Tag Archives: education reform

Where’s the Conservative Clamor Over Socialized Education?

Why is it that the conservative movement is allowed to pick and choose when big government is bad? Think for a moment. Government run health care is the devil come to earth, government is getting bigger and more expensive and that is what is ruining America. Yet look at what is happening in our educational system. 45 states have adopted the Common Core standards, effectively neutering local control of curriculum. Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson himself who advocated local control for education (I’m certainly no constitutional scholar)? Certainly the government is not funding the Common Core directly, rather big business is and therein lies the answer to my own question. Apparently conservatives have no trouble removing local control from districts as long as corporations are making big profits, and there has never been a bigger cash cow (looking at you Pearson and your billion dollar profit) in education than the common core.

As for liberals…yeah I’ve got my eye on you too. Where’s the gripe about individual choice or corporate control on this one?

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Weighing the Sheep

So this week we weighed the sheep. It took three days to weigh them all, I guess we had to weigh different parts of them each day. They were good sheep and I was proud to weigh them, they calmly submitted to the scales. I had been preparing them for the scales for weeks, giving them tricks to make them appear fatter. I taught them to try to look past the scales that would make them look skinny. Now the market will judge me to see if they are fat enough. I hope the weight is good.

Of course I really only get to influence them when they are in the barn, as much as I want to I can’t affect what happens to them out in the pasture. I have a hunch that some of them are eating grass while they are in the pasture and others are only eating what I feed them in the barn. Some of my sheep didn’t come to the barn at all on weighing day, didn’t they know how important it was? I wonder if they were eaten by wolves out there in the pasture. Maybe the wolves are in the barn.

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The Power of People: An RSCON Reflection

Something I often read as a hindrance to culture change in public schools is the isolation of the public school teacher. The idea that schools are filled with disconnected, independent contractors, working alone is a pervasive one. Some of this is self-imposed isolation, or “flying under the radar” in the vernacular. Teachers might wish to be left alone for any number of reasons, perhaps their practice is flawed and they don’t want to admit it, or perhaps they are flouting a school policy that they disagree with, or perhaps they are just so inundated with the work of trying as hard as they can to educate young people that they can’t spare a minute.

Some of the isolation of the public school teacher is institutional, it is created and fostered by the system. Think about the places where you work, narrow corridors of unconnected rooms where teachers are lucky to see each other for two minutes between periods. Converted classrooms that serve as lounges for faculty, where fliers for upcoming board meetings are hastily attached to walls with yellow tape. Faculties that have been spread so thin by diminishing budgets that they see twice as many students as they did last year. I find it more than a little ironic that a system that often treats all students as if they were the same has no such checks on the teachers.

Whatever the reason for this isolation, how ever long it has been here, it is bad for us and it is bad for our kids. Teachers are learners, and learners crave interaction of an intellectual nature. Think about how energized you might feel if you happen to have a two minute conversation about a new teaching technique while you desperately wait in line to fill your coffee cup between periods. We need to sustain that feeling, somehow, and I believe we can.

I used to believe that the system was too large, to corrupt, to entrenched to ever change. But I don’t believe that anymore. Systems after all are built and sustained by people and I have seen the power of people. People like Shelly Terrell, whose infinite energy has lead to dozens of projects that touch the lives of teachers and students all around the globe. People like Kelly Tenkely, who asked herself, why couldn’t I start a school, and did. People like Clive Elsmore who believed in the cause of education so fiercely he gave up hundreds of hours, with only a thank you for reward. All of the organizers on the Reform Symposium team including Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Ian Chia, Cecilia LemosJerry Blumengarten and Mark Barnes are doing amazing things all over the world and making a difference.

The Reform Symposium was just an idea until it was empowered by people.

Then it became something else. It became total strangers with common goals working together to learn from each other. Although the Reform Symposium was born of social media it has never been about that, it has been and will continue to be about people. So don’t lose hope. Ideas are powerful.

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Should I Abandon Public Education?

Last week was a hard week to be a public educator. Between what is happening locally and nationally my frustration level is at an all time high. At a local level, my school like many other schools across the country has been hit by extraordinary cuts in state aide. I teach in a very small and rural school that is heavily dependent on that aid because of a small tax base. In the ten years I have been here I have seen a technology program go from two teachers to one, an art program go from two teachers to one, a home and careers program go from two teachers to one half-time teacher, and I have seen this district hire and fire at least three different physics teachers because of budget constraints. Beyond the budget woes, there have been a slew of other news items that have dishearted this normally stalwart advocate for public education. Take a look at this ad:

The tagline of this ad is “Stop listening to teacher’s unions“, and it ends with the line: “and make decisions that are gonna benefit the kids.” Put these two line together and you come up with teachers (who are represented by unions) do not make decisions that benefit kids. Maybe I’m feeling over sensitive, but this ad punched me in the gut. This ad follows on the coat tails of a front page story that was run in the Syracuse newspaper entitled: Recession doesn’t hold back Central New York teachers’ raises , normally I could have just shrugged this off as inflammatory yellow journalism written to sell copies, but look at the comments that appear below the article. Here is an example of one.

Unions are powerfull ------Better take a look around -----Who's going to pay taxes when all the business go south or go out of business .Oh by the way I think there should be a new law ----like school kids who don't own property or pay taxes shouldn't be voting on issues of school taxes. Teachers butter up the kids and get them out to vote. Same kids who vote get educated here and leave town.

These are the opinions of my neighbors who feel free to express their honest opinions under the protection of anonymity, and it seems that the only comments coming to the defense of teachers are written by teachers.

Where am I going with this rant you might ask? Certainly teachers have been under fire before as spoiled over paid babysitters. Well now I am a dad. My son is two and a half and I have begun to contemplate his education. These sentiments that I have mentioned above, coupled with the budget constraints, coupled with accountability pressures on the state and national level, coupled with unreasonable moral expectations are driving talented young teaching prospects away from the profession. All of us know that greatest variable to have an impact on a child’s education is the classroom teacher and passionate teachers take this stuff personally, how many will be left in 2 1/2 years? My son loves art and music and these seem to be the first programs to get the axe when school budgets get tight, will I have to pay for private lessons? Does this mean that arts programs become the exclusive purview of the rich?

Should I abandon public education and home school my son?

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The Transcript Trap: Your Real ‘Permanent Record’

Nice to meet you.

Every year at about this time I let my school’s guidance councilors come into my ninth grade classrooms to talk with the students about their path toward graduation. The councilors at my school do a great job outlining the graduation requirements and helping students select the classes they will need (these are all but completely chosen for them by the great state of New York, but that is another post). Towards the end of the presentation the councilors begin discussing college admissions with the students and they project an image of one of our school transcripts on the board.

“What is that,” a student exclaims.

“That is what your transcript looks like,” replies the councilor. “This is what colleges will look at when you are applying, do decide whether or not to accept you.”

The student squints his eyes and examines the document for another moment. “But that doesn’t say anything about me!”

I sat bolt upright in my chair. Have these students been listening to me after all? “Well, sure it does,” the councilor counters. “Look, there is your GPA, and up there in the corner is your class rank.”

“That is all colleges look at when you apply, that piece of paper?”

“Well, they also look at your application and your SAT scores. Sometimes they have you write an essay to apply.” After that the student stopped asking questions. When the bell rang and the period was over I thanked him for asking questions and he told me that he didn’t think it was right that a college could judge you on that piece of paper and I nodded in agreement. In a way I feel that this little happening is a microcosm of all the things that irk me about public education. The worth of my students is condensed into neat little rows of numbers, and some admissions councilor is going to run her eyes over those rows for thirty seconds. That transcript doesn’t say anything about that student’s integrity or willingness to help others, or his great sense of humor. And I think that stinks!

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School of the Future Part 1: Funding

I am taking certain things for granted even discussing funding when it comes to the school of the future. Mainly, that education will continue to be mandated by the federal government. I certainly hope that as a society we continue to value education and require it of all our citizens, but when thinking of the future maybe this won’t be the case. So let’s just say that in terms of mandated education that things remain the same, well that is not the only thing that has the possibility of altering the way education is funded. If the school of the future is not held in a central location that will change the need for funding, and if location is changed then the teacher to student ratio will certainly change. But those are discussions for later in the series.

The way I look at it, there are really only two main ways to fund education: either you pay for it, or your government does. If the objective of education is equity then we really can’t even consider the former option, right? Or can we? Nope, I don’t think that we can. While being forced to pay for your own education might yield short term results such as students who have more of a stake in their own education, the long term results of that scenario are a nightmare for society at large. So if we discard paying for your own education as a means to further financially stratify our society, what we have left is public funding. Any one of us working in public education in America knows that the way public school is funded doesn’t work. The property tax as inequitable as paying for education yourself. Consider the school that I work for. The major property owner in my school district is the State University of New York (SUNY), because they are a state institution they pay no tax. The second largest land owners in the district are family farmers who own a lot of property. Anyone who has any experience with family farms knows that just because they own a great deal of land doesn’t mean they are growing wealthy on all of that land. So my district is left with a very small tax base, which is filled in by…wait for it…state aid. When state aid goes up, property taxes go up even more, and negative sentiment for the educational system increases.

Why couldn’t the school of the future be funded by a flat tax? Or an income tax. It isn’t perfect, but I think it is more fair. At least people and districts would no what to expect in terms of their responsibilities. What do you think? How should the school of the future be funded?

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