Tag Archives: School Boards

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.

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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.

Technology in Education

Technology.

I’m sitting in my “office” in a high school in Tennessee. The scene is virtually the same in many counties across the state and perhaps across the country. I am trying to access a public web site, TED (www.TED.com), to share a wonderful algebra teaching video with the schools I work with. Blocked. Earlier I was sitting in an English class where the teacher was trying to access a web site that discussed several of Shakespeare’s works. Blocked. Teachers in another county used to be able to communicate intra-school using the built-in messaging system. Blocked. While conducting research for a science project in the library, the entire class wasted over half the class period trying to find web sites that would allow them access a few medical sites. Blocked.
Now I know, having had several running battles with technology in other districts, that the solution to the problem is almost as easy as flipping a switch. Flipping a switch. But if you examine the individuals who are the technology representatives in schools you’ll find mostly non-educator, hardware technologists, with little or no vested interest in advancing the educational needs of the system. Their job is to block access to the system. They are the off switch in the portal to accessing the system. I’m an advocate for removing these technologists either completely or reducing their status in the system to a staff member working for an educator with a vested interest in the system.
To do less is to treat the educators in your system as juveniles equal in status to their students. The “switch” in the system needs to be the responsible educator in the classroom.
Technologists are necessary in a system when changing systems, revamping existing systems, installing new systems, as a technical advisor only. No authority to stop or block educational needs. A new high school built in middle Tennessee recently had the internet and overhead projector access in a part of the class rooms not useable by the teachers. Nobody asked the educators in the rooms where to position the desks; a technologist determined where. Reminds me of the illustration I saw years ago of an automobile designed by three different people: A mom with kids, an automotive engineer, and an automobile mechanic. The mom’s vehicle had a couch, places for drinks, garbage can, but try to find the engine! The engineer’s car was low and smooth, with great lines but how do you get into it? The mechanic’s car had the engine exposed with access to all the necessary parts and two lawn chairs thrown on the back for the driver and a passenger.
In today’s digital educational society the usefulness of the technologist has run its course. They are still needed to resolve point of service issues, install a printer, replace a monitor, etc., but their input into the how and why the system should run needs to be reversed. The reason we find ourselves in this position is most of the superintendents and school boards are littered with old fogies. I’m no spring chicken, but I can spot technical incompetence when I see it. I’ll never forget not too many years ago at a school board meeting, a young lady in the audience was taking notes on her laptop when one of the school board members asked her if she could make a copy of a document he had in his hand on her “electronic thing!” What a moron! Go to your next school board meeting and look at the people making the timely and necessary decisions about education in your county and you’ll see part if not most of the reason why education struggles in our country.