Tag Archives: educational reform

Common Core & Al Gore!

I finally watched the 2014 television special on my DVR ( Ann Curry Reports) reporting on the what is now generally accepted truth; that the earth’s climate is changing and it is our own fault. As I watched the show I was thinking of Al Gore and all the flack he took about his predictions. UnknownWho’s laughing now? I’m not sure we “get it” as a people. Despite the evidence in front of us, smacking us in the face, we often times just ignore it because we “can’t handle the truth.” It is not in our culture, we’re not made that way.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is not the government taking over (always a good line to get people upset and revolt against anything the government does as they stand in line for food stamps) it is not a move to fire all teachers and it is not an effort to remove the power from local systems. Local systems and teachers still control much of what is presented and the how it is presented. Common Core is a tough educational statement. Who doesn’t want that? Who would rather send their children to the “easy” school?
I followed the blog of a group of homeschooled parent/teachers out of Michigan I believe, and read several of their blog comments about the subject matter they were presenting and how they went about it; the museum visits, visits to businesses, etc. I read how their children use the internet for research, watch educational videos, and interact with a text they were using that had all sorts of interesting links that kept the students engaged. As I read the blog I noticed that often their goals and projects mirrored Common Core objectives and in several cases went far beyond. Perhaps we need proof of life? Perhaps we need a county in each state to adopt CCSS and follow it and the use tests for a few years to demonstrate?
Al Gore was correct, just premature. We needed Camille to destroy New Orleans and Sandy to smack New York. We needed snowstorms of record amounts, forest fires that were out of control and floods that swept away our cars in order to listen and understand. Is Common Core premature? Are we needing further proof, further failure of the system before we accept the need for change? Are you willing to roll the dice on you children’s future because the tests are tough?

“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.

Fundamentalism

As I mentally walk through my elementary school of the late 50’s and early 60’s then on to high school I can comfortably relate those days to today’s schools. Bells ring, school lunches are the same, desks are very similar, certainly the textbooks are just a newer (only slightly in some cases) version, blackboards are now white but still with the same function, busses are still yellow without seat-belts, principals, assistant principals, teachers, really not much has changed.

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Parents come and parents go. They’re involved for a while early on, then perhaps get fixated on one thing their child participates in, then once graduated they’re gone. Most parents quit going to school around 6th and 7th grade, their involvement is over.
School boards are more often than not just a small political office for some, a way to spread influence for others, free lunch for the rest. They know less about the educational process than a first year teacher, yet make decisions that influence the education system in their county for many years.
In our country there are things that are privileges and therefore easily taken away or denied such as a driver’s license, and then there are things that are rights such as the right to vote and the right to a free education. The issue here is not the fact that we have this right — it is the right to this education does not stipulate the type of education. Originally it was believed (and still is today) that school needs to provide the fundaments for kids to be successful. The reading, writing, arithmetic fundamental structure of the 40’s is not too far off from today’s curriculum in many schools. It’s so comforting to hear the music from the musical “Grease” coming from the band room and auditorium. Going back to “the old school” and seeing friends. School colors, school song, school sports; some people never outgrow this time and place in their lives — it’s almost mystical.

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While the educational structure has been stuck in the mud, young people have been changing. The idea of coming to school too learn something new has been replace by going to school to go back in time. If this were a business trying to produce the best and the brightest we would be looking for ergonomically engineered chairs and tables, technology and its’ structure to keep up with the changing demand, a dynamic curriculum, and educators helping students along the path of self-education. Sports would be played through a municipality not tied to and anchoring down the education system: School exists for educational purposes not athletic events.
Decide America, what is it you want out of your school and your children? Do you want for them the same thing you had? All those school spirit Pep Rally’s, the smell of corn dogs cooking, the long walk to the administration office, hiding your cell phone, laughing at the teacher because they can’t get on-line for today’s lesson — ah, yes, school days. Or perhaps you want your son to graduate high school with an employable skill he can use right away! Not possible? Oh yes it is possible if you change your attitude toward school and education itself. We can build a school system designed to educate and/or train students for further academic life or employment or we can continue the use of this fundamentalist school structure and fall further and further behind.
By the way these schools do exist today. Many of them are very successful and challenging Charter and public schools. You will never change the format, the organization of your school system, unless you destroy the school board structure that keeps the school organization and function back in the 50’s and replace it with a PLC style organization of school leaders.