Tag Archives: education

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.

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Is there an alternative to testing?

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We’ve beat this to death I think, not the question necessarily but testing itself.  We’ve flattened it, blamed it, stretched it, bolstered it and torn it down.  What we’ve not done is eliminated it.  First of all, why do we have state mandated end of course testing?  The only logical conclusion is — we do not have teachers we can trust. Otherwise why the redundancy?  Why test students on subjects the teachers obviously tested them on already?  What’s the point?  I am probably stating the obvious but the difference is, I’m laying it all out here — the wounds of the system; we do not trust teachers.

iuTesting is very expensive, state wide standardized testing.  Let’s eliminate the standardized testing in K-12.  There’s already a good national testing for admission to college in the ACT/SAT system, paid for by the students.  The only other system of testing that could be administered statewide, is a graduation required senior final exam.  That would eliminate the sciuhool “x”is easier than school “y” so let’s move our kids there mentality.
This is after all, about money.  I don’t care how much the school/principal/teacher says they love the school/students they would not be there if it were not for money.  So with that as the basis, how much would a school system save if it did not have to test so often?  The state pays for the testing but the reality is, they pay for testing out of money that could go to schools if schools/principals/teachers were trusted.  So if on an average testing day, a state pays half a million to test all the states students in a particular grade on a particular subject, what could individual school districts be able to do with the money instead?  School infrastructure?  Teacher raises?

So how would a school insure students received satisfactory instruction?  Teacher testing.  Test for retention, test for promotion, and hire only qualified teachers for open positions not family and friends as is a common practice in rural schools. Testing to hire, retention, and promotion is used in many professional occupations from the USAF to lawyers. Trust the school districts.  Empower them by giving them funds that otherwise would have been spent on the numerous tests.  The saving in teachable hours not spent on testing preparation, testing days, and testing recovery alone is worth it.

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.

PLC/r

PLC/r = PLCm + PLCi

The traditional model of a PLC involves the meeting of teachers in like disciplines and or like grade levels. The idea is that this helps them focus on their issues given the similarity of the disciplines or the grade level, in some cases both. As a Professional Learning Community the main idea is that as a group of for example math teachers we can best evaluate and model best practices to each other because we share the same discipline and in many cases the same or similar students. Building relationships in this setting is easier given the similarity of the discipline or students and this is especially helpful in high school where conversations between colleagues used to be held primarily after faculty meetings or informally in hallway discussions. So the PLC premise is built primarily on school systems with either sufficient financial resources to accommodate the process or with a deep enough pool of teachers who can watch each others classes for a brief period of time and there are enough colleagues in the same discipline and or grade level to accommodate the PLC meeting.
In rural schools throughout this country PLCs falter or collapse completely as schools, primarily those schools with a small faculty and student body try to imitate larger schools PLC implementation process. Many rural schools have perhaps one or two 7th grade math teachers in the complete school system. The entire math department in a school may consist of just a few individuals without a common planning time so the only method to their meeting as a math centered PLC would be to hire subs to cover their classes, a plan most rural schools cannot afford to implement. An alternative to the PLC process as presented is a PLC/r or a rural PLC program. A rural PLC or PLC/r simply means that we’ve taken the framework of the traditional PLC and modified (PLCm) that framework to allow all disciplines and supporting staff to join in the PLC meetings lending it to more of a totally integrated (PLCi) meeting. Therefore in the rural communities across this country PLCs can work and can be successful by just accepting the fact that the modification of the PLC does not detract from the form and function of the PLC but rather presents a new and perhaps better way to get the faculty working together and sharing knowledge while meeting in these PLC/r during a more convenient and affordable times.
While PLCs are designed around individual disciplines and grade level meetings, this mix of disciplines and grade level teachers in PLC/r’s bring to the stage a whole new view of shared teaching and shared experiences. The idea is two fold. First to grow unity within the group each PLC reflects on their school and asks themselves what could they do as a small group to help the school become a better place for faculty, staff, or students? The second part is to share and discover as a faculty the professional development they need this school year.
The first part of the group work involves the development of a team goal. This team goal must be one that the team feels they can accomplish during the year or the semester depending on school scheduling. For example the development of a parent newsletter, improving faculty intra-communication, development of display boards showing student testing progress, all are small and achievable faculty goals that are relatively easy to implement and will give the team a sense of accomplishment at a very early stage of the PLC/r. Team goals are transferrable to the next year or next semester; some team goals become projects for the freshman – senior class or a school club to take on each year. It does not have to be a big item with multiple layers of tasks but should be the simple and easily implemented. A great example of an easy to do and implement program is a truly effective one called Word of the Day/Word of the Week (WOD/WOW) program I’ve outline in an earlier blog. Once this program is generated and installed it is an easily maintained program with demonstrated results in raising ACT and end of the year testing scores.
The second part of the PLC/r is the most important to the faculty and the student body and that is the practical application and shared knowledge and skills of a blended faculty working on better understanding themselves, In this era of implementation of Common Core and PARCC testing transition there are worlds of change and improvements we don’t necessarily get to practice individually just due to time constraints or the lack of knowledge about the subject. But with team leadership and shared responsibility the PLC/r can soon consider alternative methods of exploring professional development. Central to the PLC concept is that we as a group of professional educators need time to share and collaborate with colleagues and the PLC/r actually enhances this experience by allowing the involvement of all disciplines and grade level teachers to interact with each others and therefore share a broader range of knowledge than just their own discipline or grade level knowledge. During a recent PLC meeting where one of the professional practices we were using called Professional Rounds, the PLC/r was visiting the local elementary school. This PLC consisted of primarily middle and high school teachers. They were visiting a first grade class and they were amazed at the amount of time the kids spent using the Smart Board and how well they used it. At the next PLC meeting the following week while reflecting on that experience the high school teachers were stunned at the fact that these little kids could use the Smart Boards but many at their school were just using them as white boards due to either lack of training or did not see the usefulness of the equipment. Then they discovered that amongst their group was a teacher with expertise on Smart Boards. The next few PLCs were then conducted using a Smart Board.
PLC/r have the power to markedly change faculties. They are the least intrusive method of advancing teacher knowledge through collaboration especially in rural school settings.

Ridiculed

Getting ready to head out the door this morning when an observation made by one of the morning anchors on a national news station caught my interest; she suggested that in the story on Georgia teachers having a “pizza party” while changing testing data, that they should have used that time to “teach the children” implying that the time used for the party would have increase the students’ scores. It always amazes me how non–educators are so quick to ridicule and belittle teachers and the educational establishment, yet are often the people never seen in school by their children’s teachers, and never accept their responsibility in this process.
I am in no way defending the antics of these bozos in Georgia who, pressured by the focus on testing and their administration, falsified testing documentation. They were spineless: They knew the truth yet ignored it. Get rid of them and move on – quickly.
This casual reference to education, as if this 45 minutes worth of pizza time could magically change children, is just ignorant. Ignorant yet prevalent. It is like when meeting a person for the first time and they hear I served in the Air Force for 27 years they’ll ask, “My cousin Ed was in the military, you must know him” — the space required to fill that person’s brain with information enough so that they could have either rephrased the question or dropped it, is just infinite. Some things you have to live to understand.
Teaching is an art form; a delicate balance between serving up the right amount of data balanced with an understanding of the psychology and maturation of the students in their class. How to work through an item of historical significance is vastly different in the class with 4th grade students and with 8th grade students. Their social maturity, so vastly different, has turned the 4th graders questions about “how?” to the 8th grader’s question “why?”.
So back to the newsroom; I know how difficult it is to be on the air, on live television, where your response to a situation sometimes just blurts out, but this pizza party slap across the face of teachers, is just too insulting to allow it to pass. So to this anchorwoman I say, walk a mile in their shoes before making another absurd observation about the ease of the educational process. Because the process of educating children is much more complex and dynamic than most people ever realize.

Total Effective School Days

The concept behind the number of days students spend in an educational setting is one based on experience, research, policy, and custom. The 180 days used in many states and educational communities has served as a benchmark for years despite educational change, testing requirements, and societal developments. But unlike the manufacturing process school systems are based on, the use of this benchmark is as ineffective as it is outdated. Even the amount of hours at school is based around transportation and public convenience rather than educational research.

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If however, one was to simply ask students, parents, and teachers the answer to the question, “How many totally effective schools days are there in a school year?” the answer would be significantly different from the number given by the states. If school were a manufacturing plant, where production goes forward despite other activities that occur during the day, given the fact that in the minimum number of production days, in this case 180, their product must be ready for shipment, then perhaps the number of days set at 180 would be an acceptable amount. However that would mean in school, despite a holiday assembly in the theater, the teacher would remain in the classroom and pressed on with the day’s lesson utilizing every minute of the 180 days, then we could say that in theory the time was used as required by law. Unfortunately unlike the assembly line where the product stays on the line, in this case the student leaves the line and heads to the theater.
Over the course of more than 20 years of educational experience to include raising four children through various educational systems to include DODDS, and input I’ve gathered from thousands of teachers over the years, the answer to the question raised about totally effective production/classroom days hovers more accurately around 155 effective school days.
That number may be further distorted based on the date testing is administered. Again using production facilities in comparison, the measurement of success is at the end of 180 days the product produced is what was promised at day one: In the educational process we measure the success of production using standardized testing 30 to 45 days before the promised delivery date. Effective educational time therefore, the amount of hours spent by students in an educational setting not to be confused with the amount of time teachers spend in comparison,is certainly a questionable amount. If standardized testing is based on an educational production time of 180 days then we are measuring success of students and schools before the paint is dry.
The solution therefore is an examination of the educational structure, the administration of that structure, and an educational calendar based on the reality of schools and not the perception. To be honest even the term Total Effective School Days is an improbable standard given the fact that the educational system is as much a social preparatory school as it is an educational one. Measurement of one’s social progress is almost as difficult as effective measurement of one’s educational progress. The question therefore goes back to the number of days given by states as a standard, is that an effective amount of time given the needs of society, the requirements of standardized testing, and the amount of quality educational time allocated to each teacher in our schools? If we are going to change the curriculum of schools across the country, we owe it to everyone to change the amount of time necessary to teach that curriculum.

Moore’s Law

There’s an advertisement on television that caught my eye recently, I pay attention to advertisements as a former media teacher because it takes a very clever, intelligent group of advertisers to put together concise information into 15 or 30 second spots. Anyway this advertisement for AT&T U-Verse shows a young person around 12 years old telling their siblings about the “old days” of television — where they had to go to the room the television was located in because it had to connect to a wall outlet where now with their new service they could watch it anywhere. The difference in age of these actors is about 3 to 4 years. I am sure the tongue in cheek reference here to us older folks is that the expression the “old days” was most often in reference to a multi-generational issue spanning 5 or 6 decades not 3 to 4 years, but this 30 second advertisement reveals more about the world we live in than just a passing reference to television technology.
Moore’s Law is an observation by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore who observed essentially that computing technology would change/improve itself every two years … that was in 1965. Today’s version would read something along the lines of technological change every month, perhaps even faster. The point here is (as I type this on my iPad, connected wirelessly on a school wide server, using an application or “app” a term in 1965 that was no where near associated with computers) that education reform, comfortable with the snails’s pace of past reform movements, must accept the new pace of education or leave. In fact I believe it is time for school boards, administrators everywhere to have a face-to-face discussion about change and reform in school with each and every staff member, teacher, support faculty, administrator — everyone. If they cannot change now, then they need to leave now. The sooner the better because you cannot go forward when part of the faculty is stuck in the mud pulling you back. We need leadership the elicits change and progressive thinking more than we need money. We need teachers who accept the role of classroom learning enabler and educational guide more than we need advanced placement classes. We need people reform to stay abreast of this ever advancing educational world.