Tag Archives: School 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.

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.

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.

Rural Towns, School Sports, Pride

The police had the sidewalks cordoned off just a few days ago, the firetrucks were in the lead, and the street was lined with parents and supporters of the team as they departed school at 10:30 in the morning, the week prior to testing, for the teams’ match. Most stores in town were offering some special sale pricing this week as the team had been departing at different times over the past two weeks depending on the game’s location. The town council met and decided to ask the various city shops, especially in the historic district of town, to remain open and perhaps place displays outside their shops because the TV crews would certainly be in town if the town turned on their charm.
The TV crews did show and the town appeared twice on the major channels and on a few of the smaller ones in the closest major city news station. The TV showed the town all decorated, the charted busses for the team right behind the firetrucks leading the parade, followed by the band and others in the older school busses and parent vehicles.

In this town, the priority list was Sports, Jesus, Walmart, Family, and way down the line after any number of other items, education.


The High School’s test results the following week were particularly dismal. On reflection months later, the committee assigned to review the data along with the administration, agreed that for the most part the school needs to focus more on reading. Target those teachers with the most amount of students that failed to demonstrate progress and get them help. Hire a consultant to tackle the difficult math scores and improve their numbers. They also felt a disconnect with the community; parental involvement in high school was just poor and that was, as far as the committee was concerned and the administration, the central problem. Add to that the need for additional teachers (despite the four coaches on staff filling teaching positions as ISS teachers, study hall, weight training, current events, etc., etc., all with 4th block as their planning/take care of the field time.)
As I sat in these meetings, later watching the evening news and seeing the various school parades, reviewing the test data, I most often times had to bite my tongue, to keep from screaming, what I believe to be, the obvious. We cannot effectively change high school educational success without changing high school — period.

If you look at the changes facing education these days, top to bottom, you’d see that the target for these changes, the focal point, the one with the most institutional resistance, and the one with the greatest inbred social dichotomy to face, are high schools. High school teachers must completely transform their teaching methodology. Elementary teachers are still seen by their students as the font of all knowledge (cue soft music, crayons, butterflies); high school teachers without an iPad or Google Glasses are seen as disconnected, clumsy, uneducated(cue acid rock, dirty chalk boards, old school teacher’s lounge). Established, understood, comfortable, high school curriculum is thrown out the window and completely revised. High School educational time in-the-seat is now too valuable to waste on pep rallies, bus send off’s, study halls, and anything other than instructional time.


How do we do this? As an institution high school is what we talk about. It is THE reunion. It is the most influential social morphing 4 years of most everyone’s life! Movies are made about it: I did not say the singular movie but the plural movies and many of them blockbusters. It is the music of our youth, the foundation of our religion, the beginning of our family, the origin of our job. Many a “clumsy” high school teacher helped us through this minefield of life our parents knew nothing about.

So what is it going to be America? If you want high school the way it used to be, then you’ll need to back off the national standards and accept the fact that in today’s world your kids will be unable to compete on the same level as those from most other states and countries. If you want your high school to accept the challenge of today’s employment and higher educational needs then you’ll have to help out. Remember — that’s your kid in the first place, not the school’s, so these kids are your responsibility to get them off to work or higher education. To do that you need to realize that high school is about education, not pompoms. Sports are great don’t get me wrong. So are many other worthwhile school and community based organizations (KEY Club comes to mind) that operate outside regular school hours and their teacher/sponsor work after school with no pay to support. No time off for any sport or activity; no 4th block “special” classes for athletes that many school boards shamefully allow student athletes to take every year and receive a full credit for attending the class (weight lifting comes to mind), no coaches hired for those “make-up” classes; instead, teachers hired who, after school, also can coach a sport. And all this is going to cost you some time. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a close look at your school board, but if I were a betting man I’d bet that for the most part they are old white men. And probably (but this has been changing recently) your high school principal/assistant principals are former coaches. Now right off the bat I’d like to say (like Seinfeld) “… there’s nothing wrong with that!” and there is not — as long as the person who is the administrator is trained in the latest in educational methodology, understands teachers needs and the proper and fair evaluation process, is comfortable with students, understands their needs, works with student council, meets and encourages parental participation in school. Sound like your administrator or school board member? No? Then get rid of them.


That’s really the choice. There is no compromise. You cannot have your cake and eat it too! There will be many who will try and sell you a proposal that can modify your schedule to allow for both but I promise you, if you subtract from academics to add to anything else you lose; most schools have already subtracted so much from their academics that over the past eight years at various high schools I have asked teachers to tell me how many truly effective days they had to teach each year. Cutting out the pep rally, the assemblies, the class rings, the games, etc., etc., what was the bottom line. The numbers were interesting because I failed to consider not only the time of the year you ask the question, but what period of the day do we take an average from? If it’s last class period then the total effective school day numbers will be horrible. Parents pull kids out early, sports leave early, assemblies, fire drills, early release weather days, all impact last period more than any other. If you ask the question during the rocking chair time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas then teachers remember all the incidental times kids miss their class for some holiday event or special, than if you ask them just before end of course testing in the spring, when things are hectic and the holidays are a distant memory. The average number of effective high school days turned out to be151 as an average out of 180. The lower end numbers hovered around 130, the upper end around 170 (interestingly those teachers submitting the higher numbers were those with AP type classes.) So the number 151 converts to an effective teaching year percentage of 84% — a “B” in anyone’s grade-book and a low “B” at that. So to start off with, as a professional educator you’re going into a new school year already facing an institutional challenge of failed promise on the part of the school system to provide you with enough days to effectively “teach” a student when you only get them for approximately 84% of the time. By the way, this count does not include those days I like to call “bruised” days. Teachers know, those “hangover” days from the game, big vacation weekend, school scandal, or the day before the main event — anything but the task at hand gets covered on those days.

Sounds like too much can’t do and not enough can-do! Well like I used to “coach” my students before approaching my coach principal; have the answer/solution before asking the question/permission. The tough part is the recognition of what type of school are we? Walk through the hallways, walk out front, look in the newspapers, and review the yearbook. If there’s more about some inflated object that people pass, punt, kick, hit with a club than there is about the school’s success taking the ACT test or end of course testing, then you need to change. Evaluate “who” is on your faculty starting at the top. The “Good-ole-boy” system is not getting students scholarships and jobs, it’s keeping good-ole-boys and their families employed! Get rid of them. “Teachers” filling positions of no significance because of their familial relationship to some bozo in the central office or the school board but occupying a valuable spot that could otherwise be used to hire a “real” teacher for AP math or history, make the change. Sit down with the entire faculty, all at once or in chunks, and look at the calendar for the year. With the exception of the weather and natural disasters the school controls the daily activity. You have 180 days to produce a successful student, not a day more so use every day. Eliminate any event that would otherwise interrupt academic time plain and simple. Enlist and support parental involvement; if they’ll come out in the cold and pouring rain to watch a bus with darkened out windows blowing diesel smoke pass them by early in the morning in numbers equal to or greater than the total school population, then possibly there’s a vibrant PTO just waiting to be asked inside.