The Education Reform Oligarchy & Their School Choice Conversation

Wish I could just turn back the clockThe education reform oligarchy of the 80’s had a school choice conversation —at least one that is a matter of record.

It’s doubtful that the public can recall what was discussed. It’s doubtful that very many were really invited to listen. What is more likely is that most people are left asking, what school choice conversation?

So here’s how the story went

“At its meeting in August 1985, the members of the National Governors’ Association [NGA] formed seven task forces for the purpose of examining in-depth critical problem areas in American education.”

Time for Results?

Time for Results?

It’s unlikely that very many people would argue against the idea that parent involvement in education is critical. Then — now, forever, and always — parent, community, and national involvement and support for public schools is a problem in critical need of being addressed with real solutions. How exactly school choice came to be seen as a “critical” problem depends …

“Whether the push for school choice is driven by economic and political forces, or by parents and educators, depends on whom you ask.”

What we know for sure is now our history.

To be clear, since the development of free desegregated public school education, people in the United States of America have had the freedom to choose between their local public schools, private schools, and home-schooling. There is no forced attendance at government-run schools only. There are compulsory attendance laws to protect a child’s right to an education but people have always had a choice in how to comply with that law. We have always had school choice. … to date.

But when was it discussed that school choice is the best answer for a lack of parental involvement? Who knows?

What was decided was to attach the issue of school choice to that of parental involvement. However, at the 1986 NGA meeting, a year after the topics had been decided, then Governor Lamar Alexander introduced the topic like this

“We will then hear presentations from three of the Governors who led the task forces on teaching, on leadership, and on choice.”

Their presentation of a critical problem area went from “parental involvement and choice” to “choice”?

Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado chaired that task force. As he explained it,…

“What we were looking at is how can we give additional flexibility to parents and students in choosing their schools within the public school context.”…

“Some of these could be magnet schools, some of them could be alternative schools, some of them could just be different options among the public schools.”

Lamm recommended PUBLIC choices. These choices were all under local district governance. And even though the topic was introduced as “choice,” Governor Lamm did share some views on parental involvement.

And he did acknowledge…

“The two things we looked at: choice, parental involvement. They are related but they are also separate.”

But in publication after publication, parental involvement and choice would be lumped together without any emphasis on “the choice” being “within the public school context.” It was never a significant part of the school choice public conversation.

The chair of the Choice Task Force wasn’t the only one voicing concerns.

Mr. Al Shanker (then head of the American Federation of Teachers) was one among many who tried to explain the potential pitfalls of “choice.”

“We live in a society where that [choice] is one of our top values.”

“Kids have more of a commitment when they decide on a program or a school than parents do.”

“I am very concerned, and I think all of us have to be concerned, that there are situations where choice could result, let’s say, in the top 25 percent of the students in a major city being offered nice spots in suburban schools, and leaving the schools in that city that might very well be on their way to coming back, leaving them without any role models at all for those other students.”

“Therefore, as we move towards systems of choice, I think you ought to be very sensitive that we may be leaving a lot of kids behind, and we have got to look at that. That’s not to argue against choice, it’s just to argue that we do it in a thoughtful way.”

“There is one other downside which hasn’t been mentioned on this…. The parents’ associations in England complain bitterly that if you have the right to switch, nobody wants to fight. That is, nobody is left to argue that you need improvement in the school because the dissatisfied people move out, leaving only those who either don’t know what is going on or who don’t care, or don’t have the time or the energy to move.”

“You rescue your own kid and say the heck with the rest of it. These things have to be watched.”

“I don’t know all the problems that are going to arise….I want to experiment. I want to make sure we don’t 
decimate the cities.”

Was it just the teacher’s union and a governor or two that questioned school choice as a reform strategy?

Ms. Georgeanne Sherrill, a career ladder 3 elementary teacher in Tennessee, was attending the 1986 NGA meeting to present information on instructional leadership and “career ladders” — an initiative of Lamar Alexander’s. She joined the conversation.

“I would just like to say one thing. I think it’s in connection with what Ms. Futrell [then president of National Education Association] said. I think we can give parents a choice in education without having to pull the students out of one school and put them in another school. We can work with parents to structure the program in that school to meet the needs of the parents that have children in that school.”

That suggestion seemed to be discarded at the time but is finding favor in some areas of the country now.

So it wasn’t just one union leader, or two, or one teacher that voiced objections and concerns. As the chair of the Parent Involvement and Choice Task Force, Governor Lamm went on to explain…..

“I, like I think most of the other governors, are desperately concerned about opening up choice to public or private school and the choice of a voucher or any similar thing, with cannibalizing the existing public school system, about taking resources that are already really too limited.”

There was definite dissention in the ranks of leadership. But the dissenting voices were effectively struck down at every turn by then Secretary of Education Bennett and the Chair of NGA, Governor Alexander.

The conversation going forward? It was framed.

Summary by Lamar Alexander

Summary by Lamar Alexander

What did we hear from the chair of NGA? We heard the question,

“Why not let parents choose the schools their children attend?”

And the talk was of a “better schools movement.”

“It will mean giving parents more choice of the public schools their children attend as one way of assuring higher quality without heavy-handed state control.”

And the project moved forward with the help of the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Bennett’s leadership. The nation had a new project, officially —Project Education Reform.Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.09.50 PM

The newsletter gave no explanation of "choice."

The newsletter gave no explanation of “choice.”

The critical problems of parental involvement and choice became joined at the hip —one dragging the other forward—but at this point in the story, not much was really said about the details of choice.

 

Did the report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (A Nation at Risk) have school choice as one of its recommendations? No. The school choice agenda moved forward because influential and “gifted” people pushed it.

William Bennett was one such leader, for sure…

“He is a man of great brilliance and strong convictions, but he is a preacher, not a teacher. He is trying to manipulate public opinion to accept his ideas of what is right and wrong. This would be forgivable if he were not as gifted as he is and if he were not the Secretary of Education.”

”Bill Bennett is the first Secretary to understand the ideological and political possibilities of the office that were there from the beginning. In Bill Bennett we’re getting our first Minister of Education.”

“…he waded in with a controversial new voucher plan that would give parents of disadvantaged children funds that could be spent in private and parochial as well as public schools.”

School choice was part of the Bennett agenda from the beginning. How much he really cared about the disadvantaged, who knows?

But by 1989, we had a new president, a different secretary of education, and had some changes in governorships. What did not change was the Project Education Reform agenda —with one exception. The facade of parent involvement had been dropped. Instead of a task force on Parent Involvement and Choice, we now had a working group for Choice and Restructuring (pg.44).

Insert1And by 1991, it was Lamar Alexander who became secretary of education putting himself in a prime position to carry their reform agenda forward.

Today as head of the senate education committee, he has done his part to federalize the plan for school choice while being the artful dodger in avoiding any conversation concerning “choice.” The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is in conference committee…..tick, tock….

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

 

Time for the school choice conversation again? In light of the fact that the Dyett Hunger Strike is occurring in Chicago because an open enrollment neighborhood public high school is no longer a choice, we need to have the school choice conversation all over again…now. What is America’s choice?

“The hunger strike is now at Day 28 as of this writing (9/13/15) and the Chicago Board of Education has finally opened talks with the strikers.”

This level of sacrifice by a small group of people should make us all feel a bit humbled by their resolve, but a little sick inside that it has come to this — the oligarchy rules and, in general, they don’t feel the need to listen to any of us.

You-Haver-A-ChoiceThe public’s choice?

Informed Citizens

For our republic to survive and prosper, informed citizens are vital. This fact was acknowledged long ago.Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 9.39.15 PM And as time has marched forward, there has been a notable commonality among U.S. presidents that dissemination of information is an essential national service. Education matters. The question has always been; how do we do it?index

With the civil war raging, President Lincoln answered in 1862 by signing the Morrill Act establishing the land-grant college system. He said at the time:

“The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support and their confidence.”

Fifty-two years later, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act that established the cooperative extension system for disseminating practical applications of research findings from the land-grant colleges to the people who needed the education.

President after president has acknowledged the success of that dual system including President Ronald Reagan as quoted in A Nation at Risk.

“The American educational system has responded to previous challenges with remarkable success. In the 19th century our land-grant colleges and universities provided the research and training that developed our Nation’s natural resources and the rich agricultural bounty of the American farm.”

So, I personally am left wondering if President Reagan was unaware of the intention by President Johnson upon the advice of many, including his secretary of health education and welfare John W. Gardner, to model educational and community improvement after our successful programs in agricultural education.

In July 1964, John W. Gardner, then president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, headed a presidential task force that proposed establishment of the RELs [regional educational laboratories] as a vital link to interpret, shape, and communicate the centers’ research findings; tailor them for practical school use; and infuse them into the nation’s classrooms, including college classrooms.”

So as President Johnson set out to address the issues of poverty simultaneously with those of the education system, he saw the need to provide services for children that would “be adapted to meet the pressing needs of each locality.” He urged that we “draw upon the unique and invaluable resources of our great universities to deal with national problems of poverty and community development.” And it was envisioned that the university extension system could help the people to help themselves.Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.40.32 PM

 

Dissemination of information was seen as essential to improvement.

 

As envisioned by the main architect of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Francis Keppel, a network of regional educational laboratories was written into law. As Keppel expressed, they were “designed to serve education much as the agricultural experiment centers long served and stimulated the development of agriculture.”

He felt this would bring together schools and school systems, link proposal to practice, to provide “a missing link that is in good part responsible for education’s reputation for resistance to innovation.”

Today we have ten regional educational laboratories, but they are not serving as originally intended because their marching orders have changed with the changing of ESEA.

During the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, the centers and laboratories were intended to be a network of institutions designed to revitalize American education through strategic research, development, and dissemination of new programs and processes. Since their inception, such external issues as the federal role in education and the allocation of funding, along with such internal issues as the challenge of applying research to real-world school settings, have significantly affected the mission and operation of these institutions.”

But despite all the changes and difficulties, the regional educational laboratories have put out some excellent research. However, the goal of forming a network to freely disseminate information and assist in training at the local level was never fully realized and has left us with pockets of schools in need of improvement but without the knowledge and skills to do so. We say they “lack the capacity” to improve.

The regional educational laboratories were intended to provide practical solutions to the issues facing schools. They were to serve as the bedrock of excellence. The information they provided was then to be disseminated to the schools and the general public— free of charge, for the most part. They would be supported by the public system. Flow of information needed to be in both directions ensuring that researchers were addressing what the stakeholders needed to know and be able to do.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 11.55.17 AM

When financial support for public research institutions is cut and private interests start picking up the tab, the integrity of research is potentially compromised. At what cost?

We currently have the system backwards — top-down, outcome-based, data-driven instead of student-focused, needs-driven local improvement.

General diffusion of knowledge, dissemination of information continues to be a recognized problem.

As President Carter established the U. S. Department of Education in 1979, the importance of dissemination of research findings was written into the purposes of the department with a few little words— to “share information” (#4).

Diffusion of knowledge, dissemination of research findings, sharing information — whatever we call it — the concept once held such importance that it had its own title in ESEA.Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 11.58.26 AM We once understood the significance of a national system for providing affordable practical education, doing basic unbiased research, and sharing practical, useful information for improvement purposes. And it worked!

Land-grant campuses collectively enroll more than 4.6 million students and have 645,000 faculty members. They conduct two-thirds of the nation’s academic research and charge a third as much as comparable private universities, even after years of price increases.”

…. “If a Congress fighting a civil war could pass the Morrill Act, I don’t think the fact that, today, Washington is so divided should stop us from recommitting to it [the land-grant system].”

Preserving, strengthening, and improving this part of the system is essential to K-12 improvement…And it is not clear from either the House or Senate versions for ESEA reauthorization that Congress sees the importance in dissemination of information and its significance in cultivating an informed citizenry. #DoSomething

Tell Congress to go back to the drawing board NOW! This country has waited way too long to end No Child Left Behind and get back to a law that works for US!

The Public’s Choice

Parents, educators, and politicians moved forward with the illusion of reform based on individual “choice” without considering the public good.

If public education is a public good, what choice does the public have in deciding its direction?

If public education is a public good, what choice does the public have in deciding how it is provided?

We put choice into education law without really having a conversation about our choices.

The Power of the Word

In Understanding the Psychology of the American Idea of Choice, researchers noted that Americans respond more strongly to the word “choice” than people from other countries. They found that when we think about our lives framed in terms of choices, it …

  • “reduces our support for public policies that promote greater equality,…
  • leads us to feel less concerned about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor,…
  • leads us to feel less empathy towards others who have experienced negative life events,…
  • [shifts] attitudes in favor of policies that promote individual freedom.”

At the heart of the issue of “choice” is our strongly embedded love of freedom. There’s nothing wrong with that, except, these findings may very well have been used against us. Overall, researchers found the effects that the word “choice” has on us seems “to bode poorly for solving social problems that require cooperation.”

Public education of children is a cooperative effort.

Choice Laws

The education law of the land, No Child Left Behind (now 12/5/15 called Every Student Succeeds Act), is a law promoting school choice.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 5.30.00 PM

It didn’t used to be. It used to be a law promoting quality and equal opportunity.Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 3.52.56 PM

But even if we eliminated the big bad hand of the federal government in education reform laws, state charter laws abound and ALEC is ready for the State to control education reform.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is advancing the “principles of free markets” and makes claims that they promote…

“public private partnerships between America’s state legislators and concerned members of the private sector, the federal government, and the general public.”

ALEC is looking out for the general public?

ALEC supports “more choices in education both as a matter of principle and as a promising solution to the increasing challenges facing America’s K-12 education system.”

With charter laws in place across the country, here’s ALEC’s smorgasbord of other “solutions” to choose from ….Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 7.41.11 PM

But is “choice” a solution for the American K-12 education system?

The Assumption of Choice as a Reform

The basic assumption is that ALL parents are very savvy and their school choices will be well-informed. They will be able to judge the schools accurately and won’t get sold on advertising gimmicks similar to how the country was deceived by test score comparisons.

I admit my bias here; I volunteered in classrooms for 11 years and saw these same kids with their families in different settings in my community. This is my opinion…

The ignorant crack head is not “savvy”; the single working mother struggling to get everything done in a 24 hour day doesn’t have time to adequately do her homework on schools, she isn’t “savvy”; the homeless but proud (and yes, I can put a face to them) can only use the library computer for a limited time, not enough opportunity to become “savvy”; and those parents whose children are their translators have a real barrier to becoming “savvy.”

Put another way in “Choice or Commonality” by Martha Minow, a law professor and inspiration to a young Barack Obama,

“if educational responsibility remains solely on the immediate family, ‘choice’ may take place in a world of insufficient numbers of quality schools, inadequate information about the stakes and alternatives, and large numbers of people unable to use the choice system effectively. This state of affairs means choice for some and not for others, and whether a child’s educational needs are met will depend on her parents’ ability to choose.

So with federal education law originally meant to support the public education system in order to break the “poverty-ignorance-ignorance-poverty cycle” by providing ALL children with quality education, we know “choice” cannot logically get us to equal educational opportunity.

What problem is fixed by “choice” through charters?

Quality? You can put the word “quality” in front of “charter” in law but it doesn’t make it so. In the new federal law set to replace No Child Left Behind they use the term “high quality” while others say “high-performing”; still, words don’t make it so. Only 17% of charter schools perform better than traditional public schools. Unequal quality isn’t fixed and that is the major problem.

While the problem being fixed by choice through charters is illusive or non-existent, the growing troubles are well documented in this Washington Post article, A Dozen Problems with Charter Schools.

  1. Most are not helping kids.
  2. Some are actually hurting kids.
  3. Far too many are cash cows.
  4. The industry is rife with fraud and corruption.
  5. Lack of transparency and accountability.
  6. Skimming and weed-out strategies.
  7. Contribute to the re-segregation of U.S. education.
  8. Drain resources from struggling districts.
  9. Closing traditional public schools.
  10. Lack of innovation.
  11. Hard to get rid of the bad ones.
  12. Charters promote “choice” as solution.

As the curtain goes up on all the complications with charters, that will not slow the Choice Movement. Look at Nevada and their Universal School Choice.mistakes

Is this informed choice? What are the risks? And really, what is the difference between shopping for a charter and shopping for education products with public money in hand? How informed will parents be, how inefficient is the system to become, how unequal will the quality be, and who will be responsible to the children left behind in the end when their parents don’t make good choices or are fooled into bad choices?

The choice to leave a school never improves that school. For certain individuals, a different school than the one they are assigned is appropriate, but those situations must be handled at the local level. They are the exception, not the general rule.

The choice this country was never given is the one to continue to strengthen and improve all schools through proven methods. The choice we never got was to put in place the best practices we know that match our students’ needs. The choice we never got was to improve the teaching profession as a nation. The choice we never got was to fund schools in a manner that is fair and reasoned.

When all reform is based on responsiveness to the needs of community members, continuous improvement happens. That’s what we have always needed, always will.

Choice is a very powerful propaganda weapon; choice is not a reform. School choice is not a solution. To create more equitable educational opportunities, continuous school improvement of every public school is the only logical solution.

But I’m not the one making this choice.

personal-choice-quotes-3The public must choose. Do you want public education to be a public service provided by our government, or, a commodity provided by private individuals or organizations paid for by tax dollars? This is about control. This is about how we govern our schools.

This is a BIG choice. We urgently need to decide.

Title I & ESEA Reauthorization

Does Congress and President Obama understand how Title I money was meant to be used? Looking at what they have proposed to date, it is a question in need of a good, clear answer.

A requirement in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was that a president-appointed advisory council report yearly to the president. The National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children was to review the laws’ progress with the programs and projects Title I funding supports.

In turn, the president was to report the findings to our Congress along with comments and further recommendations.489596

To do this responsibly and hold our government “accountable,” we all need to understand Title I. Title I is the touchstone of the original ESEA.

The federal formula funding was distributed for assistance of “children of low-income families.” The directive was to address the needs of “educationally deprived children,” which the architects understood would include more than just the low-income children given that the schools where the most funds would flow were “inherently unequal.” Needs are going to vary from community to community but potentially all students in schools in low-income communities are at risk for being underserved.

Title I was to address the disadvantages CHILDREN face — economically, educationally, mentally, or physically “disadvantaged”— that were being ignored, or in some cases created, by state and local agencies.

The goal of ESEA was to provide equal access to quality education — that is how “equal opportunity” was defined.

To do so, we have to recognize the barriers “disadvantaged” students and their families face in our communities, schools, and classrooms and fully address those problems directly. Title I dollars flowed to meet the needs of CHILDREN from low-income families….PERIOD. The other five titles of ESEA addressed the needs of low-income schools, communities, and states.

This is our ESEA history. In 1966, less than a year into ESEA’s implementation, President Johnson received his first report from the Council. They reviewed and summarized the programs. They gave examples including one district reporting that health examinations had been conducted for the first time showing that 45% of the children tested were anemic.

Now, how do we expect these disadvantaged children to have the same standards-based outcomes at the same time as healthy children?

As President Obama expressed in Selma,

“Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity,…”

To fulfill our duty to America’s children, effective schools must be established in every community where they do not currently exist. Understanding that those communities with the highest concentrations of poverty have children at greatest risk of being educationally underserved, their needs should be our first priority.

At President Obama’s request, we have identified the lowest performing schools throughout our land. It is our responsibility as a nation to support their improvement, as a short-term goal, while providing a long-term strategy to prevent the wide gaps in opportunities, and therefore educational achievement, that we have experienced in our past and that continue to plague our nation’s children today.

In addition to providing the best in educational opportunities to every child, now is the time for a plan that views appropriation of funds as a national strategic educational investment and expects communities to make wise use of all education resources.

And let it be acknowledged that the urgent need of children begs for some emergency measures.

Let us not lose sight of the purposes of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA):

* To establish equal access to quality education,

* To strengthen and improve all schools.

Here’s the beginning of an alternative a plan to what Congress currently is cooking up:

Title I – Education of Children of Low Income Families to provide formula-funded financial assistance to local education agencies in support of children from low-income families in order expand and improve community efforts to meet their learning needs.

Execution: To address learning needs requires a “needs assessment.” School staff (principals, counselors, aids, and teachers) and parents (or other adults involved in these high-needs children’s lives) will be the first to collectively identify those needs. Those identified needs will then be brought to the attention of the larger group of community stakeholders (civic, non-profit organizations, foundations and concerned individuals) to be further defined, measures for success indicators established, and existing resources in the community identified. “Gaps” in resources will be identified and brought to the attention of state education officials so that no identified need goes unaddressed. State officials will be responsible for identifying their resources and establishing indicators of their success and to continually monitor and report on their ability to meet their responsibility. Needs assessments will be done using the existing government assessment tools.

Emergency measures: Those Title I schools now designated as chronically low-performing or “priority” schools will be guided through the assessment and improvement processes with cooperative funding (“set aside” Title I money) and staff from the state and local districts with a “support team” provided through the U.S. Department of Education.

Schools identified as chronically low-performing need strong, effective, democratic leadership to take these schools through a successful school improvement process. A federal leadership program (Academy) will be

“designed to enable people who are already experienced principals and other school leaders, knowledgeable about how schools work and the special problems they face, to learn how to turn around the expectations, beliefs and practices of school stakeholders in low-performing schools. The expected focus of the Academy would be on how to improve instruction and change schools’ culture” (Ratner, The “Lead Act,” H.R. 5495/S 3469: Briefing Paper).

Accountability: Using the indicators of success as designated for targeted results through the school improvement process, the “appropriate objective measurements” will be used to judge the “effectiveness of the programs in meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children.” Local and state officials will have established the parameters (what and how often) of those measurements and will make those facts transparent to the community and state, respectively. An accounting of expenses and results of the uses of Title I money will be reported to federal officials for review. National monitoring of achievement gaps through the random use of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will continue unchanged. Results of progress by the nation and cost /benefits will be reported annually to the President, Congress, and the Nation.

Currently, with ESEA reauthorization discussion being more about a “national accountability system” and “choice,” and less about disadvantaged children, I worry that we have lost our way on the march towards equal educational opportunity.

But then I remember — “WE the People” and the “highest of ideals” that were put into law in 1965 — there is hope.

[The preceding was a modified excerpt from addendum 1 of The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present: Education’s Missing Ingredient, second edition, by Victoria M. Young, © 2012]

Leadership & ESEA Reauthorization

For the quickest path to educational improvement — or to dismantling of the public education system — look no further than leadership.

If we want to improve schools, we need skilled leadership educated and experienced in school improvement processes. The question is, do the American people want those leaders trained by outside sources or developed within our own public education system? If we choose to go private, do we know what the leaders will be trained to do and how?

Joanne Barkin covered the private philanthropic efforts in leadership training quite well in “Got Dough: How Billionaires Rule Our Schools.”

Barkin explains “their vision” is “market-based.” Market-based education reform means seeing education as a commodity so reforms are based on demand, supply, and pricing. The vision was sold to us based on the assumption that higher test scores mean better education. The theory relies on parental and public demand for better “outcomes” as driven by high-stakes standardized testing.

The demand for higher scores has pushed the perceived need for charters, vouchers, higher standards, better tests, and longitudinal data systems to track every student and teacher. And when these pseudo-reforms fail to improve our lowest-performing schools, closure of schools and redistribution of students into the marketplace is now a reform. And leaders have been privately trained in these pseudo-reform methods. There is a school closure manual to follow!

The biggest private providers of leadership training?

“They” include Marc Tucker and his National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) and Eli Broad (pronunciation rhymes with road) with his Broad Center programs. But as Barkin put it, “both the Broad Academy and Residency are not mere programs: they are ‘pipelines’.”

Ken Libby and Stan Karp explain, “The [Broad] Academy’s revised program of study will aim to prepare leaders for positions beyond the superintendency of districts to include leaders of charter management organizations and state education departments.”

Libby and Karp quote from a memo they obtained boasting,

“We have filled more superintendent positions than any other national training program, and remain the only organization recruiting management talent from outside of education.”

Working from “inside” of education is Marc Tucker’s for-profit NISL. Tucker is a former Carnegie Corporation employee and current president of the D.C. think-tank the “National” Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE).

As scholar John M. Perella documented in “A Critical Study of the National Institute for School Leadership in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

NISL launched with “$11 million in research and development grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Broad Foundation, the New Schools Venture Fund, the Stupski Foundation and NCEE”  (p 4).

“From 2001-2004, The Broad Foundation “kicked in 3.5 million’”and NISL began to put together teams of ‘the best and brightest’ for the purposes of creating a curriculum for NISL (p107).

Dr. Perella described his NISL training as an impressive combination of applying “militaryJohn-W.-Gardner-Quotes-2 and business strategies to educational issues.” But he questioned the foundational philosophy of the institution and looked for answers. His findings revealed “strong elements of both privatization efforts and neoliberalism within the NISL program.”

“From a critical perspective, the most alarming issue with NISL is in regards to the voice of the program. With voice comes power. Whose voice does NISL accentuate? Whose view of how public education should operate is expressed through NISL? Specifically, it is important to ask whose voice is not being heard.” (p137)

This particular “pipeline” has been working towards producing “leaders” for the market-based systemic privatization of public education since 1999. This for-profit has been granted your federal dollars.

The newest twist is having the House adopt “Pay for Success” as part of their grand scheme for ESEA reauthorization (Elementary and Secondary Education Act/ No Child Left Behind). This section of H.R. 5 is written to put taxpayer dollars into private teacher and leadership development programs. With the creator of the outcome-based theory leading the pack in leadership development, Tucker’s NISL has their documented success already on their website. But is this how WE want to judge “success” in education  – based on arbitrarily set “cut scores”?

Shouldn’t our leaders vision for schools represent OUR vision?

People NEED TO KNOW that much of what they see happening in public education – now – is a result of leaders that have been churned out through the Broad Superintendents Academy, the Broad Residency, and NISL. We have no way of knowing how many graduates of this neoliberal, privatization philosophy we have working within our public institutions up to and including our own U.S. Department of Education.

The alternative?

Here is its foundational philosophy:

A “principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction” along with “teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery” are two correlates of Effective Schools. “Effective Schools” are high achieving schools with a high percentage of their students from low-income families and a high percentage being children of a color other than white. Leadership matters in matters of instruction.

Another correlate is “a pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus”; this requires a leader that can communicate.

And effective schools do use “measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation,” which was the annual requirement in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965.

We don’t have to reinvent any wheels.

The “National Education Leadership Academy Act” is written for us.

Written by Gary Ratner, Director of Citizens for Effective Schools

Written by Gary Ratner, Director of Citizens for Effective Schools

Many citizens and education policy leaders, particularly civil rights leaders, continue to hold on to the failed test-based practices of No Child Left Behind. But what they don’t seem to realize is that if we are to improve the learning opportunities for those students being left behind, we have to have capable, responsive, responsible school leadership in all our schools.

This draft is a detailed plan to develop school leadership aimed at strengthening and improving the public education system while addressing one root of the existing problem of unequal access to quality education – state and local leadership “capacity.” Developing leadership capacity is a responsibility that must be met.

We identified the states that have demonstrated over the last 13 years that they can’t adequately and consistently improve the schools most in need of help. I know; I live in one.

We have identified the same districts and schools over and over since my kids started school here in Idaho in 1992. It never mattered which standards, which tests, which label, or which accountability system we used, the same schools keep coming back on the list – if they ever leave it (which was usually when we changed accounting or moved kids around). Some states lack the capacity to improve themselves.

The larger institution of public education is capable of training quality leadership. But it lacks the capacity to meet our current needs because our lawmakers have been an instrument of privatization – our public dollars creating a steady stream of capital into private pockets. What now?

The country is in a position to build leadership capacity. With ESEA reauthorization moving forward in Congress, we have the opportunity to choose an alternative to the direction we have been going for the last 30 years.

Do we have legislative and executive leadership that will do the right thing? If our leaders will be guided by the People – which way will the People direct them?

Privatize the system or remain public; America’s Choice.

Keeping PACE & ESEA Reauthorization

“We must support families, communities, and schools working in partnership to deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.”482045From A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), 2010

Sounds great! But the Blueprint was written to fail. Parents became an afterthought, the funding was backwards, and privatization was stamped all over it. The plan designated formula funding for wants, experiments, and pushed a political, ideologically driven, education industry agenda while leaving student needs to be filled through competitive grants. And the time-proven, research-based, essence of the original ESEA was hidden behind verbiage sure to raise political conflict. Written to fail.

But, never mind. The Blueprint isn’t really a big obstacle because the real responsibility for ESEA reauthorization is in the hands of Congress. The best thing that could happen right now would be for the people in this country to decide if they agree or not with the proposals coming out of the House and Senate.

And we deserve to know if the president is clear in his own mind as to what principles he stands upon. When the law lands on his desk, by what standards will he judge it? He has given us mixed signals.

Does the Obama administration firmly believe that education is a “shared responsibility”? Will policy reflect that concept? Does the administration comprehend how parents, families, and communities were once central to federal education policy? Do they know how parents are treated in dysfunctional districts, the under-performing ones that they say they want to “turnaround”?

In education policy in general, we parents have not just been directed to the back of the bus, we’ve been shoved out the rear door and left on the curb.

The reality over the years has been that parental “involvement,” “engagement,” “participation” — whatever the flavor of the year happens to be — has been more of a sound bite than sound policy. In too many districts, No Child Left Behind’s parental participation requirement was implemented on paper only — schools meeting rule compliance without doing the right things.

Knowingly or not, President Obama clearly expressed a focus for ESEA reauthorization — to support partnerships that deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.

Then under the heading Rigorous and Fair Accountability and Support at Every Level (p9), the presidents’ Blueprint went on to state;

“States and districts also will collect other key information about teaching and learning conditions, including information on school climate such as student, teacher and school leader attendance; disciplinary incidents; or student, parent, or school staff surveys about their school experience.”

In those words, we have a new beginning for an accountability structure originally envisioned in Education Counts.

“The information system needed to develop education indicators should be organized around major issue areas of enduring educational importance.”

If parental, family, and community support for students isn’t of enduring educational importance, I don’t know what is.

So with a focus and a way to monitor improvement, all we need is a research-based proposal to finally make right the school improvement portion of ESEA to ensure it is truly inclusive of parents, families, and communities.

That’s where “Keeping PACE” comes in. The Keeping Parents and Communities Engaged (PACE) Act was sponsored in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) by former Senator Edward Kennedy. It was introduced into the Senate Education Committee and never went any further.

The problem with Keeping PACE as it was proposed is that, like the best ideas in the Obama Blueprint, it was a competitive grant proposal for something that impoverished communities badly need — it’s not a want; it’s not an experiment. It is a need. Parent and community engagement must be given the priority that only adequate and fair formula funding can do.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 5.11.23 PMWe have research-based best practices for family and community engagement. Research shows there is “…strong and steadily growing evidence that families can improve their children’s academic performance in school. Families also have a major impact on other key outcomes, such as attendance and behavior, that affect achievement.”

Fund what works!

The basic idea of Keeping PACE is this: Title I money is used to hire Parent and Community Outreach Coordinators to coordinate already existing community resources to support students, their schools, and their families making schools the centers of communities through education and services focused on a community’s identified needs.

“It isn’t just about more programs. It’s about leveraging existing resources to help students succeed in the classroom.”

“Wise use of existing community resources” was one of the basic foundational philosophies of the community education concept that was the essence of the 1965 ESEA.

Fund what works!

One of the faulty assumptions of No Child Left Behind is that struggling schools “just lack motivation” so they need punishment and competition to spur them to improve. Not true. They lack the resources to build a strong foundation for success. They lack the “capacity” to do their jobs.

Capacity building is any process that increases the capability of individuals to produce or perform; it enables all stakeholders to carry out their tasks to the best of their ability.”

To enable federal education law to support improvement in the struggling schools in this nation, we need publicly trained and educated leadership who understand the community education concept so they will work WITH families and communities. Plus, we need our U.S. Department of Education to disseminate information that has been researched with the utmost integrity so that it does NOT have to carry a disclaimer like this:

The expectation should be that all information disseminated by our government agencies is fully vetted and represents research of the utmost integrity.

The expectation should be that all information disseminated by our government agencies is fully vetted and represents research of the utmost integrity.

Bottom line, we need the big money out of education policy and we need to take “meaningful, practical” steps like Senator Obama suggested in 2008.

With a resurrected and improved Keeping PACE Act, a new emphasis on leadership training, and renewed prominence of dissemination of “research-based” best practices in community organizing for improvement, we can take a giant leap forward in building community partnerships that support and serve students.

We the People need to demand that Congress and President Obama make the most important student supports — parents, family, and community — a priority in ESEA reauthorization. Speak Up!

Accountability of Administration

Each layer of administration in our education system — in schools, on school boards, at the district level, in state’s departments of education and the United States Department of Education — exists for a reason and to serve a purpose. As institutions designed to serve the public need, how are they being held “accountable” to the public?

Many education officials seem to have become more “accountable” to federal or state authorities for record keeping purposes rather than for the real purposes for which they exist. And too many times administrators are ignoring the people they are supposed to serve — students, parents, and society.

The responsibility for public education is seen as a “states rights” issue – or so we believe. But what does it really mean when the courts imply that they are not responsible for “quality” education such as they did in Detroit?

“…the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 7 the State of Michigan has no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students in the struggling Highland Park School District.”

No legal obligation? That just blows me away! We are forced to test, label, close down schools, and move students all over the place but no one is responsible to ensure quality education is offered in all schools so that all schoolchildren can have equal access.

That is the problem and should be the focus of the solution!

We know there are huge disparities in this country.B8Uj_hlIMAAZ2XB.jpg_large

I happen to live in the state with the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. Has our (or your) state defined: what are adequate funding levels? Do we have a funding formula designed to obtain more equitable funding? Do we have expectations for student “performance” to improve and “achievement gaps” to narrow? (SURE) Have we defined what resources they need to get there?????

We say we have higher “expectations.” Where are the quality indicators for all levels of the system and where is THE report card showing the progress institutions are making towards equitable learning opportunities? Or aren’t they really responsible for that?

Fair play would be for the public to have higher expectation of accountability for the system.

Fair play would be for the states to show us the indicators they use to prove they are being responsible stewards of our education system.

We have reached the moment when we should be able to see that ….

“We need an accountability system where there is local responsibility, true state accountability, and  a federal duty to monitor progress for the purpose of providing guidance and support.”… “School improvement must be a local responsibility shared through the democratic governing of schools. States must ensure accountability of their system through shared knowledge of measurable results and financial accountings of adequacy and equity. The federal government must return to its role of oversight, support, guidance, research and development, and dissemination of information, and serve when needed to protect and provide for the national interest.” (From The Crucial Voice of the People)

 We need to better understand the role of government in education.

State officials will be responsible for identifying their resources and establishing indicators of their success and to continually monitor and report on their ability to meet their responsibility.” … “The Federal Government has the primary responsibility to identify the national interest in education. It should also help fund and support efforts to protect and promote that interest. It must provide the national leadership to ensure that the Nation’s public and private resources are marshaled to address the issues discussed in this report [National Commission on Excellence in Education]. A Nation at Risk

I understand the federal role in education as originally described in The Smith-Towner Bill of 1918, the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and in the purposes of the U.S. Department of Education as listed in 1979:

  • to ensure access to equal educational opportunity;
  • to supplement and complement the efforts to improve the quality of education;
  • to encourage involvement of the public, parents, and students;
  • to promote improvements through research, evaluation, shared information;
  • improve coordination;
  • improve management and efficiencies;
  • increase accountability of federal programs to the President, Congress, and the public.

Yes, we have some things to work on!

What I do not understand is how we have gone for so long ignoring the fact that some states are NOT living up to their responsibility. Why are we hunting for witches while the elephant is trampling everything in sight?

Are we blind to the parasites destroying us ? Or have we just been fooled for so long that the lies became our truth?

Why aren’t we asking for clarity on the disparities? And right now, why are we not talking about the problems with No Child Left Behind – AS A NATION.

If we want schools to improve, we must have state, district, and local accountability that focuses on implementation of the elements of school improvement. It is the only way we will ensure equitable resources. It is the only way we get real and lasting improvement. … a continuous improvement process with indicators that match what matters.

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Update: December, 2015, No Child left Behind was changed to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The wording has changed; the problems remain.

Accountability for School Quality

Judge schools by the extent to which they satisfactorily meet the needs of all pupils…” Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards (1939)

Looking at an array of “indicators” helps avoid the pitfall, as seen by the School Standards study, of using testing as “a sole method of accreditation or for similar widespread comparison” because testing tends to make “instruction point definitely to success in examinations,” cultivates “a uniformity that is deadening to instruction,” can “thwart the initiative of instructors,” and can “destroy the flexibility and individuality of an institution.”

Excessive testing takes time away from learning.

Excessive testing takes time away from learning.

Assessing our schools has a long history of research behind it. The Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards laid out in great detail their methodology and the tools they used to evaluate the quality of schools. They concluded there are six elements within the school that should be used to judge quality of the learning experience: 1) Curriculum, 2) Pupil activities, 3) Library, 4) Guidance, 5) Instruction, and 6) Outcomes.

Accreditation in the United States http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1731/Accreditation-in-United-States.html

Accreditation in the United States http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1731/Accreditation-in-United-States.html

The school improvement process that was the focus of the original study was based on:

  • Ÿwhat the characteristics of a good school are,
  • Ÿhow you evaluate schools effectiveness in relation to its objectives,
  • Ÿhow a good school becomes better, and
  • Ÿhow to stimulate schools to continue to strive to become better.

The process is nothing new and it is being taught in some public institutions. An accreditation certification program at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Extension System is one example. If you take a moment to glance through the list of topics covered, you’ll find it includes a multitude of ways to assess quality on everything from disaggregation of student data to analyzing community profiles.

To sustain an improvement process takes knowledgeable leadership. If we were serious about improving our public schools, we would quit handing over leadership training to private non-profits like the Broad Foundation’s Leadership Academy or Marc Tucker‘s “National” Institute for School Leadership. We would set standards for leadership training that included the best practices of school improvement processes. We would put quality control back in the public realm. We have no idea what these private philanthropic endeavors are teaching, but the country’s education system certainly is suffering under their leadership especially in the large urban school districts that they have taken over (last full paragraph is telling).

So to meet students’ needs a school improvement process must begin with a “needs assessment.” Various survey tools exist. We don’t need to reinvent any wheels to move forward.

From the Federation for Community Schools

From the Federation for Community Schools

Approximately 30 years after the Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards, Effective Schools Research began to emerge. It gives us another framework by which we can approach school improvement. The Effective Schools Correlates are:

1) The principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction;

2) A pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus;

3) An orderly, safe climate conducive to teaching and learning;

4) Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery; and

5) The use of measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation.

Approximately 30 more years passed and we now have Robert Marzano’s indicator framework developed around the Effective Schools Correlates with a bit more of a standards-aligned (standards-referenced) twist to the indicator system. The system is arranged in “levels” but should be worked on simultaneously.

 Level 1: A Safe and Orderly Environment That Supports Cooperation and Collaboration

Level 2: An Instructional Framework That Develops and Maintains Effective Instruction in Every Classroom

Level 3: A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Focused on Enhancing Student Learning

Level 4: A Standards-Referenced System of Reporting Student Progress

Level 5: A Competency-Based System That Ensures Student Mastery of Content

If you glance through the system of indicators, you’ll find that many of the “assessments” are simple low-cost surveys. But keep in mind; school evaluations need to be tailored to the schools needs. No one-size –fits-all mandate will suffice. “Stakeholder” participation in planning makes success more likely.

And as we know, schools don’t improve and then just stay that way. Students, parents, teachers, and leaders come and go; things change. Schools must see improvement as a continuous process, always striving to be better.

But, we do need oversight. So another “accountability” piece, that goes by various names (Quality Review, Inspection, Success, or Support Teams), is teams of “outside” evaluators. The long-standing recommendation is that a visit every five years is sufficient. If schools are having difficulties, more frequent visits are recommended.

These review teams could be established within state’s departments of education (once leaders are trained in sufficient numbers). State inspections could encompass such things as assessment of the curriculum assuring that it is broad and engaging, appraisal of teachers’ continuing education ensuring quality and sufficient learning opportunities are being offered, evaluation of the level of parental and family engagement opportunities and communications, and that there is satisfactory evidence that the school is conscientiously working towards improving rather than just complying with paperwork.

 Summary of Accountability Measures for Ensuring School Quality include,

  • An assessment of school needs (students, teachers, partners),
  • Establishment of indicators for improvement based on the needs assessment,
  • Continuous self-assessments of schools and classrooms,
  • Monitoring of student progress,
  • Monitoring of school progress based on the school’s indicators of quality, and
  • Evaluations by a Quality Review Team every 5 years or 1-2 years if needed.

“Common sense dictates that in order for students to achieve they must have appropriate opportunities to learn.” Wendy Schwartz – Opportunity To Learn Standards 

Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Assessments are “a range of measurable indicators that covered both classroom experience and the overall school environment.”… “The National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST, 1992) asserted that OTL standards are necessary to help close the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.”

We have ignored establishing opportunity-to-learn standards but I believe they are incorporated into a school accountability system such as what is described here.

Currently, there are multiple versions of these ideas. I have read at least eight “new” plans from eight different organizations. Terminology varies but the major ideas remain the same. What we do know with certainty is….

“…accountability should be geared towards continuous improvement.”

—Joseph Bishop, Opportunity to Learn Campaign

What Are We Missing?

Leaders, Civil Rights Leaders, People, what are we missing? And how is it we don’t seem to understand that “narrowing the curriculum” translates to lost opportunities to learn particularly in impoverished communities — the ones targeted by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/NCLB)—the very reason for the existence of federal education law?

equal-right-quotes-5

Here are some facts that seem to be missing in the discussion of yearly standardized testing as it applies to reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (ESEA):

The original ESEA set this goal.

Quality and Opportunity were the twin goals desired in federal education law as stated by President Kennedy.

Quality and Opportunity were the twin goals first stated by President Kennedy.

The only “accountability” and testing associated with this law was this:

"Appropriate" was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn.

“Appropriate” was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn and staying focused on the “educationally-deprived” children.

Measurements of progress were used to assess effectiveness of federal dollars in meeting children’s learning needs. As one citizen recently expressed to me, these were state and locally created “measures.” …But back to the past,… in 1966, the first review of ESEA was released.

This council was required by the 1965 ESEA to advise the president and congress.

Yearly, the council was required to advise the president and congress. This council  focused strictly on the children the law intended to help and advised we do the same.

This assessment of the problem led their thoughts on standardized testing.

This assessment of the problem by this council highlighted their thoughts on standardized testing.

This council understood that these children were coming to school already “disadvantaged” when it came to standardized test scores. Out-of-school factors played a role.

In other words, commercially-designed standardized "achievement" tests point at opportunity to learn gaps.

In other words, commercially designed standardized “achievement” tests point at opportunity-to-learn gaps.

A point made in The Coleman Report that is really what makes the difference between great schools and mediocre.

Important to think about: the report was really titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity.”

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Variation within a school is greater than between schools. We have to think about children from low-income families as children with fewer opportunities – unless their community provides them more.

Also in 1966, the Coleman Report said that family background and socioeconomic factors play a role in “achievement” – but it was interpreted to mean that “school resources” don’t matter.

However…….a point made in The Coleman Report that really is what makes the difference between great schools and mediocre ones is the concentration of poverty….if not properly addressed.

Fortunately, the 1965 ESEA was designed taking into consideration both in-school and out-of-school factors and later research by James S. Coleman would prove that an out-of-school safety net of opportunities (social capital) was a factor behind the success of the private Catholic schools that he studied. But as the story of testing goes….

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Analysis and intervention must be focused on student learning – in the school where variability between students is largest.

Convinced that all students can learn, Ronald Edmonds looked at schools that began seeing student success regardless of their high-poverty rates. He not only analyzed the common factors in these “effective” schools, he looked at what they did to improve.

Edmonds did not shy away from standards and testing but his bigger focus was on instruction and learning….in the school.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 4.10.05 PM

Good-quality teacher-created tests focused on learning objectives in line with clear, locally acceptable standards should be considered as the alternative to yearly commercially-created standardized tests. Then, what gets taught gets tested.

So in light of the fact that the role of the federal government is to ensure our civil (citizens) right to equal access, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is one appropriate tool for assessing national or state achievement/opportunity gaps. We should not change something that has worked well as one indicator of our nations slow but steady progress.

Today, we must consider looking at the real core of the problem that national civil rights groups are having with the idea of giving up yearly standardized testing. We need to consider: when the biggest variable is within a school, when success is really defined by individual student success, student success can only be measured at the school level. The “accountability” measure must be determined by parents, teachers, and communities. Monitored by NAEP to assess inequality, yes. But any further national testing for this reason is not justified and is an overstep.

In federal program evaluations to satisfy “accountability” for dollars, the same data (measures, assessments, indicators) that are used to identify a problem should be used to determine whether the problem has been reduced or eliminated.

And one last lesson from the past that we may have missed, from No Child Left Behind, was that yearly standardized testing narrowed the curriculum to what was tested – it did harm – and instructional time was lost because of test preparation. Limiting learning opportunities in schools is most devastating for children whose parents can’t make up for those lost opportunities. I know this because I saw it with my own eyes.

I hope in the weeks to come that a set of meaningful indicators of educational quality and opportunity come out of the legislative debate on ESEA reauthorization. Yearly standardized achievement tests for all students should not be among them. 

Education Counts. Let's measure what matters.

Education Counts. Let’s measure what matters.

#TruthBeTold The civil rights movement marched on a different path to obtain equality in educational opportunity.

Federal oversight of access is one thing, doing what is right for children is another.

Federal oversight of access is one thing, doing what is right for children is another.

Congressional representatives, particularly those charged with re-writing NCLB, do you understand?

We are at a crossroads where the standards movement that has dominated education policy since the 80’s intersects with the almost forgotten educational history of the 60’s and 70’s that saw the natural progress of effective schools take root because the influential in education policy THEN understood poverty and saw a way that education law could remedy a longstanding injustice – unequal access to quality education.

It is a problem we can solve.

Again.

Again.

What Parents Desire

What parents desire for their children’s schools has been largely ignored in the education policy debate for decades. So was this recent article.

Laurie Levy’s community differs from my own (hers more affluent while mine is poverty-stricken) but our desires, as parents, seem almost universal. She wrote her article based on what other parents had written in a response to two questions: What conditions promote learning? And, what is an optimal learning environment? (Italics and “bolding” is mine.)

  1. Make space and time for kids to pursue individual, passion-based learning projects.
  2. Incorporate much more movement throughout the day, especially in winter.
  3. Make history and literacy assignments culturally relevant.
  4. Ensure that kids have enough time to eat lunch every day. The break for lunch and recess should be a minimum of an hour per day.
  5. Focus on building community, both within classrooms and within the whole school.
  6. Provide opportunities to drink water during the day. Some teachers still don’t let kids get water, which obviously makes learning hard. (OMG on that one!)
  7. Set up “quiet corners” or areas where kids can go when they need a break.
  8. Make classrooms well-organized, so kids feel comfortable and safe. It’s time to de-clutter some spaces.
  9. Consider what we are forcing our children to endure in order to cram them full of testable content to satisfy the insatiable maw of the “education” industry. The kids need more art, more recess, less testing, and less lecturing.
  10. Target and celebrate learning for all types of learners. Maybe pieces of the current curriculum don’t work well for some learners (e.g. the language heaviness of Everyday Math).
  11. Have more free time where kids can just be kids and run around…a calm, stress free environment where learning comes naturally.
  12. Remember what the “square-peg child” needs to learn: more child-driven, open-ended time and spaces; quiet spots to take a break from the intensity of being with other kids all day long; more hands-on materials and activities.
  13. Put away the standardized testing, except in the most minor way, until middle school. If it has to be done, don’t put so much time into preparing for it.
  14. [Consolidated and paraphrased by me] Developmentally appropriate practice/methods (meaning the material keeps in mind the capacity of children’s working memory at different ages i.e. more concrete learning and explanations for younger learners, moving gradually toward abstract concepts and the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as they approach middle school) where learning is broken into reasonable time segments with frequent breaks to improve attention throughout the day to better facilitate long-term memory.
  15. [Consolidated and paraphrased by me] Classrooms are created by teachers that are educated, supported, and coached in classroom management best practices that create a warm supportive, safe, secure, community environment where students are given attainable tasks based student interest, learning style, and strengths to make learning engaging, meaningful, and naturally motivate students to succeed. They create a place where success is a model to be emulated and assessments are what teachers use to measure if students understand and then instruction is adjusted accordingly.

This was Ms. Levy’s summary of what parents want:

  • less time spent on teaching to standardized tests and fewer of those tests,
  • learning environments that actually are conducive to learning,
  • their kids to be viewed as unique individuals with differing needs and to see their learning styles supported and respected,
  • learning environments to promote physical and mental health, with sufficient breaks for play and exercise,
  • their children to feel less stress and anxiety about school,
  • their kids to love learning and have the tools to go wherever their curiosity takes them.

All in all, my take is that parents seem to be saying that they want assurance (accountability) for a standard of educational practices that will provide high-quality learning opportunities in an environment that fosters development of their child’s talents and allows them to explore their interests.

If there is anything that we should have learned from the failure of standards-based reforms – and the No Child Left Behind law – it is that high quality learning experiences are much more important than “meeting” any set of standards we have ever developed. We can have standards-referenced curricula without the detrimental unintended consequences of our current standards-based federal accountability scheme.

Repeatedly we hear said that parents are important but education policies do not reflect that fact. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) parental piece was without substance.

Parents matter.

Parents matter.

Let’s focus on the children this time in the re-writing NCLB.…Let’s focus on giving all children the best opportunities to learn. Let’s give the parental voice the respect it deserves and quit putting policies in place that create stress in families. Respect the family unit. Respect the child.

Parents, do your jobs well and expect the same from all those involved in your child’s education – including policy-makers.

What parents might not realize is that what they desire can be collectively seen as quality in the child’s classroom experiences and school environment. Those are elements of the “opportunity to learn” standards. There are indicators for judging their quality and availability!.….That’s what parents want from an accountability mechanism.….Time to start making that demand?Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 4.57.47 PM