Choices We Must Make

No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – ESEA) has forced the direction of education “reform” without bringing to the table those who understand the needs of our communities and our children — the real stakeholders — the People.

That federal law combined with our financial wrong turns as a nation and the misguided reforms of the last three decades has brought public education to a crossroads. Only as a united nation can we prevent the system from being brought to its knees.

Decide and Take Action

Decide and Take Action!

Choices must be made.

Provide standardized education for the masses with individualized instruction for the lucky few and those that can afford it, or provide equal access to quality education?

Allow teaching to become another low-wage trade, ripe for outsourcing and importing, or remain a profession that we can continuously improve?

Spend our education dollars to support privatization of public schools, or invest in supporting and strengthening the institution of public education?

Continue to follow the pretense of reforms, or solve school improvement problems?

Playing Both Sides

Considering the politics of America in general and education reform in particular, it is no wonder progress as a nation is stalled. Ordinary Americans — the real engines of advancement — are being played for fools.

rhetoric-is-the-art-of-ruling-the-minds-of-men-art-quoteBuzzwords have been used to persuade us into following one reform path or another and to repel us from uniting for our common good.

Here is a non-education “reform” example — “climate change.” Buzzzzzzzz!

Have you heard the buzz?

Have you heard the buzz?

I’m from Michigan and witnessed first-hand how industry polluted our rivers. Having played frequently in the Kalamazoo River downstream from factories, I’m sure my body must be filled with all kinds of pollutants. We talked about the problems in those kinds of human terms. The problems eventually required federal funds (our tax dollars) to cleanup after the moneymaking polluters.

It was a pollution problem and We the People were making headway in calling the polluters into account …. until it became a “climate change” problem and we all got sucked into a political battle rather than the moral battle of right versus wrong that pollution was and is. And divided we fell prey to the politics of “climate change” because we let the powers that be change the conversation.

In the American education war, three of the big trigger-words have become “equality” (for the right), and “turnaround” and “improvement” (for progressives). Yeah, really. Buzzzzzzz! And off you go!

Please think about this: Do we believe that there are some schools in this country needing improvement and for the sake of the children in them, we should focus support on improving those schools? Are there not schools in your state that have consistently had a bad reputation as far as academic achievement or safety issues? What about schools that parents (even teachers) have repeatedly avoided putting their own kids in? Don’t we somehow need to turn those schools around to make them more acceptable, even desirable?

When the Obama administration decided on four “turnaround models,do you think ALL the alternatives they could have chosen from have been made known to the public? I know they haven’t, and those alternatives won’t get a fair hearing on the stage of public opinion because they talk about “improvement” and “turnaround” processes. The public’s well has been soured (or polluted).

Please consider this: if I am one of the “good guys” (truly have children’s best interest at heart), will you reject what I say if I use a word that repels you? Or can you choose to stand and fight against your inner feelings recognizing that what you feel has become a conditioned response?

Until we stand strong for better public schools for all, we will go down divided by silly details like our choice of words. Allowing both sides to be played against each other is allowing children to be left behind.

The Little Engine That Could

I think we can.

I think we can.

I think we can; I know we can. The question is, will we?

We can move from test and punishment “reforms” — the No Child Left Behind prescription — to policies and practices that concentrate on helping schools improve.

To do so:

“American education, that great engine of the democracy, does not drive itself. It must be guided, not by one but by many, into a future of incalculable promise.” Francis Keppel, 1966, pg. 163 of The Necessary Revolution in American Education

 

 

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.

Reform: Where to Begin?

It would seem obvious, you begin where you are. But to really know where you are with education reform, you do need some assessments—these assessments are not what you might think. To really assess where you are, you have to step back to get a wider view of what is happening and what has happened that contributed to producing what now exists as your reality.

Unfortunately, this first step appears to be where the first mistakes are made. We need to spend more time at this point because our assessment of our current state of affairs, the status quo, will play a huge role in determining the beliefs and assumptions that will guide our actions.

Whether you are looking at the local level with school improvement or at state and national levels with education reform law, you must have a very clear and accurate picture of the conditions that need changing and how they were created.

So my advice on where to begin is to assess not just the students’ scores on tests but to proceed with assessing where teachers, parents, and the business community believe we can improve. That input should then narrow the choices for further assessment tools that can be used. For every aspect of reform that you may be concerned about, there’s an assessment for that!

Then with our principles firmly cemented in our hearts and our assessments in hand, we are there – where we begin.

An Instrument of Reform: Communications

People can be an amazing source of information and inspiration. And there is something to be said for the old saying, “two heads are better than one.” But it only rings true when the two heads are able to communicate. After all, communicating is referred to as the science of transmitting information.

Communications is a much more complicated process than most of us tend to realize and I’m afraid we are so busy that miscommunications are occurring more than we recognize. It took observing children and seeing their perplexed looks over something misunderstood to draw my attention to the topic. And the difficulty of communicating became crystal clear when I took to writing and began questioning how my words would be interpreted.

So when we begin to look at school improvements, or education reform, we need desperately to learn to communicate better with each other. We not only need to share our knowledge and perspectives with others but we have to use each others’ input to solve problems — that’s a lot of communicating! It’s a big quagmire where many an education reform has gotten sucked in and died.

Until education reformists learn and practice the art of effective communications, we will continue to stumble where reform is needed most. Schools with large concentrations of poverty don’t tend to have many people considered “influential.” As individuals, they aren’t heard. So more often than not, group action is required.

We all have to be able to communicate – with each other and the influential – to be effective.

Excellence as the Norm

Improvement — now there is a thought-provoking word! We instinctively know what it means but I’m once again off to grab the dictionary. Literally, it means an increase in excellence of quality or condition.

I like to think of education reform in terms of school improvement because if we aren’t focused on the quality of education and the conditions under which we expect children to learn, what’s the point?

Use standards as an example. If a standard isn’t excellent, it can’t guide improvement. And if the conditions in which we expect a standard to be met aren’t excellent, what are the chances real lasting improvement will occur?

The literal meaning said an increase in excellence of quality “or” conditions but I would hope people can understand that for school improvement we need both high quality teaching “and” excellent conditions under which learning takes place.

We can monitor outcomes until the cows come home but we won’t get real education reform until we supply the necessary inputs that create quality learning conditions. It’s up to us to provide the conditions conducive to creating a societal culture that values education and will unquestionably support classroom climates where excellence is the norm, for all.