I’ll make a claim: No matter how well informed, unbiased, smart, and well-meaning you are, you still have been wrong over and over in what you consider to be true regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. Too much is changing too fast to be sure that what you know today, and your attendant opinions, will still hold up tomorrow. And that is unlikely to change anytime soon. And that makes it terrifically difficult to develop any plans for how schools will open up again in the fall.
At the time of this writing, the aspiration in Arizona is to open schools next year, but there is no clear vision about what that will look like, according to Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman. The Department of Education is consulting with stakeholders and aims to have a framework announced by the end of May.
My guess is that the success of any reopening will be inversely proportional to its specificity, the speed in which it is implemented, and the degree of central planning upon which it is based. Conversely, an opening that starts small, progresses slowly, features sensitivity to local circumstances, and can adapt quickly to changing circumstances will prove to be the most effective.
To help create such a flexible framework, policy-makers, from classroom teachers to the state superintendent should follow would do well to read,The Key to Successful Tech Management: Learning to Metabolize Failure, by Clay Shirky. In the article, written in 2014, Shirky identifies principles that led the success of the Apollo missions to the moon and were avoided in the development and disastrous release of Healthnet.gov. The principles were to:
1) Create a means to rapidly report problems
2) Develop a meaningful relationship between details and deadlines
3) Have the talent needed for implementation
4) Adapt to uncertainty, don’t eliminate it
5) Avoid detailed standards and timelines
6) Implement features in small, testable chunks
7) Use early outcomes to inform later improvements
8) Avoid a single, fixed plan
9) Avoid making unsupported claims
10) Reward risk taking and don’t punish failure
Each of these principles requires going slowly, learning from each step, and being open and honest about missteps. And that’s exactly what will be needed in an environment in which everyone will be wrong, over and over. So another claim I’ll make is that adhering to Shirky’s principles will prove the most efficient way to successfully move our schools forward into a very foggy future.
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