Tag Archives: 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?

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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.

Professionals

In a recent conversation with a former colleague and close friend, I discovered she had a nervous breakdown in June and that was why she had not returned calls or emails. I knew she was feeling poorly but the extent of her illness I did not know until our recent conversation.
She is an experienced, caring, excellent educator. She is the teacher who is there for the students before and after school. The one who helps with lunch money at times. The one who brings life to the classroom. Where students come to hang out when they are kicked out of someone else’s classroom. Add to this her scores are always amongst the best if not the best in the school, a school not on anyone’s list to perform because they have always been successful. Yet this teacher collapsed under the weight of educational scare tactics, in the name of educational reform.

20121011-092533.jpgIn a recent NYT article reviewing the changes in teacher evaluations, most of the public comes away with a feeling that this process is a fair and equitable way of evaluating educator performance. Let me state up-front that having lived through an evaluation system based on absolutes, and performance quotas, it is not possible to be fair nor equitable. If you have 100 employees and your target states that 10% of your employees are allowed to get the top rating, but your team is a group of handpicked professionals that you know are all working at their capacity doing great work and while yes there may be a few here and there who could do better, how do you pick 10 people? How do you give those outstanding employees who have given you more than you’ve asked for a rating of OK while their colleague receives an outstanding doing the same job? Now add to this the idea that this rating will be made public, so everyone in small-town USA will get to see who is OK, who is mediocre, who needs “improvement.”

20121011-093525.jpgMy colleague collapsed under the weight of fall-guy responsibility. All the problems of the educational system were now hers. Parents want to take over schools, administrators who are meaningless educational accountants instead of instructional leaders, school boards blindly put into place the next educational reform to get the funds needed to build and equip schools. And of course students are not to blame. Their’s is the plight of young people existing in an unfair world where more is expected of them than ever before. While I’ve not seen many school systems where students get up before dawn to do chores, go to school, and then go home to work the farm, I’ve seen plenty with the newest cars, smartest phones, and longest sleep cycles of any group of young people to date.
To my friend, my colleague, I want to tell her that this will all get better but frankly I don’t see it happening anytime soon. In fact the opposite is happening. The educational system is fracturing and bits and pieces are flying off. Private schools, home-schooling, web based learning, charter schools, charters for private schools, parent schools, all pulling apart the educational system. Perhaps this is akin to natural selection, and it is a trimming of the weak points allowing a stronger system to evolve. Whatever this process is, the effects are being felt by good, strong, and caring educators everywhere and the result is a red circle on the grade page of educational reform.