Bush’s Education “Blueprint” Before 9/11

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Before 9/11 of 2001, there was an article printed in The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts titled “Bush’s education blueprint bound to be inadequate.” It was published on September 6th.360_bush_sep_11_classroom_hfs_0502

Bush’s education blueprint became No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The national discussion of the issues with this reauthorization of federal education law never rose above the rubble left behind by the unfathomable reality of that terrible September day. NCLB’s importance paled in comparison.

I’m presenting the essence of the inadequacies presented in that September 6th article— now— not to point blame at anything or anyone but in hopes of bringing up the conversations that were buried by the 9/11 national tragedy.

About Bush’s education blueprint, Gary Ratner wrote:

“Its approach —increasing accountability— does not address the fundamental need: providing effective teaching, challenging curriculum and family support for all students.”

“If we are serious about maximizing the possibility of all students succeeding, we must provide these conditions for all students.”

“…merely intensifying pressure on employees to improve performance does not succeed where they lack the required knowledge and skills.”

Ratner recommended that President Bush follow a different approach by breaking the chore of school improvement into doable, logical, targeted pieces based on what we know to be common elements of effective schools.

As to curriculum, make it challenging for all classes, for all students.

As to existing teachers, make their professional development directly relevant to improving classroom instruction specific to their needs and the needs of their students. Ensure this happens through a targeted investment in professional development budgets. And, provide better education and training for principals and superintendents so that they are better able to support teachers in improving instruction.

As to future teachers, financially support improvements in teacher preparation, and personally support those individuals seeking to become teachers as well as those existing teachers wishing to advance their education.

As to family supports for student learning, expand adult education programs and parenting skills classes as well as mentoring programs for the students who do not have sufficient family supports.

None of this is new. Some of this is even in the newest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But, it is buried under the weight of the standards, testing, and accountability movements’ failed mechanisms of reform that have crippled our educational progress.

We do not have unlimited resources. We must make wise investments in our future.

Ask yourselves, has the progress been adequate enough to meet the needs of our students, our teachers, our families, and our nation?statue-of-libertyCan you see a better way forward?

Distinguishing Truth from Deception

Public education in America is at risk as long as mass deception can continue unchecked.

When it comes to education policies and the organizations and individuals pushing their agendas into law, the public is ill-equipped to distinguish truth from deception because of a long history of misinterpretation of statistics, massive misinformation, and outright political deception.

Truth: Schools must continuously be improving themselves.

That truth is based on the premise that the public education system faces ever-changing obstacles to offering equal educational opportunities — changing student populations, changing demographics of the students, turnover of school personnel, and a multitude of variables are demanding schools be responsive to societal pressures of all kinds. Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 11.15.21 AM

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Truth: The public schools have made progress despite economic and political upheaval. Notable improvements were made in the 70’s through 90’s and is continuing but at a slowed pace.

 

Truth: Current education reform policies are based on deception.

Education reform became a problem when politicians took the reins and their driving premise required deception. As Douglass Cater, an adviser to President Johnson, explained,

“I think one of the major problems of politics is that [it] takes a fairly recognized crisis before the government is able to come to grips with …a problem in a policy area…”

Plus, there was fear that the general public would not stay involved in public school improvement unless there was an urgent need – a crisis. But this line of reasoning is no excuse for the mass deception that followed.

Policymakers of the 80’s moved forward with half-truths to put in motion an ideologically driven education reform agenda — standards, testing, and accountability based on achievement tests — the outcome-based theory that we can judge schools based on test scores.

And because the theory was intentionally marketed and the lies repeated so often, the deception became the public’s truth. Repeatedly, we acted on that “truth.”

So briefly, here’s how we Americans allowed ourselves to be deceived. Keep in mind, the public education system tends to be a reflection of society. A brief history of “the times” is necessary.

  • “The 1960s were years of protest and reform.”… people worked together for social improvement particularly for minorities, the poor, and women.
  • “The period of change came during the 1970s…an economic recession. Interest rates and inflation were high. There was a shortage of imported oil.”
  • “As the 1970s moved toward the 1980s, Americans became tired of social struggle…many wanted to spend more time on their own personal interests…It affected popular culture, education, and politics.”
  • “The 1980s were called the Reagan years, because he was president for eight of them….the recession ended….[creating] “the ‘me’ generation” and “yuppies”. Both these groups seemed as if they lived just to make and spend money, money, and more money.”

With the mentality of the 80’s firmly focused on making money, public institutions reflecting society, and “the origins of the standards movement in American education [being] largely economic,” the idea of standards and testing as a quick way to judge schools was an easy sell to busy parents.

Deception: Standardized test scores accurately judge the quality of education.

The problem is, standardized tests were NEVER proven to be a great judge of quality education and our standards were NEVER proven to be the main problem. That’s where the deception comes in — over the two major factors upon which we now base not only accountability of the system, but also our theory of improvement. And we continue to ignore real solutions.

Deception: Test scores should be used to compare and rank schools.

To understand the ruse behind the misuse of test scores, you have to understand Simpson’s paradox. Like most of you, I am not a statistician so don’t let this scare you off. Basically, this paradox can happen when comparing two or more groups. A statistical trend may reverse or disappear when the groups are combined. At a glance, it is very counter-intuitive but is one reason why statistics are so susceptible to misuse and abuse.

So when we look at combined scores or average scores, we can follow trends but it is not advisable to base decisions on scores alone without further analysis and interpretation.

Deception: Based on test scores, the United States is failing educationally and it will require us to totally transform the system.

The country set course on the outcome-based theory without being fully informed. Politicians told us after the release of A Nation At Risk, in 1983, that we were falling far behind internationally. But, international scores are reported as combined numbers leaving the public unable to detect any deceptive use of those numbers…unable to think through the effect that Simpson’s paradox might be having on our conclusions and therefore our actions.

At one point, we could have stopped this. In 1991, Sandia National Laboratories scientists took on the analysis of education data and they interpreted what they saw in addition to critiquing proposed education policies. Apparently, politicians didn’t like what these researchers had to say.

On our reported decline in SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores, researchers said…

“More people in America are aspiring to achieve a college education than ever before, so the national SAT average is lowered as more students in the 3rd and 4th quartiles of their high school classes take the test. This phenomenon, known as Simpson’s paradox…”

So we need to understand the story behind all numbers. We need to ask, “WHY”? And we need to understand the effect of poverty on our education statistics.Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 10.40.42 PMThis is not to say we can’t do more to educate children of poverty. This is to point out how deceptive numbers can be and to ask the question, have our reforms focused on the right things?

On our international test scores, Sandia researchers said,…

“The major differences in education systems and cultures across countries diminish the value of these single-point comparisons.”

In other words, international scores should not hold great significance in our decision-making and now would be the time to question why we are allowing the United States education system to be standardized through international “benchmarking.”

Why would we do that when the truth is…

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Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries can be seen here.

This information is from The Condition of Education 2015. Why isn’t the media reporting on the actual condition of education? Why isn’t Congress and the president basing decisions on the truth?

The truths revealed in the Sandia Report never got public attention through either our government or media so the deception of statistics rolled on for decades.

“Seldom in the course of policymaking in the U.S. have so many firm convictions held by so many been based on so little convincing proof.” Clark Kerr, President Emeritus, University of California

Truth: The varying quality of state standards and assessments does not correlate with student achievement as judge by our nation’s gold standard of tests, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The blue dots represent NAEP scores with Basic meaning meets “grade-level expectations” or “C” level work. The red squares represent the "rigor" of each states standards as compared to NAEP. Student achievement does not appear to depend on the rigor of a states standards and assessments. Information supplied by NAEP expert, Bert Stoneberg.

The blue dots represent NAEP scores with Basic meaning meets “grade-level expectations” or “C” level work. The red squares represent the “rigor” of each states standards assessments as compared to NAEP. Student achievement does not appear to depend on the rigor of a states standards and assessments. Other graphs and explanations are provided by NAEP expert Bert Stoneberg.

If the variability of state standards and assessments do not affect overall student achievement, why are we focusing money, time, and effort on changing standards and tests as THE first step in improvement? It’s the wrong step. It makes no sense.

We were deceived into thinking that standards are all-important. We were deceived into thinking they were crucial to improvement. Truth: Common standards were not identified as necessary in producing effective schools. That research finding has never been disputed and is now once again proven to be true.

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?

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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.

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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.

ANSWERS LIE in the TRUTH

Good questions have been asked. The answers only appear elusive while in reality the answers to “education reform” have been overlooked, forgotten, ignored, and/or buried. And oh so many aspects of reform are misunderstood.

Prompted by Thoughts From a Former KIPP Teacher: Testing, Common Core, and Charters are Myths, I now firmly believe we have got to have a “come-to-Jesus” talk about the standardization movement!

Worth Searching For

Worth Searching For

First, is there a need to improve some schools? Yes, the inequality issue is to die for and least we forget, some have! I think we all know that the “gap” between rich and poor & minority is real – common ground that should be a common cause.

So, here is what pulled my trigger today — a misunderstood word —EXPECTATIONS. I tried to at least partially clarify the concept in a short blog many months ago. (Please read)

Today, I shot forward in this article to read something much more disturbing. “…focusing on standards as one of many means to bolster achievement in high poverty/high minority schools is a way to strive for equity.  Unfortunately, as Diane Ravitch has accurately pointed out, the implementation of the standardization movement over the last 20 years has fallen short.”

Implementation fell short? Yes, but that is not the bigger thing wrong here.

Whoa to standards-based “reforms”! Overlooked, forgotten, or ignored are the Effective Schools Correlates  which seems strange to me given that I very firmly believe the philosophy behind the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act is based on the REAL community education concept which produced the “effective schools” studied by Ronald Edmonds and others.

Why has it gotten forgotten?

The Modern Community Education Movement was shoved to the side of the road and almost completely buried by the Standards Movement that rose to the occasion when the “crisis” in education caught the public’s attention in the 80’s and that movement rolled on unchecked and not questioned enough…even today.

We need to talk about what standards can and can’t do in depth but for the time being, consider this; * effective schools had variable standards*. “Standards” themselves were not the key factor in the high-poverty/high-minority/high-performing schools that were dubbed “effective.” THE standards never deserved THE “focus.”

Why haven’t we talked about all this sooner? “We can’t. We’ve got internal political problems.

If we had taken more time to analyze data as the Sandia Research Laboratory engineers did in the 90’s, we probably would have put the brakes on and questioned our focus on standards and testing. It might have occurred to us to discuss what we were doing right to produce the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores that “had been steady for whites and rising for blacks and Hispanics.”

Talk about buried. I called Sandia Laboratories long ago searching for the Sandia Report. I asked them to put the report up on the Internet. I had a nice chat with a young man and we laughed over the fact that surely with the technology, and engineers at Sandia, they could scan the report and get it online. They never got back with me. Instead, I found a summary on micro phish at a private college library and spent some time copying the 50 page summary page by page.

I appreciate the view of the KIPP teacher that wrote the blog about testing, Common Core, equality and the acknowledgement made that No Child Left Behind-like “reforms” drive the focus to test scores. I’m sure for most people it didn’t open a can of worms like it did for me. It is so important, if you want the right answers to lead us forward, that we understand the history of American education. The history is convoluted but the truth, in my humble opinion, is more politically powerful than the politics of reform IF the truth gets a full and honest hearing.

I want to hear what others see as the truth starting with President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan. How do we make THAT happen?

As John F. Kennedy said at the 1963 Commencement at American University, “Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man.”….or woman!

Still Searching for Solutions?

The importance of in-school and out-of-school factors on student achievement continues to be a point of debate just as it was back in the time when the 1966 Coleman Report was first interpreted, widely quoted, and used by people to justify their predetermined arguments.

Spurred on by this controversy, searching for answers, and increasingly convinced that “the characteristics of schools are an important determinant of academic achievement,” school effectiveness researchers in the 70’s and 80’s were studying schools where minority and low socioeconomic status students were achieving at higher rates than expected and the “achievement gap” was narrowing. These schools were labeled “effective” and researchers concluded that effective schools had “essential” characteristics common to all; they called them “correlates.”

The original work by Ron Edmonds and others stated the correlates as

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.”

Edmonds also noted that when it came to the common characteristics of the school improvement “programs” that were used in these schools, they all saw the local school as the focus of analysis and intervention; they all assumed all children to be educable; and all focused their design on more efficient use of existing resources.

In my research of the people who were influential in forming the prevailing philosophy of education reform leading up to Edmonds’ work, I concluded that “effective schools” were schools that were following the “community education concept.”

Search no further.

Search no further.

In-school, out-of-school, or a combo? Think about it.

 

 

Part 3 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.

Change, Improvement, Progress

“What Is Community Education?...Community Education brings community members together to identify and link community needs and resources in a manner that helps people to help themselves raise the quality of life in their communities…

Community Education results in:
•    A responsive education system and an improved learning climate in the schools;
•    Efficient and cost-effective ways of delivering education and community services;
•    Broad-based community support for schools and other community agencies;
•    An emphasis on special populations, such as at-risk youth and minorities; and
•    Collective action among all educational and community agencies to address quality of life issues.” Written by Minnesota Community Education Association.

Secretary of Education Duncan came into office touting the ideal of community education. What he has failed to see is that it is the only method proven over time to provide sustainable school improvement because done correctly; it will end up incorporating the elements of effective schools in its improvement process.

We all must improve by taking what we have learned and applying it to what we know can bring forth real progress for kids, communities, and our country.

Who Doesn't Need to Improve?

Who Doesn’t Need to Improve?

Mr. Secretary, you don’t have to reinvent; you need to rediscover what you already know. Get back on track to improvement and stay there. Persistence; isn’t that what the president has advised?

Citizens, We Shape the Debates

“You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”    President Obama

If ever there was an enduring ideal, universal education is it! And quality matters! How about we shape a debate around that? By what means do we deliver on that promise, Mr. President? You know what quality education looks like; how can we regular citizens get that full-meal deal for our kids?

Let me answer that question for you: Since many of us live in states where rulers of education policy and practices have their heads in the clouds and their fingers in our pocketbooks, we need sensible federal education law to protect and serve us well. We need effective schools as the standard.

Characteristics of effective schools 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.”
(Ronald R. Edmonds, Programs of School Improvement: An Overview, Educational Leadership, Dec. 1982)

Two things will ensure these characteristics exist in all schools; improving teacher and counselor education and increasing the knowledge, skills, motivation, and desire (the capacity) of our leaders and communities.

The debate should be over the failure of leaders in addressing No Child Left Behind.485709

What is necessary is that people now push policy that is fair and balanced, represents our expectations, and focuses on providing high-quality personalized learning opportunities. For America, this is what opportunity looks like.

Understanding the Choices

The last two blogs written here for your consideration were titled “Choice in School Reform” and “Choice in Education Reform.” And no, I’m not fully losing “it” yet. My choice of words (no pun intended) was intentional. School reform and education reform are two different things but intimately importance to each other.

School reform should target the proven elements of effective schools. It’s an improvement process that directly affects students and includes; safe schools with classroom climates that nurture learning, school leadership fostering quality instruction, highly educated teachers expecting a level of mastery from all students and understanding the proper use of pupil assessments in monitoring progress. And last but not least, family and community support for schools and their students.

Education reform should be a focus on systemic reform – providing quality assurance and equal opportunity. And as I’ve stated before, reform starts with identifying the problems. Are all schools the problem? No. So why do the current powers that be continue to target all schools with one-size-fits-all “reform” laws? It isn’t the path we originally started down. This diversionary route we are on never made sense.

Education reform should not interfere with school reform. The only way to stop the ongoing harm and destruction is to understand what has happened and what we need to do to get back on the right path. For…”No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding” Plato — and this is where my book begins.

Real Education Reform

Those that think education reform will come about through standards, testing, labeling, and degrading schools obviously don’t understand what “reform” is and is not.

Reform requires a problem be identified and the faulty practice creating the problem be replaced with a better one. When we tack on “education” in front of the word reform, it implies we are talking about a reform of the education system.

Systemically, did every school set low standards and miserably under-educate children? No, we have some very highly-performing public schools; they are in the majority. Does any school under-test their students? Not that I’m aware of. Is the whole system to the point where there is no hope for it and it should be dismantled and privatized? Absolutely not! That is what reform is not. That is a simple transfer of control from public to private hands. It’s a costly shell game.

Real education reform requires that the public come to an understanding of what proven effective education reform really is and develop the drive and unyielding determination to establish all the elements of success in every school.

We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” — Ronald Edmonds (1935-1983) was the lead researcher for what became known as Effective Schools Research.