Monthly Archives: August 2014

Fracking Education

Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores were released in Tennessee recently and combined with the state’s ACT performance, progress has eluded many of the state’s school systems.  Tennessee is not alone.  Across the country many are struggling and the discontent with more school change is rising. Schools exist on this pendulum swinging between getting a satisfactory rating for a few years, to an unsatisfactory rating for another few years.  Money is thrown at different programs that often wither on the vine after the money is gone.  Educators however, continue to plod away at the problem, turning the wheel of time using the same standards they’ve used before; the tried and true lesson that served them in the past sometimes unaware of all the changes in the world and society going on around them.  

In an article by Henry Di Sio ( Why Our Old Lens On Learning Will Fail A New Generation ) a former deputy assistant to President Obama, he illustrates the fact that education has not changed.  We are going nowhere while the world around us continues to change at an alarming rate.  What is the problem with education inertia?  Why can we not make the leap?  All around us the old structure of education is crumbling.  Charter schools, special school districts, on-line schools, home schools are all examples of the blood leaking out of the educational body as the system collapses on itself.  Our education system in many rural communities is much like the movie “The Money Pit” where despite their best efforts and throwing good money after bad, the house they were trying to save collapses on itself.  It’s a dream, an illusion.  We cannot fix education with money.  We can only fix something by first acknowledging what is broken and then agreeing on how to improve education.

So what is broken?  What exactly is the problem?  I have personal experience as a student, parent, and teacher in both the American education system and European system.  I know one thing about those two systems and that is in spite the fact they are both educational systems, we cannot compare one with the other.  In Amanda Ripley’s “the smartest kids in the world” a must read for every parent and educator, the answer is Finland’s students are the smartest.   The fact of the matter is we cannot compare our system to anyone else.  You can’t stay as slim as the French and eat eclairs all day and keep your lifestyle.  If you want what others have you have to act, follow, adapt their lifestyle.  We are not going to do that.  One thing that we’ve demonstrated better than anything else is that we are great at digging in, resisting change, living in the past. So what is broken/what is the problem?  For a complete revolutionary change this is a short list of what’s broken, the problems, and can it be fixed.

▪Basic Education System: Everyone takes a shot at this massive topic, everyone has another, a better idea, but this is the engine that runs the whole process.  We keep adding on and adapting, modifying, adjusting, and then going back to the old standards, so much so  that to define the educational system is like trying to tack jello to the wall.  Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the first major overhaul of the system in many years with great intentions, has tripped and fallen because of the failure of the leaders implementing CCSS, they neglected school’s adult social inertia (number 2 below, School Daze). In an earlier article I published about rural schools, I made the statement that school “is the music of our youth, the foundation of our religion, the beginning of our family, the origin of our job.” I believe CCSS is a great attempt at achieving systemic reform; using it as a big stick to force change is a grave error.

▪School Daze: School is, for the older generation (anyone over 30 who votes and has children), an integral part of their society.  It is the source from which many of their future husbands/wives/employment/voting attitude develops.  Our country’s school framework is not going to change that easily; you can’t force change as with CCSS, it must come as a revelation, a revolution.  I read some of my former students posting on Facebook, how their children are doing in elementary schools and found interesting and revealing that their comments and actions mimic those of school age parents and children of the 50’s.  Those same school social expectations.  The same attitude toward the educational system.  Their same reaction to teachers, administrators, and the school system in general.  CCSS appears to the uniformed as a threat to the comfortable school system and that fear of a great societal change for their children is too frightening, unacceptable; not the way things are “supposed to be.”  Progressive parents, seeing the problems with their schools, the poor scores, the in-fighting, the failure of schools to produce responsible and educated students, opt for other “outside the box” solutions often with great success.  Changing this is monumental: Change will happen.  Changes to societal attitude toward school and education will occur, brought on by the forces of technology, our economy, and social trends.  This change will happen, and the sooner society realizes that the educational system must fold the way it currently operates and open with a new organizational system, the better.

▪School Administrative Systems: Time’s up for the old school administrative system.  There are 13,588 public school districts in our country.  That means there are 13,588 interpretations of school curriculum, school schedules, teacher evaluations, student achievement.  An impossible mix of opinions, social standards, religious beliefs, community expectations.  Not manageable at any level, at least not manageable effectively.  It is time to reinvent school districts.  School support systems must reflect the latest change in education and in every school system you can find waste, duplication of effort, nepotism, and unqualified personnel making economic, technological, and policy decisions that are simply against the educational grain.  A business model, more like they way most companies operate today, is necessary.  It’s time to do away with the focus on weekly football pep rallies, candy sales for trips, and trying to maintain a low profile in the community and begin the work of education.

If you want a successful school system, equal across every state and college, then CCSS and national standards need to be adopted.  Schools need to be organized and run by a managing board of educators and community members answering to a regional office.  That regional office is staffed with education professionals and business leaders invested in the educational system.  The state providing oversight, funding, and management of resources.  Cut out the cutie fluff.  The goal, the focus of the school, is the education of the student and the enrichment of the schools community. To waste time on anything else is to lose focus on the reason the school exists.  Perhaps then we can recapture lost “effective” school days and get our education system back to where it should be; back in the primary business of educating students.


Classroom Technology Choices

God knows there is more advice on the web and educational servers about great things to use in the classroom or things to stay away from and I am certainly not here to advise either way.  I believe, as most experienced educators would agree, that the most important tool in the classroom is the teacher and his/her relationship with their students.  Technology cannot fix a broken or ineffective teacher. A recent blog discussing Learning Management Systems does a good job of reviewing some of the choices available, and he is an advocate of Google app systems that have been recently released titled Google Apps for Education.  

Most technology sections in county central offices are staffed with either a part time individual stuck with the job, to a moderate section with several staffers often with little training.  The main function of the technology section is often to block progress rather than work with teachers to improve educational technology.  Their first (and often the only one needed) wall of opposition is that of inappropriate use of technology.  Always crying wolf and it rings a bell in the ears of the older less technologically informed county leaders, they often are successful at arguing against any new advancement/app/program leading teachers to use older technology or hiding their use of technology from supervisors.  I visited a county recently where they were still debating letting teachers message each other!  As I introduced several apps, websites, programs that they could use to enhance lessons, encourage more dialogue with students, they admitted they use some of them but they do not tell anyone because they “county administration would have their jobs.”

I’ve been on my soapbox recently about educating administrative leadership at the county/main office level, but technology is an area that ignoring the possibilities offered through the use of technology, often for absolutely no money ( ScribusGimpLibreoffice ) is the opposite direction we need to be going in education.  Perhaps it’s the perceived threat to technological advisors that they either refuse to allow new technology into schools, or the fear that their ignorance of new and developing educational programs will be revealed.  I’m not sure but I do know one thing: Students already use the technology and are looking for educational leadership to help them make informed decisions.

Until we catch up in education with the technology used by our students and we can provide solid educational guidance on technological programs and equipment, we are failing our students.

Another Nail in the Career Teacher Path

Once again the political and uniformed parties hammer is out to drive another nail in the coffin of career teachers in an attack on teacher tenure using scare tactics and misinformation.  A New York lawsuit against teacher tenure is fast becoming a popular step in the building of presidential platforms calling for educational reform.  Everyone wants a scalpel in the operation of dissecting education but nobody seems to have an idea of what they’re looking for.  As it is the prospect of becoming a teacher is a difficult process even for the most qualified, but the job comes with an automatic caveat.  You might get hired but not into a career path but rather a 9 to 10 month temp position.

The idea of a career is one where after years of study or experience or both, you achieve a position with a company you would  like to work for and stay with as you learn and grow.  Once hired in most career path positions, the expectation is that you will continue to work there until you fail to meet expectations or you decide to move on to another company or position.  Most would balk at the idea of being hired into a position where the job is essentially for a 10 month period with no guarantee of continued employment.  In fact many schools do not make the decision to continue a teacher until the last monthUnknown of the school year when they are either notified by the principal they are no longer need or (gasp) nobody says anything to you and that lets you know that you are safe for another year!  Teachers whisper to each other behind their closed doors asking if anyone been called to the principal’s office! Ludicrous, unprofessional, juvenile behavior  that is prevalent in many schools’ systems.  Tenure gave teachers a goal to shoot for;  survive three years of this type of behavior and you’ll be rewarded with a system of tenure.

Tenure was never developed to provide perverts, ineffective slackers, uneducated dolts a place to hide.  The legal system did that.  The legal system so tangled the arms of the educational system, already a joke of a “system” that individuals who managed to survive three years and achieve tenure and then took advantage of an ineffective management system managed to hide in plain sight.  Quite frankly most educational systems can’t manage a school’s schedule no less the personnel who educate your kids.  In most county central school offices there are people who really operate around the teachers: They run in fear of the parents and public at large and often operate as if the main reason they exist and the central office is even there is for its own survival, not to assist the teachers in the education of the students.  Laughably, the one section of the central office established to help teachers, be their advisor, assist them in improving their teaching skills is the least effective.  In one school district I worked each year the center point of our summer professional development was the same professional development we had received the year before, and the year before that!  They never paid attention to the fact that the training and trainer they were using were the same we had the previous year, until by the third year even the person hired commented that it was really odd to come back and do the same thing three years in a row.

Tenure has been abused.  County educational systems are often incapable of behaving professionally (check and see how many relatives are working together in the school system) because many of them have not been in a school since escaping school to work at the central office.  So if we want to really work at helping students, improving student scores, encouraging children to do and give their best we need to have professional management and leadership in county central offices, or get rid of them.  Start with mandating that office staff are qualified for the position and not somebody’s sister.  Public revelation of the central office’s distribution of funds; not allowing special friends,  relatives/favorite principals, or alma-mater schools receiving a disproportional amount of the annual budget.  Implement a standard employment practice contract statewide ensuring all teachers are protected from unscrupulous hiring practices; enhance the professionalism of the system by treating teachers with mature, responsible and professional behavior that starts at the top and is reflected in the behavior of the central office.  Don’t believe me?  Try a completely anonymous and independent survey of teachers and ask them about how they are treated, how the central office treats them, about professional behavior.  Then let’s have a mature discussion about tenure and teacher career paths.