Tag Archives: school time

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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