Tag Archives: alternate school paths

Inverted EducationPyramid

The pyramid shape of business and government organizations does not bode well for education Top-Down-Leaders-Pyramidsystems.  Not that there should be a hundred school superintendents to one teacher, but rather that the level of importance, of strength, educational prowess and excellence, not only should but must be found in the classroom not the principal/superintendent’s office(s).  Successful and powerful educational organizations be they primary, secondary, or higher educational systems are marked by successful and powerful teachers.

As an educational consultant I’ve been in many schools and undeniably the schools with best attendance, test scores, least discipline problems, and greatest graduation rates had the best teachers.  In fact these schools most often had invisible administrators. I would venture to say that these schools could easily have functioned without a “principal” (administrator) utilizing an administrative staff to communicate with local and state authorities about policy and procedures.  I remember one high school where the principal for health reasons was more often than not, not present during the school days with little or no impact to the faculty and no impact on the students.

The administrative function in educations needs revisiting.  The term “principal” used to mean “lead  teacher”  meaning the principal lead the school using his/her teaching skills as the main teacher in the building; not the person who signs travel requisitions. We need all our efforts focused on securing the best teachers and (here’s a sore spot) pay them accordingly.  We need to remove the “principals” from their offices, send them back to the classrooms, and reorganize the “administrative” functions of schools and of county/district offices.  It is that superior academic program, lead by those excellent teachers, that identifies outstanding schools.

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.

Third Grade

May 25, 2012
I believe Sister Ignatius was my third grade teacher. She was 10 years older than God when I had her at Corpus Christi Elementary School in Mineola, N.Y. I spent my 1st through 8th grade at that Parochial School. In the third grade I cannot tell you what I learned, read, wrote, but I can tell you of my experience on the playground and the times I got wacked with the ruler. The playground behind and beside the school was the coolest. Trains passed just outside the fence. A couple of really tall cedar trees provided needed shade. The enormous size of the playground allowed all types of games from tag, to stickball. I cannot tell you when I learned to read – I can tell you what my small life was like because of the friends I had, the bike I rode, and the games I played. Third grade is not an academic endeavor; third grade is social growth.
Many states are adopting a policy where in the third grade there is a pass or fail reading test. Florida has had this policy for more than ten years; Florida has a miserable academic record. In an interview with a boy who had failed the test in a northern state the boy said that he was “stupid.” Stupid. I hate to beat this dead horse but we’ve got to recognize, from coast to coast that not everyone is academically equal — nor will they be despite how many times you leave them back a grade.
I’m not advocating that in this early grade we begin separating the academically inclined and those who are not but I am suggesting that given all the testing evidence, that it is clear that we have students who should continue to be challenged with academic rigor, and those who should be challenged with career training. Research into the Florida plan that has ten years of data on their 3rd grade testing plan indicates mixed results. While Johnny does better in the 4th grade after being held back a year in 3rd (duh) the gain tapers off over time. It appears that those held back are more likely to drop out than others. Socially those held back are viewed differently by teachers, parents, and peers. The social stigma does not wear off easily. The emotional impact lasts a lifetime. And what have we gained? What’s the point? What’s the cost?

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The national curriculum standards going into effect will certainly help to level the academic playing field across the country. I believe 48 of the 50 states have adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) where by the end of the 2014 academic year all schools will be rowing in the same direction to the same music just up different rivers and this common ground will help schools to better access their students given common country wide standards. Great. That still does not change the fact that some students are going to pass and some fail due to no fault of the parents or the school. It is what it is!
Along with CCSS we need a national policy to address three paths through school. Three socially and legally acceptable paths through the 13 years of school life and paths that academically and physically diverge at a given point. The paths would consist of the academic path – on through high school to a four year college. Additionally another path would be the career/life path where at 16 years of age, around students sophomore year, the student and parent choose a life skills path where the student receives enough training to allow them to transition into the working life immediately following graduation from high school. The third path would be for those not able to finish school due to some health, emotional, life problem that just prohibits them from attending school. These students currently count against schools in graduation rates and academic testing because the school still must keep them enrolled, they still receive funding for that student from the state, but cannot dis-enroll the students unless some other action takes place. This third path would alleviate this problem. The student would be released to parent/guardian and once the issue has resolved itself or another solutions is reached, the student would then be allowed to resume studies through adult high school path. What’s wrong with this way? Why can’t we accept these academic truths?