“It's not about giving up on public schools but it is about acknowledging that right now, when you step back, [only] 8 percent of low-income kids can expect to get a bachelor degree by the time they're 24....[and] when you have a system that produces 8 percent of the low-income kids getting out of college by the time they're 24, something is wrong.”—Educational consultant Andrew Rotherham. [complete interview here]
Fresh Air: The Debate Over School Reform
On today’s Fresh Air, the debate over school reform and what strategies really work.
Guests: Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education. She had been an advocate of school vouchers, charter schools, testing and No Child Left Behind… and after seeing some of the results… changed her mind.
Also…we talk to education consultant and policy analyst Andrew Rotherham. He supports redesigning American public education with the help of charter schools, public sector choice, and accountability.
Common Core Thoughts and More
I’ve been reading many tweets on Twitter about the Common Core. Some pro-Common Core, others decidedly opposed to the Common Core. I’ve read about some who agree that we need more accountability in schools while others think that we have enough. There is one thing for sure and that is that education is not nor will it ever be a “one size fits all” proposition.
Some of the greatest minds of the twentieth and twenty-first century have been people who didn’t really shine in the classroom. To name a few they include Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, and Steve Jobs. No one could possibly say that any of those individuals lack or lacked intellect. Quite the contrary. However, the genius that they possessed went largely untapped in school. Most of today’s education, like its forbears in an earlier time is based around the notion that you can somehow prepare children for success by teaching them a prescribed set of courses determined by a state or national board of experts. In the abstract that assumption may have some validity but in reality it almost always fails the test. It fails not because we don’t have good teachers, or even better students and parents. It fails because human beings are infinitely variable and so are the communities from which they come. Skills and knowledge which might be appropriate in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago or New York are not the same as those needed in Dixville Notch, Duke Center, and elsewhere.
Measurement is important and any one who has ever taught loves to know that what they are teaching is actually being retained and applied by their students. However, incessant testing and evaluation produces incredible stress which actually undermines the educational process. Mahatma Gandhi once said, that “poverty is the worst form of violence.” I propose that incessant testing is yet another form of violence.
In an age of dramatic societal upheaval today’s children need a place of sanctuary. Often times the only place of sanctuary is the school building and of course the classroom. Compulsory public education in the United States ought to be about imbuing students with the skills necessary to live and work in a free and democratic society. We need more emphasis on social and emotional learning and skills associated with that focus.
Preparing today’s students for careers ought to focus on social and emotional learning skills along with reading, self-expression and basic computation. Today’s students will face a much different world than their parents and we cannot know for sure exactly what skill sets will be required except those skills encompassed in getting along in society. For those of you who think this is an overly utopian notion I beg you to spend some time on the front lines of education. Look at the damage being done to students and teachers by this pro-test agenda. Never have I seen the level of dissatisfaction nor stress in my 34 years of experience. Never have I seen a greater need for empathy and compassion all around.
We need to promote community which nurtures students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the world at large. One of my favorite concepts comes from South Africa and it is called Ubuntu. Desmond Tutu offered this definition in his 1999 book.
“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
I hope that we can create openness and availability among our school communities. Such affirming communities can guide us into the future with success. Continuous testing and evaluation while noble in its purpose and theory is actually leading us in the opposite direction. Namaste!
“Would-be school 'reformers' would be wise to build relationships with the people whose interests they are seeking to serve; if they did so, they would be much better able to make hard and when necessary unpopular choices, because they would be building on a longer-term platform of shared trust and legitimacy.”—Jal Mehta
Fresh Air with Terry GrossDiane Ravitch on NPR's Fresh Air
Fixing a Broken System
In today’s society, it looks like any genius can come in to “save the world” from total destruction. We’ve heard this in our government, the media, internet; everywhere we go, someone is a savior. Unfortunately, when it is time to “put up or shut up,” nobody wants to take a shot at truly saving anything. Does anybody else think that we need less talking and promising, and more action to get things done??
This great article by Brad McCarty really made me think about the above:
Let Kids Rule The School
By SUSAN ENGEL
Published: March 14, 2011
New Marlborough, MA
IN a speech last week, President Obama said it was unacceptable that “as many as a quarter of American students are not finishing high school.” But our current educational approach doesn’t just fail to prepare teenagers for graduation or for college academics; it fails to prepare them, in a profound way, for adult life.
We want young people to become independent and capable, yet we structure their days to the minute and give them few opportunities to do anything but answer multiple-choice questions, follow instructions and memorize information. We cast social interaction as an impediment to learning, yet all evidence points to the huge role it plays in their psychological development.
That’s why we need to rethink the very nature of high school itself.
I recently followed a group of eight public high school students, aged 15 to 17, in western Massachusetts as they designed and ran their own school within a school. They represented the usual range: two were close to dropping out before they started the project, while others were honors students. They named their school the Independent Project.
Their guidance counselor was their adviser, consulting with them when the group flagged in energy or encountered an obstacle. Though they sought advice from English, math and science teachers, they were responsible for monitoring one another’s work and giving one another feedback. There were no grades, but at the end of the semester, the students wrote evaluations of their classmates.
The students also designed their own curriculum, deciding to split their September-to-January term into two halves.
During the first half, they formulated and then answered questions about the natural and social world, including “Are the plant cells at the bottom of a nearby mountain different than those at the top of the mountain?” and “Why we do we cry?” They not only critiqued one another’s queries, but also the answers they came up with. Along the way, they acquired essential tools of inquiry, like how to devise good methods for gathering various kinds of data.
During the second half, the group practiced what they called “the literary and mathematical arts.” They chose eight novels — including works by Kurt Vonnegut, William Faulkner and Oscar Wilde — to read in eight weeks. That is more than the school’s A.P. English class reads in an entire year.
Meanwhile, each of them focused on specific mathematical topics, from quadratic equations to the numbers behind poker. They sought the help of full-time math teachers, consulted books and online sources and, whenever possible, taught one another.
They also each undertook an “individual endeavor,” learning to play the piano or to cook, writing a novel or making a podcast about domestic violence. At the end of the term, they performed these new skills in front of the entire student body and faculty.
Finally, they embarked on a collective endeavor, which they agreed had to have social significance. Because they felt the whole experience had been so life-changing, they ended up making a film showing how other students could start and run their own schools.
The results of their experiment have been transformative. An Independence Project student who had once considered dropping out of school found he couldn’t bear to stop focusing on his current history question but didn’t want to miss out on exploring a new one. When he asked the group if it would be O.K. to pursue both, another student answered, “Yeah, I think that’s what they call learning.”
One student who had failed all of his previous math courses spent three weeks teaching the others about probability. Another said: “I did well before. But I had forgotten what I actually like doing.” They have all returned to the conventional curriculum and are doing well. Two of the seniors are applying to highly selective liberal arts colleges.
The students in the Independent Project are remarkable but not because they are exceptionally motivated or unusually talented. They are remarkable because they demonstrate the kinds of learning and personal growth that are possible when teenagers feel ownership of their high school experience, when they learn things that matter to them and when they learn together. In such a setting, school capitalizes on rather than thwarts the intensity and engagement that teenagers usually reserve for sports, protest or friendship.
Schools everywhere could initiate an Independent Project. All it takes are serious, committed students and a supportive faculty. These projects might not be exactly alike: students might apportion their time differently, or add another discipline to the mix. But if the Independent Project students are any indication, participants will end up more accomplished, more engaged and more knowledgeable than they would have been taking regular courses.
We have tried making the school day longer and blanketing students with standardized tests. But perhaps children don’t need another reform imposed on them. Instead, they need to be the authors of their own education.
Susan Engel is the author of “Red Flags or Red Herrings: Predicting Who Your Child Will Become.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 15, 2011, on page A35 of the New York edition.
Why Not Empower #Parents With The Dollars to #Reform #Education ?
If they have the means, I find that most parents where I live in New York City send their children to private schools. There are also some who have figured out how to navigate the system to send their children to elite public schools filled with mostly wealthy white and Asian peers. I know few well-to-do parents who send their children to the traditional neighborhood public school. Even our politicians and chancellors who make school policy, rarely send their own children to traditional public school.
What is frustrating though is that this is often only available to those with the funds or wherewithal to make it happen. Shouldn’t everyone have access to the education opportunities they feel are best for their children?
Here is a solution that could provide more choice to more families.
What if instead of giving money to schools, funds were attached to the child and those funds went directly to the education provider? For parents who were homeschooling or unschooling this would be in the form of parents providing receipts that could be deducted from their taxes. For public schools, students would enroll and the funds would follow them. This would require some schools to grow, others to stay the same and others to shrink, redesign (likely with input from families) or close.
If parents wanted to put together learning co-ops they could pool their money to do that. If someone wanted to open an alternative school, it would be easier because the funds would be tied to the students so they wouldn’t have to worry about only kids who could afford this option being able to come up with tuition. If the schools cost more than the per student fee, the additional fee would be determined by tax bracket with those in the higher brackets paying more and the lower less, but still giving everyone a greater chance to attend a school of choice and subsidizing based on income.
Parents and their children, rather than the government, would determine what was best for each family. For some it might look like traditional school with standardized tests. For others it might look more like an apprenticeship model where children who are ready, begin learning in a field of interest, perhaps partnered with a business where they may later work. For some this might look like a school that follows the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, Montessori or Reggio Emilia approach. Some may choose a Democracy school or unschool setting. Ultimately, parents would be empowered to select an educational method in which they felt their children would best succeed and even take a large role in helping to form such schools.
There would be no high stakes testing. There could be some opt-in tests with samples as they do in countries like Finland. There would likely be authentic portfolio development that is created as a support to the student first and foremost.
Some schools would have waiting lists, as they do today, and if so, it would make sense to open up another similar school in the area. The parents who want that could help make that happen. Some schools would shrink as they do now and would either change what they do to attract more students and stabilize, or if they didn’t offer what seemed best for children, they would continue to lose the ability to have high enough enrollment to make it worth staying open.
This idea would be taking control from the government and giving it to the people, empowering them to do what they know and believe is best for their children.
So, why can’t we do this?
“Today a new form of redlining is emerging. If passed, the long-awaited Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would build a bigger highway between low-performing schools serving high-need students—the so-called “bottom 5 percent”—and all other schools. Tragically, the proposed plan would weaken schools in the most vulnerable communities and further entrench the problems—concentrated poverty, segregation and lack of human and fiscal resources—that underlie their failure. Although the current draft of the law scales back some of the worst overreaches of No Child Left Behind, the sanctions for failing to make “adequate yearly progress” that have threatened all schools under NCLB are now focused solely on the 5 percent of schools designated as lowest-performing by the states. As we have learned in warm-up exercises offered by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, these schools will nearly always be the ones serving the poorest students and the greatest numbers of new immigrants. In many states they will represent a growing number of apartheid schools populated almost entirely by low-income African-American and Latino students in our increasingly race- and class-segregated system. In the new vision for ESEA, these schools, once identified, will be subjected to school “turnaround” models that require the schools to be closed, turned into charters, reconstituted (by firing nearly half the staff) or “transformed,” according to a complicated set of requirements that include everything from instructional reforms to test-based teacher evaluation. The proposed array of punitive sanctions, coupled with unproven reforms, will increasingly destabilize schools and neighborhoods, making them even less desirable places to work and live and stimulating the flight of teachers and families who have options. ”—
This is from a somewhat long article but I think it’s worth a read in its entirety. It seems as though policy makers often make changes without always understanding the ramifications for how schools and communities are connected. Like everyone, I want every school to be at its best because the children need it to be. But I often wonder, why aren’t the stakeholders taking a more active role? Is there no one to do that? Or are they being ignored? Maybe its both. Either way, closing schools, firing all the teachers, requiring ever higher test scores… It’s not the road to reform as much as a slippery slope.