. That would require taking the time to investigate options, do research, carefully consider changes in policy and practice, debate trade-offs, and try things tentatively without surety that they will help us achieve those goals.  I.e. adopt a stance of humility in the face of what is an astoundingly difficult task, which is to educate the vast majority of children in Cambridge to grow up to be productive members of our society.

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One thought on “Let’s Stop Talking about “Excellence”

  1. Thank you for saying this Emily. I agree with you 100% that vagueness in our goals makes it too easy to avoid ever determining where we are or specifically where we want to be. We also manage to avoid ever discussing the trade-offs between the goals as well. Being cynical, I think this is exactly the way that politicians and managers like things. They get to go around delivering sound bites, but can’t ever be held responsible for meeting specific goals. Who can fault them when they are always trying to do the “right thing”?

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