Call to Arms on School Reform

I felt so strongly about the topic of this week’s (7/6/10) #edchat that I needed two days to collect my thoughts. This week’s #edchat centered around what we as educators can do to move from discussion of educational reform to action. I have been participating in #edchat since November and this is unequivocally the most important topic that has ever been covered. Many participants in the chat answered the question of what we can do to enact substantive change by saying that they were already doing it in their classrooms, meaning that they are taking the things discussed on #edchat and other social forums and applying them to their teaching. This tactic employs a trickle down strategy and hypothesizes that simply by doing it in their classrooms others will eventually take note and decide to change themselves. This strategy does not work and we know it. You don’t have to look any further than certain classrooms in your own building. There are teachers who will NEVER change their teaching styles no matter how big the smiles are on the students exiting our rooms. To employ this strategy to reform is to put your head in the sand as that student exits your room and enters the other room down the hall. This illustration needs to be multiplied by ten thousand to get the picture around the country. There are some schools where there are no teachers attempting to change the system by example. What happens to the students that happen to reside in that district? On a building level really reform has absolutely no prayer of succeeding if the administration is not on board. Only administrators can force wholesale, building level change. Take what some of the things administrators who particpate in #edchat are doing, Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal), Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Deron Durflinger (@DeronDurflinger) for example. Reform is happening at their schools. But what if the administrators are content with the status quo, what then? Will they be influenced by the teacher in room 115 who’s students are totally engaged? Maybe. But maybe simply isn’t good enough anymore. There are students getting a simply terrible education in this country waiting for bad teachers to take notice of the good ones, and we can’t wait any more.

Another tweet that kept popping up was that we needed to have specific reforms in mind, not just some abstract pipe dream of the perfect school. This idea seems to fly in the face of the other idea. It suggest that there is in fact a power higher than the teacher out there that needs to be convinced that reform is needed, and that it is happening. Never the less here is my list of essential education reforms:

  1. Deemphasize so-called teacher accountability. Teachers are accountable. They know it. Rather than having teachers afraid for their lives they could focus on innovation.
  2. Deemphasize standardized testing in favor of more authentic measures of learning, which of course, we know are different not standardized.
  3. Give students more autonomy over their own learning.
  4. Emphasize skills like critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. So that students will be able to deal with problems that don’t exist.

A critique often leveled at the #edchat group is that it is simply an echo chamber where everyone involved is simply voicing the same opinion in a different way, preaching to the choir if you will. Although there is an element of truth to this I don’t think this is such a criticism. All of us discovered #edchat in the same way, we were hungry to be in control of our own learning, just as our students are and we went looking. Since we are like minded we can speak with a collective, deafening voice. If we truly want to have an influence on education reform and not simply talk about it on Tuesdays we need to think beyond the walls of our own classrooms. Start following your state government, who is making the right votes that benefit students, help them. Find out who is making the wrong choices for students and vote them out, or support their opponents. I have decided to attempt to form a political action committee with the purpose of influencing legislation to reform education. I have to try to do something to help the students who are not lucky enough to have a reformer in the room.

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9 thoughts on “Call to Arms on School Reform

  1. Cel Foster says:

    Yes – We must speak for ALL those students who have no one to speak for them.

  2. ktenkely says:

    I left #edchat this week feeling the same way. It was an incredible discussion that left me thinking about how we can affect change in our schools and communities. I am still formulating my thoughts on the situation but one thing is certain, we can’t wait for someone else to do it. It has to be us and it has to be now. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish when we decide to go out and do the hard thing. I am with you, a place to start is keeping ourselves informed of what decisions are being made, who is making them, and acting accordingly. Strength and honor.

  3. Tim Furman says:

    Good for you. I have been running political action committees since 1989– it’s a lot easier now with technology. Check out TimPAC at schooltechconnect.com and see how I do it. Currently, I have about 25 people working in tandem on action calls related to ed policy matters here in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln and Massive Underfunding.

    The trouble is, you eventually have to decide on specific policies to support or fight. For example, you have to decide whether you’re going to call your senator in favor of the Obey amendment on RTTT or in opposition to it, and then you have to make your case. Pretty soon you find that every policy position you take is organically connected to other policy positions. By the way, TimPAC is working in favor of the Obey amendment– some people would see that as anti-reform; I see it as a basic necessity.

    The only advice I can give on starting a local political action committee is that you will be more effective with a small core of people who share all of your values than you will be with a large, diverse group of people. At least in my opinion.

    And in a note of partial disagreement– not to sound gruff– but is this really true? “There are some schools where there are no teach­ers attempt­ing to change the sys­tem by exam­ple.” What is an example of such a place? I’ve never worked in one. It’s just not an assertion that I would make, based on experience. It may very well be that there are people in your own building who have such a view of you, and that would be unfortunate.

    And finally, since you seem like a go-getter, I hope you’ll figure out a way to get some tech-transformed teaching demonstrated. I’ve seen dozens of conference presenters talk about it, I’ve seen some clips of 1:1 schools and neat individual projects, but I haven’t seen a richly integrated, totally transformed teacher at work with kids, producing a qualitatively better, different learning experience. We need some video of the thing in action; otherwise, we’re just berating people rather than leading by example. In fact, you seem like you’re probably a tech-transformed teacher; put up some video so we can see what that looks like in action. When I was a tech director, the biggest mistake I made was in not filming my writing classes to show people how I was trying to integrate and change– not that it was all that great– but a picture’s worth a thousand words.

    Anyway, good luck. Nice post. @tbfurman

  4. Jay Swan says:

    You speak of two administrative “types” being those who embrace technology and more importantly innovation (such as the three that you mention and that teachers and students are so lucky to have) and then another group who does not. However, I want to suggest that there is a third type that is the most dangerous of all: the administration that gives the appearance of the former, but is truly rooted in the latter group. Nothing is worse that seeing technology handed out willy nilly with much fanfare but no support and not put in the hands of those that would best and most utilize it. It sickens me to hear how tech savvy and innovative a school is in the media, but really see IWB only used to show PowerPoint, document camera still in their boxes, LRS tucked under desks, and teachers still slinging to the lecture/worksheet status quo. For real reform, we need to start being honest – then real change has a chance.

  5. Kim Crandall says:

    I wasn’t in on #edchat this past week but, nevertheless, have many thoughts on this topic, with my most recent thought figuring on the hiring process and how this fits into ed reform. There has to be a better way to hire the brightest, most innovative, most technologically rich individuals to teach our students. Until we start bumping up the expectations in interviews to include portfolios, actual teaching, & innovative interview activities to really get us into the minds of prospective teachers, we’ll never have what we need in the classrooms to even begin a reform.

    • Chris says:

      You are right and it is the administrators who do the hiring, so again if the administrators are not on board we are sunk before we start. How can a school be sure to get progressive administrators?

  6. You are right. Edchat will only be influential if the people with real power pay attention and take action. My view is that technology itself needs to push change in education. In order for EdTech to be implemented, it needs to be so simple and liberating for teachers and administrators that only complete fools would not use it. For each those of us who love learning about technology, there are 9 others who are too busy or not interested. Tech needs to make teaching easier at the most basic level first. Attendance, discipline, grading, lesson planning and dealing with bureaucracy are what most teachers spend the bulk of time on. Tech needs to make this easier in order to allow teachers the time to really spread their wings with technology as a learning tool. At a fundamental level technology must promote efficiency or most administrators won’t see the value in it. Another factor is cost effectiveness. If learning were to be completely paperless, schools could save enough money on textbooks and copiers to afford the new technology. We can’t realistically replace the administrators and teachers, but we can try to change to work environment to make it more dynamic and tech rich by demonstrating the compelling need to adopt better technology.

  7. John Peters says:

    Christopher;

    All I can say is Wow! I also believe that it is way past time for reform. There have been a lot of blog post by those Edubloggers who support Reform, Evolution or Revolution lately.

    I agree that there are teachers who will NEVER change! I see that in my high school every day and I find it frustrating! students who are capable of much more are made to sit in classes where the #1 technology tool that the teacher is using is an overhead projector!

    Also, I see teachers whose idea of integrating technology is to have their students “DO” a PowerPoint presentation with 5 Slides! Those same students learned PowerPoint in the 3rd grade and the assignment hasn’t changed one bit as they progress to high school!

    There are many who are happy with the “Status Quo” and think just because there are computers in the classroom they are using technology. Why can’t we do something to unleash the true potential of our students, integrate our teaching into a 21st Century World, and allow or current way of viewing teaching to change?

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