True Education Reform is Possible

The truth: Some places do a better job educating children than others.

So what do we really need to do to improve the quality of education for those schools in need of improving? Must we go the way of lawsuits? Can’t we settle this matter, finish this fight over education reform, like civilized human beings?…..We haven’t seen that so far.

[The following is a modified excerpt from The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present ©2012]

As the result of a lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts, a ruling was made that “all children must get an adequate education” and their 1993 Education Reform Act was created.

The goals were two-fold:

(1) to equalize funding among districts, and

(2) to improve all student performance.

The state chose to use these instruments for change:

(1) increase state spending on education,

(2) create curriculum frameworks that set high expectations for student learning, and

(3) create student performance assessments aligned with the curriculum frameworks.

But there was something else very important to Massachusetts success, the process.

In section 3 of their law, they set up advisory councils in the following areas: early childhood education; life management skills and home economics; educational personnel; fine arts education; gifted and talented education; math and science education; racial imbalance; parent and community education and involvement; special education; bilingual education; technology education; vocational-technical education; global education; and comprehensive interdisciplinary health education and human service programs.

And the law specified “a reasonable balance of members,” that they should “be broadly representative of all areas,” and it described specifics for each advisory council.

Massachusetts used their available experts and a broad range of interested community members to form councils that established their success factors. It couldn’t have been easy. Democratic processes never are.

If we are to move forward with solutions —truly change, make progress, “reform”− we must keep in mind that…

“…commitment, accountability, and desired outcomes are more likely to be achieved if those affected by a policy have meaningfully participated in the formulation of the policy or practice.” Dr. Seymour Sarason (1919-2010)

Education reform must start with local school improvement if we are to help students - today!

Education reform must start with local school improvement if we are to help students – today!

To sustain improvement, leadership must understand, and take to heart, the concept of democratic decision-making.

The process matters!

It Is This Simple

We know there are problems. We know there are solutions. And we know that one size does not fit all. We know “Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man.” JFK

So improving education is simple (not easy) when you follow John F. Kennedy’s guidelines:

  • Do an appraisal of the entire range of educational problems (which we have);
  • Apply a selective (not “competitive”) application of Federal aid – aimed at strengthening, the independence of existing school systems AND aimed at meeting our most urgent identified education problems and objectives;
  • Use existing laws more effectively.

We know there are pockets of educationally-deprived children. We know we can do better – all of US.

Parents – President Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education spoke to you.

B-P4TBDIEAAVPWv.jpg_largeStudents – “Because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our Nation,” President Kennedy wanted you to be educated to the limits of your potential and understood that it would require smaller class sizes and adequate facilities.

Teachers – JFK felt “our immediate concern should be to afford [you] every possible opportunity to improve [your] professional skills and [your] command of the subjects [you] teach.” He believedteachers would profit from a full year of full-time study in their subject-matter fields.” And he proposed the government fund that effort targeted at the fields of study identified through “the appraisal.”

Communities – You want results but you won’t get them by sitting back and telling others what to do. What will you do? Do you understand your role?

LeadersLead in the right direction, the way defined by the people, or get out of the way!

We must set the right goals and “Let us keep our eye steadily on the whole system.” Thomas Jefferson

It is that simple — for starters. It isn’t the easiest road to travel, but, it is simple to get started because it a road that has been traveled before.

"We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."

“We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”



Crisis and the Groundhogs Day Phenomenon

Crisis: a turning point in the course of anything; decisive or crucial time; a time of great danger or trouble, whose outcome decides whether possible bad consequences will follow. With the term “crisis” thus defined, has the public education system been in a crisis? Hell yes! And repeatedly!

And for those that have been paying attention to “education reform” for more than a decade or two, you understand why I reference the  “Groundhog Day” phenomenon — the déjà vu feeling of having to wake each day and repeat the same scene over-and-over. Well, the Bill Murray character in the movie was on a cakewalk compared to the real nightmare of decades upon decades of debate about whether or not public education is in a true crisis.

“Whose outcome decides whether possible bad consequences will follow”— please, think about it. How many times have you heard, especially in relationship to No Child Left Behind, that there were unintended consequences?

What Can We Do?

What Can We Do?

In the American Education Reform War, one side defines the crisis as mediocre international test scores while the other side claims there is no crisis at all. Meanwhile, around kitchen tables there are mothers, fathers, grandparents, and students fretting about and struggling with problems related to education. Many times these same people have solutions that can’t be done without the cooperation of the public education system. And without support and help, they know what the consequences will be. These people face a crisis. The system is not responding to them.


My stakeholder group is the citizens of Caldwell, Idaho and we are not fairly represented on our governor’s education task force or in the education debates in this country.

I AM A CITIZEN. When we are treated like bumps in the road, our input and human potential is crushed. That action adds to a climate of despair rather than contributing to a climate capable of producing a professional learning community – “a way of working together that results in continuous school improvement” (Hord, 1997).

SOLUTION: STOP dismantling the system; instead, tear down the barriers to public participation. THAT IS MY MESSAGE to “officialdom.”

SOLUTION: — USE WHAT WE KNOW. THAT IS MY MESSAGE to all. No one person has all the answers and that is why educating children must be a WE effort. We know we need quality leaders, teachers, materials, and adequate funding.

Other SOLUTIONS: A high-quality annual State of Our Schools Report, high-quality parent education, and real community engagement which requires a process that continuously provides for a meaningful exchange of ideas to occur.

A successful outcome in education reform depends on our quality of thought and ability to ask good questions. If “leaders” aren’t examining the FAILED guiding principles, beliefs, and assumptions of the current unsuccessful “reforms”  – then they aren’t being honest with us and we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

WE already have an abundance of solutions. WE need to use what WE know.

The PROBLEMS are national but solutions TO CULTIVATING a CULTURE of LEARNING will always be local. For continuous improvement to occur, citizens must take back their right and responsibility to actively participate in the education reform process.

Reform Tool Kit

Reform Tool Kit