Change is Hard in Education

When it comes to education it seems we find ourselves in this perpetually cycle of failure. I recently received this from the local newspaper.

Two-fifths of HISD students failing one or more classes amid COVID-19 pandemic

Houston ISD has disclosed that 42% of its students failed one or more classes during the first few weeks of virtual learning. The failure rate in the first grading period of the fall is typically around 11%. The district returned to in-person learning on October 19th, although only 41% of students have done so, with the remainder learning virtually. A representative with the Houston Federation of Teachers said educators are witnessing the struggles firsthand with their students. “You have those students who are not able to learn, even when they do have the support at home, the environment, the technology,” said Dr. Claudia Morales. “They are not able to focus looking at a screen so long.”

Click 2 Houston Fox 26 Houston

I currently work in HISD and see this on an ongoing basis. We seem to constantly find ourselves in this place of failure. I don’t believe it is a byproduct of teachers not caring but a whole slew of things coming together at one time.

Things to Consider

  • Home Life
  • Students capacity
  • Students Gaps in Learning
  • Method of delivery

That list could go on and on.

But I wanted to focus on change in education as a whole.

As a young buck in the Navy, I never realized I was experiencing one of the most well oiled machines known to man. It is a huge business and operates at a high level. I think chain of command worked well because I was young. I think it automatically showed who the leader was based off of rank. Even if they were not a great leader!

Regardless method of determining who the boss is, we all know who our boss is. Like it or not that is the way it works. But from my experience, working on a helicopter squadron, I had clear cut rules to follow and complete understanding of where I fit within the squadron. There was no doubt in my mind what I was suppose to do in order to make that squadron successful.

I had instructions from how to check oil, pre-flight, to what happens when an engine doesn’t start. Clear cut instructions on anything to everything. Shoot in boot camp I remember being taught how to brush my teeth.

We were all moving in the same direction as far as a squadron went. I knew my role. But now thinking about it, there were larger marching orders then my own. The company commander had his orders and made sure we accomplished those goals. We were one of the most active squadrons through Desert Shield and Storm. My environment changed but my role did not. The only time my role expanded was when I moved up in rank, more was added to my plate. But with every jump in rank I knew exactly what to do because of the training I received.

What does this have to do with education? Everything!

Very few things in my experience with education resemble my experience in the navy. Very little.

Yes we have rules, laws, paperwork, and responsibilities. It is a large engine with a lot of moving parts. But the results are not the same. When it comes to change in education, it is very difficult to move this ship.

Why Change is Hard

One thing I learned in business, the church, and now education is we implement a lot of policies and procedures to bring about change. However, as I pay more attention to the effects these policies have on employees it usually brings more frustration than change.

I think anyone who reads this would agree that the bottom line in education is the student. Period!!!

However, in every other industry we usually only focus on those things that affect ourselves. This can come in the form of money, power, moving up in the company, and things that secure or position within the company.

If we, as the user, of any policy and procedure do not see the end result benefiting us in some way, then we normally don’t pay attention to it. Good or bad!


Unless we adopt a culture designed to accept change then it probably won’t change. Why? Because most policy and procedures are created to battle something that has happened, not what could happen.

Most industries, including education, is reactive and not proactive.

Take into account the news article I posted at the beginning. Two-fifths of the students in the largest district in Texas is failing. What do you think all the schools across the HISD landscape are doing?

I will tell you what they are doing because I am living it.

They are creating policies and procedures on the fly to make this reality non-existent. Literally creating something one moment and trying to implement it the next day.

Now think about this approach! You get an email or newsletter or some type of communication stating that the entire next day is going to look different than it has all year.

Now your boss is freaking out because of the failure rate. Comes up with a plan to cure this situation. Tells their staff of the plan.

Now who is stressed out. The employee right.

But think of the end user, in this case the student. We now have to communicate to 1,000 plus students and parents that the next day is going to be different. In this case we have some students face to face while others are virtual.

What outcome are we going to have?

We are being reactive to a problem we have every semester and now causing the entire district to be resistant to the change that has to occur.

Do you think this problem just started occurring?

Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day. About 25% of high school freshmen fail to graduate from high school on time. Source

Yet most of our policies are reactive and not proactive!!!

Being Proactive is difficult

Even when you see a problem, it is difficult to solve that problem. In business we are looking at bottom line right. So we adjust our shipping, delivery, manufacturing costs, employee productivity, delivery of mission, culture, and so on and so on.

In education we see that our students are not performing very well. So, we come up with shiny toys every year encompassed in new curriculum, plans on delivery, and ways to engage students in the learning.

But as you expand your scope you realize that principals have to focus on budget, students attendance, and on and on. That just keeps on expanding to the district. Now you have transportation, board members, maintenance costs, etc.

We are still focused on the failure of all these students but there are many other elements at play when it comes to that one factor.

Think about this…

HISD just passed a budget for 2020-2021 for 2 billion dollars. Source

HISD has 217,175 students in the district. Making it the largest district in Texas and eighth in the USA. Source

That means we are roughly spending $42,000 per year per student.

Let that sink in…

If someone was investing $42,000 dollars a year into you. Let’s say that does not include your pay. Would you be better prepared for whatever stage in life? Yet, at this time….we have 42% failure rate probably across the USA.

Where do you turn and what do you do.

Do People Really Want to Change

I will admit I am a creature of habit. I wasn’t always this way. When i was younger I loved change. It always brought about fresh opportunities in my life. Now I am pretty set in my ways.

But not when it comes to business and improving a system that is not succeeding. I will make changes at work. I will spend hours trying to think through how do I change to make this situation better.

I don’t mind change in that framework!

I will admit I know some teachers who are set in their ways. They taught the same lesson over the last twenty years. No matter what happens in the world, they are teaching the same thing the same way.

However, I know a lot more teachers who are creative and adapting as the world grows up around them. Those that share those changes…expires others to do the same. It is exciting to see.

We really do have some creative people in education!

When it comes to most people I work with, I could say they are open to change and probably see those around them unwilling to do so. Why is that?

Because usually it isn’t the people who are unwilling to change but the system they live and work in. We have this mindset that it is not me but them that will not change. But, in reality…it is the system they are living in that won’t allow it.

Does the Education Encourage Change?

What I find in large bureaucracy like politics, or education in this instance, it’s very hard to conduct any type of change at a macro level. Things move at very small pace and it is usually a department that will shine before the entire organization does.

For instance, let’s take Special Education. In order to make a sweeping change to special education in HISD would be difficult. But we could say a special education department on a campus is exceeding all expectations.

What we noticed is that the systems we work in are usually rigid and inflexible. When an organization does not provide a safe place to discuss change, or give input, it causes people to withdraw all together from any change. It breeds discouragement! It takes away from excitement and energy for people to bring about change.

Why We Changed

The only reason education changed this year was because of a global pandemic!!!!!

Think about that…

The only reason education changed was because of a global pandemic. If it wasn’t for a global pandemic education would still be operating as it always has.

Not sure about you…but not sure how many people carry the power of a global pandemic to issue change to a system that is hunkered down.

What Are We Doing

What I didn’t realize then but have a clearer picture now. In the Navy I fully understood when a change was made how it would help the mission.

In business or education the clearer we tie the change to how it relates to results, the easier it is to gain excitement, buy in, and people accepting and implementing that change.

In education a lot of times we get a new directive and all we see is more paperwork to fill out. Very rarely is it connected to how this is going to improve a students educational pursuit.

Who is going to get excited about that?

Most of the time we don’t even know who sees all these reports or who is reading them?

If the tie to results is fuzzy, then it will be meet with resistance, apathy, and total ignorance.

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