Showing posts with label Education reform. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Education reform. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Embrace The Chaos

As most of the nation (including myself) heads back to school today, here is my assessment of the current state of national education.

People in the United States crave simple solutions to complex problems. Their lives are filled with enough static that when it comes to issues like education, they desire the quick answer. In exploring the question of whose interests schools should serve, the response seems evident and merely one word: students. After all, the students’ education is the ultimate goal of each school. An education means that opportunity will arise and equality in the greater world will be achieved for each student that walks through its doors.

It is at this point, however, that the complexity begins to creep in. Each student is unique and wonderfully individualistic. They have their own personality which develops from their socialization process. Every student comes from a different culture. Their family, their community, their peers and how they interact with the mass media all combine with the school to contribute to how they are socialized. These interactions produce a plethora of diverse people that absolutely require differentiation which leads to a perpetual state of chaos in our country’s education system.

Invariably, this leads to far too many educators trying to “fix” the chaos. Instead what they should do is focus on managing the complexity of the chaos and recognize that it’s always going to be there. At the outset of this process, patience on the part of all parties involved is essential. If we are to serve the interest of the students as a primary function of the school, educators need to be patient with students and understand their socialization process. Who is in their family? What community do they live in? Who are their peers? To what degree is mass media involved in their lives?

The main area of exploration of each student’s unique nature should be their parents. Most parents today are employed and quite busy in their professional lives. So, some of the child rearing part of a student’s socialization has fallen to teachers. In some ways, we are viewed as “the help” and are now responsible for teaching children common courtesy and respect. At times, this is most difficult because the parents of many students don’t understand this concept themselves and are decidedly lacking in maturity. Therefore, it is vitally important that parents receive their own education through programs like ECFE or other forums in which they can learn how to actually parent. The parents of a student must be an integral part of the triangle of learning (student-teacher-parents) or students’ interest will not be served.

The secondary areas of exploration into each student’s unique nature are important as well. What is their socio-economic status? Do they work outside of school to help support their family? Students’ interests can’t be served if they are working late into the night to support their family and are responsible for 2-3 hours of homework every night, for example. The social cliques in which each student belong can be a support or a hindrance, depending upon the people in each group. Getting to know the peers that each student surrounds themselves can offer great insight. Finally, a student’s interaction with mass media, particularly technology driven media like smartphones and social media, can be illuminating in terms of serving their interest. If they spend excessive amounts of time engaged with technology, lesson plans can be altered to connect with them in that fashion.

If educators are going to serve the interests of their students, they must understand how to manage the complexity of the unique nature of each student. This begins with engaging the parents to be part of the education process and extends to understanding the community and the peers of each student. Socialization via the mass media is also important in understanding how to best serve the interests of each student. Certainly, these tasks are not simple and require a great deal of patience on all parties involved in mentoring students. Yet they must be pursued vigorously if educators want opportunity and equality for each of their students.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Problem We All Live With

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program...

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Back To School Round Up

With a new school year under way, I thought I would clear out my "Education" folder of saved links in one post. The first story comes from my favorite news source, The Christian Science Monitor (daily news feed located on the right side of this site). They have a great piece up about Common Core and why both the left and the right hate it. Why do the Republicans hate it?

Most people agree that for Republicans, the seeds of the backlash were planted when President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan got behind the standards, encouraging states that wanted to apply for federal Race to the Top funds to either adopt the standards or adopt comparable ones deemed “college- and career-ready.” What had been sold as a state-led effort, supported by the National Governors Association, suddenly became associated with Mr. Obama, and rumors circulated quickly of a national curriculum (the standards don’t actually prescribe curriculum) and a federal takeover of education.

So the usual adolescent rebellion. I'd also add in that Common Core critics from the right have religious objections to what is considered basic standards (evolution, climate change, etc) as well as any sort of history being taught that paints the US in a negative light (unless it's criticism of liberals). Of course, this sort of thing goes on all the time.

The letter takes the framework to task for its "negative" approach to U.S. history. As an example, it attacks the framework for portraying U.S. colonists as "oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country." The signatories also say that at 98 pages, the framework essentially replaces the five-page topic outline with a full-blown curriculum, and one that conflicts with many states' social studies standards.

Essentially, they want to be entitled to their own facts:)

What about the left's criticism of Common Core?

There has also been vocal opposition from blue states – some around the standards themselves, particularly for younger grades, but much of it around implementation, as well as the tests and high-stakes consequences tied to the new standards.

Here we see the usual reluctance to be accountable for student learning. Part of this I get because the real problem in education today is the parents. Students also have different learning styles so the assessment mechanism should be altered. But this still doesn't excuse the fact that teachers should be held accountable and high stakes testing should be implemented for ALL subjects including basic civics. There is a reason why states have standards and there needs to be more serious consequences for instructors that don't follow them.

Interestingly, it's a Reagan era report that is driving Common Core.

The report’s five proposed solutions – improving content, raising standards, overhauling the teaching profession, adding time to the school day and year, and improving leadership and fiscal support – are clear in current reform. They can be seen in the spread of the Common Core standards, a set of streamlined but intense new standards introduced in 2009 that, though controversial, are still in use in more than 40 states; in new teacher ratings based partly on standardized test scores; and in the invention and rise of charter schools with longer school days and no union contracts. 

Initially embraced by a coalition of conservatives and liberals, the solutions offered in “A Nation at Risk” stoked a backlash among many on the left who argued that its criticisms of public education were over the top and that its solutions ignored poverty and inequity in the system. But the Republican-driven revolution is being driven home, as never before, by a Democratic president. The Obama administration admits there’s a connection. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the report was “influential” in the administration’s education reform strategy.

Huh. I thought President Obama was presiding over a mass indoctrination program turning our nation's children into communists. Instead, he's embracing Reagan?

Well, guess what. So am I. I fully support Common Core because there needs to be some sort of umbrella for our nation's 100,000 schools and 13, 000 school districts. Everyone complains about how we seem to be falling behind the world in education but no one does anything about it. Well, Secretary Duncan (Best SecEd ever in my view) and the president have done something and it's about fucking time.

Criticism from the left is beginning to take its toll on the unions as we see in this piece from Politico.

Responding to all these challenges has proved difficult, analysts say, because both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are divided internally. There’s a faction urging conciliation and compromise. Another faction pushes confrontation. There’s even a militant splinter group, the Badass Teachers Association.

In many ways, they are starting to sound more and more like the Republican Party:) Ah well, I've been persona non grata with the union since I questioned tenure. I have the same advice for them that I do for the GOP...change or become irrelevant. 

Speaking of conservatives, one of their big pet peeves has always been zero tolerance laws so they should be happy about this story from NPR.

Saying that "zero tolerance" discipline policies at U.S. schools are unfairly applied "all too often," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is urging officials to rethink that approach. The Obama administration issued voluntary guidelines today that call for more training for teachers and more clarity in defining security problems. The move by the Education and Justice departments comes after years of complaints from civil rights groups and others who say the policies are ineffective and take an unfair toll on minorities. The zero tolerance approach has been blamed for boosting the number of suspensions and expulsions and for equating minor infractions with criminal acts.

Agreed. Although it's not as big of a problem as the right wing bubble will have you think (misleading vividness and all), it is something that needs to change.

Turning to the world of the wacky, we have this...


My favorite?

5. “The woods” is a perfectly normal location for a party. Want to get drunk and shoot guns and make out? So does everyone else! Meet us in the forest half a mile off the highway–take a left at the big rock.

Party, dudes!

Finally, we have this amazing piece from Sarah Blaine called "The Teachers."

We need to stop thinking that we know anything about teaching merely by virtue of having once been students. We don’t know. I spent a little over a year earning a master of arts in teaching degree. Then I spent two years teaching English Language Arts in a rural public high school. And I learned that my 13 years as a public school student, my 4 years as a college student at a highly selective college, and even a great deal of my year as a masters degree student in the education school of a flagship public university hadn’t taught me how to manage a classroom, how to reach students, how to inspire a love of learning, how to teach. 

Eighteen years as a student (and a year of preschool before that), and I didn’t know shit about teaching. Only years of practicing my skills and honing my skills would have rendered me a true professional. An expert. Someone who knows about the business of inspiring children. Of reaching students. Of making a difference. Of teaching.


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

In Less Than Seven Minutes

It only took Rhode Island teacher Steven Round less than seven minutes to sum up perfectly many of the things that are wrong with our education system today. Sadly, there are far too many school districts that are like this. Thankfully, both mine and my children's district are not.

His points below illustrate several things. First, trying to have a one size fits all approach to teaching children is an epic fail. If districts are going to chuck Carol Ann Tomlinson by the roadside these days, children are going to lose. Second, we are creating a nation of test takers, not learners and students with enduring understandings. As Mr. Round says in this video, they have no clue what the real world is like. Third, this lack of real world experience is compounded further by budget cuts which means no field trips. Far too many districts suffer these consequences.

This, of course leads to a larger problem  which is a decided lack of socialization time for many schoolchildren of all ages. Having a conversation with fellow students on a regular basis is a very key element to development. Without it, another avenue of real world experience is lost.

Given how so many school districts operate like this one (see: mini-fiefdoms) I fear that Mr. Round is only the first of many abrupt departures.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Corner Turned?

Most of you have likely heard the story of Karen Klein, the bus monitor who was mercilessly teased by some junior high kids a couple of weeks back. If not, here is the story.

I have to say that I am honestly glad that this story has come out and people can see what is at the very core of our problem in schools: children's behavior. This is the main reason why test scores are low and children are going off to college with all sorts of issues.

It all starts in the home and with the parents. Time and again, children's parents take the side of their children and not the instructor or administrative staff. This leads to continued problems both with the student and the rest of the class. In short, parents don't parent their fucking kids and teachers like me get blamed for poor test scores. Granted, I don't have as many issues in high school but I can tell which kids (by the time they get to me) have been coddled by the parents. And it's far, far too many.

Certainly, there are some teachers and assistants (like Ms. Klein here) who need to grow a pair. If a kid pulled something like that on me (and I have worked over the years in junior high), they'd be one sorry asshole in less than a second. But this video does illustrate the limits the schools have on discipline.

In my children's school district, they are very strict. If someone is sent to the office they get one warning and then they are suspended on the second offense. Continued poor behavior leads to expulsion and it's off to the "jail" school. More schools need to adopt this sort of no tolerance policy.

Bottom line, we need to be tougher on kids. Very tough, if you ask me. They have far too much power today and it's most parents (conservative or liberal) that are giving them this power. Either they are too lazy or are working too much or both, but something has to

My hope is that this incident with Ms. Klein will be the turning point.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes...

I have found quite a few of your statements regarding the Constitution of the United States, the quality of public school education and general U.S. civics matters to be factually incorrect, inaccurately applied or grossly distorted.

The above statement is a perfect illustration of why I no longer post on Kevin Baker's site nor (for the most part) engage people who seek to have their paranoid fantasies legitimized. Kevin, along with his merry band of sycophants, are completely and utterly defined by the statement above. The fact that it was made by a tenth grade girl in a letter addressed to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann makes it terribly ironic considering Kevin's one note samba about our nation's schools.

Sadly, though, where Amy Myers (the author of the statement above) has failed in her educational pursuits is what the people who she is criticizing are capable of doing. Take a look at this.

"A lot of them are calling me a whore," 16-year-old Amy Myers said, referring to anonymous comments reacting to online news reports about her challenge to the 55-year-old Minnesota congresswoman.

Amy and Wayne Myers said the comments on conservative websites alarmed them most. Several commenters threatened to publish the Myers' home address.

Others threatened violence, including rape, they said.

"I got a call from the principal that the main office received threatening mail," said the computer programmer and single father.

I wish I could say I'm surprised but I'm not. This is the place you go to when you are a True Believer. Amy, like many students across the country, represent what the right fears the most: critical thinkers. She needs to understand that they will react like this because it threatens their continued relevancy. This is why the drumbeat from the right has continually been that education is filled with socialists/communists/fascists that want to brainwash our children (B to the W-I wonder if any of them can tell the difference any more between the three).

Because the truth is that the right is attempting to do their own version of brainwashing which naturally leads them to the perception bias that current educators are doing the same. Further (and Kevin is fantastic example of this), they never stop to think and reflect that maybe many children like Amy won't listen to their warped view of history, civics, and education because it's simply "factually incorrect, inaccurately applied, or grossly distorted." Why are they incapable of seeing this? Because when you strip all the paranoia, hate, and anger away all the only conviction they truly have is their own vanity.

I hope that Amy realizes all of this as she moves forward in her life. Although being a confident and intelligent student of history, she need only look at the threats of intimidation and violence that occurred in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s for insight as to what happens when you challenge the Tea Party "goddess" (also ironic when you consider the cries about Obama's brown shirts but that's just another example of perception bias again).

Oh, and no response as of yet from Congresswoman Bachmann's office as to whether or not she will accept Amy's challenge.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Our Little Angels

About ten years ago I was sitting on the couch at a family gathering. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my six-year-old nephew clapped his hands over my ears as hard as he could. The pain was excruciating, and the effect on my hearing was immediate: everything sounded muddy and indistinct. I thought he'd popped my eardrum. It took months for my hearing to return to normal.

As appalling as it might be that a young child would assault someone for utterly no reason, his mother's reaction was even more appalling: My little angel wouldn't do that!

But why would I lie about this? I asked her. How could I even think to make up such a lie?

Well, she admitted, the boy had been taking karate lessons, and they had just showed him how to box someone's ears. So, she grudgingly admitted, he might have done it. (How anyone could possibly think it was appropriate to teach a child how to permanently damage someone's hearing is still beyond me...)

And this isn't an isolated incident. My own sister was convinced that an adult was lying about her five-year-old's spitting at another child on the bus. This kid was completely out of control at home, so it's unclear why my sister would have a hard time believing he was out of control with a dozen other rambunctious kids.

Old fogey time: when I was a kid, my parents would never take my word against an adult's. It was a given that kids lied to avoid punishment. Why is it that so many parents these days can't believe that their kids act like, well, kids?

A few years ago our neighbors would drive their kids down our one-block street and park on the corner with the engine running to wait for the bus. I wouldn't have cared, except they blocked the intersection and made it difficult to pull out into traffic. When I was a kid I walked to school rain or shine, snow or sleet, in blustering cold or blistering heat.

Stories of parents doing their kids' homework projects these days are rampant. And it continues on to the college level. I recently heard a news story about how several colleges have had to ban parents attending college orientation sessions. I've heard other stories about parents showing up at their kids' post-college job interviews. When I was in college my parents -- and the parents of everyone else I knew -- had no idea what we did at college.

So, what does this have to do with anything? One of Markadelphia's favorite topics is education reform. So here's my take on it.

Everyone these days is bemoaning how bad the education system is. The president and every Republican out there is talking about firing teachers who don't perform. Others blame parents for not being involved enough. Still others complain that class sizes are too large, while others clamor for school vouchers and charter schools. But the one factor no one ever dares mention? The one that undeniably has the largest impact on the educational performance of our little angels? The little darlings themselves.

If we ran schools like a business we wouldn't be talking about just firing the teachers whose students do poorly on tests. We'd fire the kids who are doing poorly. And that's exactly what private schools do, and it's one reason why their test results are so much better than those of public schools. They can choose their students and dump the rejects back into the public system.

How many kids do you think there are in math classes in India and China and Singapore? How many hours a week do you think those kids' parents work? How many of those parents drive their kids to school every day? How many of those kids go to bed hungry? A lot of those kids have jobs and actually have to work. On the whole, our kids are richer, healthier and better fed. We spend far more on them per capita than third-world countries spend on their kids. We enjoy all the advantages, and yet kids in third-world countries are beating the pants off us academically. Why?

I think the biggest reason is that our kids just aren't motivated. Some teachers may well be boring. Some may be just plain bad. But that's how life is. When they get out of school they're going to stuck in boring jobs. They're going to work for terrible bosses. But they're going to have to suck it up and keep on working. Mommy isn't going to be there for them every day in the real world.

Now look at it from the kids' point of view. All they hear is us talking about is firing their teachers if they get bad test scores. What's the take-away message? I can get back at my teacher by flunking this sucky standardized test.

This situation has existed for many years now, so it's not the result of the lousy economy. There are many reasons: smaller families, richer families, more leisure time, lower general expectations for children, a system that's eager to label every quirk of personality as some syndrome that requires special treatment or drugs. In many ways America has become fat, dumb and lazy.

Of course we have to hold teachers, administrators and parents accountable for making sure our kids get the education and support they need. We have to fire bad teachers and get parents involved. But coddling kids with overweaning concern for their fragile little egos is not doing them any favors. We cannot continue to throw billions and billions of dollars down the rat-hole of education and demand Herculean effort and sacrifice from everyone except the little angels themselves.

We have to instill real self-confidence, self-reliance and inner drive in children by making them the masters of their own fates. That only comes when you stand or fall on your own. American parents need to take the training wheels off and give their kids a good hard shove down the road of life.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Education Nation

I rip the media a lot for focusing on mainly ridiculous stories whose only purpose is ratings and sales of bullshit products. But NBC has really stepped up with their focus on education with their Education Nation project. Even in a time of sleazy election stories, their decision to focus on this extremely important issue shows real courage. I've been waiting to see something like this for a long time and boy oh boy have they delivered! The site is chock full o' action items on where you can start and what you can do to help out. Want to see how your local school is doing? Check out the nation wide, searchable database for detailed information.

The simple fact is this. Our country is having the problems we are having because of our education system. We are at a crossroads and every citizen must make a serious effort to improve the education of future generations. Marches, rallies and yelling are nice but what do they accomplish? Getting involved in the education of your community is far more valuable.

There is no doubt in my mind that Arne Duncan is the best Secretary of Education we have had in decades. He, and the president, understand all too well the stakes. This would be why they are calling for 10,000 new math and science teachers ASAP, a review of the tenure policy, poor teachers to be fired, and an absolute commitment to achieving deep knowledge and enduring understandings in the youth of our nation.

I'm going to be talking quite a bit about Education over the next few weeks. I'll also be sharing my thoughts on the film Waiting for Superman which has become an enormous spark to the movement to change the system. I'll be looking at specific issues that need serious change in order to improve the system.

Bring your pens and pencils, kids. Get ready to take notes and share ideas!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Back To School (Part Four)

Mastiff's concluding comment.

Finally for now, and I think I have mentioned this before, but students are never given truly long-term projects to work on. Because of the disjointed structure of the school-year curriculum, students often leave college having never in their lives worked on any single project for longer than two months—or, more realistically, three weeks (given last-minute cramming). This serves them poorly in the real world.

It has been said that American education is a mile wide and an inch deep. This is true. In fact, I would put it as a chief reason why students are not doing as well as they should be doing. The simple fact is that they have no in depth knowledge of key concepts. A long term project...such as power point presentation that is worked on over a period of three months....would give them this depth. Sadly, the standards of many states are written in such a way that a massive amount of information needs to be covered.

The problem here is that administrators and standards writers are focused on the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (Knowledge and Comprehension) when they should be focused on the higher levels (Synthesis and Evaluation). If a student had a three month project to work on, they could start with the basic facts of a concept and develop a truly enduring understanding that would serve them in the real world.

Of course, a long term project is always best if done in a subject in which a student has interest. If a student could choose the subject matter, I wonder if the LTP (long term project) could be introduced as a mandatory assessment method. Perhaps it could be tailored to be similar to a Master's thesis or dissertation...appropriate, of course for age group. I could see students in 11th grade and 12th grade being required to do this. What a fantastic idea!

Thanks, Mastiff, for your comments. They certainly sparked a great deal of reflection and I really enjoyed writing this series!