Tag Archives: #AmandaRipley

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.

“I Told You So!”

When my son was in high school in Europe in DoDDS, I had the pleasure of sitting on the school board as an American advisor from time to time and throughly enjoyed the process. The search for academically rich content, hiring of educators well versed in their field, the expansion of operating hours for students and parents to use the school facility in the evenings. All wonderful and enjoyable meetings and professional staff members.

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When I retired and accepted the challenge of teaching in an American high school system I was faced with a puzzling dilemma. First off I wanted to join the school board and was told teachers were not allowed to be members (where do they get their inside expertise?) I was fortunate to teach in the same high school my daughters attended; perhaps fortunate is not the best choice of words. My daughter’s Algebra teacher sat behind his desk reading the sports pages while students flipped overhead slides, worked the problems, turned in the work sheets, then slept. He was a football coach. The “current events” class teacher was the lead basketball coach. They received the daily newspaper and read the sports pages diligently. The head of the English department, with woefully old textbooks, students seating in ill repair, was the head football coach. The football field was beautiful. I struggled for the first two years doing the very best I could as professionally as possible all the while screaming inside about the futility of the school system. Why doesn’t somebody stop the music! All the principals in the county and all the assistant principals were coaches, present and past.
I recently read a book by Amanday Riply titled “The Smartest Kids in The World” and I watched a video of her in a debate with others about why sports ought to be eliminated from high schools, a mantra I’ve cried for years. Speaking against this notion was a former director of athletics from Alexandria Vergina, and also he happened to be the former mayor of Alexandria, Verginia. As he spoke he outlined almost perfectly (and of course inadvertently) the case against school sports: He spoke of saving ones and twos. When Amanda spoke it was of thousands. While in the Washington Post an amazing lament by a wonderful teacher who could no longer take the frustration of the educational system.
Amanda Ripley’s debate as informative as it was is not the fodder for a similar discussion about any rural school in the south — no siree buddy! It is football that is king. It is football on the signs leading into the town, on the water tower, all over the side of parents’ cars and the high school itself looks more like an athletic club than anything remotely academic. Even their school colors/theme/jackets/yearbook everything about the school from an outside point of view screams this is an athletic facility first and foremost. As I debate this issue internally, and as a retired teacher and now an education connsultant, I realize that this issue is much bigger than high school, this is all about big business and big money. And on that note I’lll have to turn away from this issue for the moment because quite frankly, I don’t think there is a workable solution, not at this time.

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Of course the “End Is (not) Near”! I believe as Amanda Ripley states so well in her book “The Smartest Kids In The World” that as Finland went in the early 70s, so goes the United States today. I do believe we are at a pivitol point; the point where the control over classrooms and their content changes from individual teachers to national directives. Where everyone will be sooner or later singing the same song from the same book at virtually the same time from Alaska to Florida. Where for the foreseeable future teachers will become classroom managers and facilitators until this country makes to next step in improving the quality of educators in this country. There is a difference between teachers and educators and I think the time is fast approaching us as a country and as individual educational systems/counties to support the re imagination of the professional educator testing and licensing program and give the control of educating our children back to the classroom professional. The only way therefore to fix the system, is to fix the teacher certification and training system. To make becoming a teacher a professional educator, a master in their field, a current researcher and contributor, a professor by all accounts.