Tag Archives: state education policy

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.

Total Effective School Days

The concept behind the number of days students spend in an educational setting is one based on experience, research, policy, and custom. The 180 days used in many states and educational communities has served as a benchmark for years despite educational change, testing requirements, and societal developments. But unlike the manufacturing process school systems are based on, the use of this benchmark is as ineffective as it is outdated. Even the amount of hours at school is based around transportation and public convenience rather than educational research.

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If however, one was to simply ask students, parents, and teachers the answer to the question, “How many totally effective schools days are there in a school year?” the answer would be significantly different from the number given by the states. If school were a manufacturing plant, where production goes forward despite other activities that occur during the day, given the fact that in the minimum number of production days, in this case 180, their product must be ready for shipment, then perhaps the number of days set at 180 would be an acceptable amount. However that would mean in school, despite a holiday assembly in the theater, the teacher would remain in the classroom and pressed on with the day’s lesson utilizing every minute of the 180 days, then we could say that in theory the time was used as required by law. Unfortunately unlike the assembly line where the product stays on the line, in this case the student leaves the line and heads to the theater.
Over the course of more than 20 years of educational experience to include raising four children through various educational systems to include DODDS, and input I’ve gathered from thousands of teachers over the years, the answer to the question raised about totally effective production/classroom days hovers more accurately around 155 effective school days.
That number may be further distorted based on the date testing is administered. Again using production facilities in comparison, the measurement of success is at the end of 180 days the product produced is what was promised at day one: In the educational process we measure the success of production using standardized testing 30 to 45 days before the promised delivery date. Effective educational time therefore, the amount of hours spent by students in an educational setting not to be confused with the amount of time teachers spend in comparison,is certainly a questionable amount. If standardized testing is based on an educational production time of 180 days then we are measuring success of students and schools before the paint is dry.
The solution therefore is an examination of the educational structure, the administration of that structure, and an educational calendar based on the reality of schools and not the perception. To be honest even the term Total Effective School Days is an improbable standard given the fact that the educational system is as much a social preparatory school as it is an educational one. Measurement of one’s social progress is almost as difficult as effective measurement of one’s educational progress. The question therefore goes back to the number of days given by states as a standard, is that an effective amount of time given the needs of society, the requirements of standardized testing, and the amount of quality educational time allocated to each teacher in our schools? If we are going to change the curriculum of schools across the country, we owe it to everyone to change the amount of time necessary to teach that curriculum.