Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Do We Really Have a Problem Without a Solution"

(I'm hoping this will be a multi-part thread about public education in this country, where we are, where we are going and what should/could change.)

I come to this thread thinking of two different things that really have nothing (but really everything) to do with public education.

One is a song by the late Waylon Jennings (a great country/western singer) called Luckenbach, Texas.  In it, he is singing to his wife how all material things in the world are not making them happier and are, in fact, holding them back.

Maybe it's time we got back to the basics (of love).

Two is the monolog in the Charlie Brown Christmas special where Charlie, at his wit's end organizing the church play, cries out, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"  and Linus says,'Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about."

He steps forward and calmly recites from the story of the birth of Jesus.

So what does this have to do with public education?  The basics and believing that yes, that is what it's all about.

But the public education discussion today feels like a war.

 Ostensibly it's a war to win better academic outcomes for more and varied numbers of students.  (And please, none of this "100%" stuff because that has never happened and never will unless you have a carefully selection group of students.)

But, is there more to it than just better academic outcomes?  This is the U.S. so I'm venturing my answer which is YES.  

It is a war of words, politics, power and, of course, money. 

Who really knows best?  Who should make the final decisions?

 Is this really a case where everyone but educators should back off (and wouldn't that be interesting if the only people who could make decisions about public education in the U.S. were teachers and principals)? 

The public education landscape in the U.S. really started out in a very simple way but, when we became a union with many states and a constitution that separated out the union and the states, well, then all bets were off.  In some ways, it is just folly (and a waste) of time trying to compare the U.S. with other nations (especially those that are smaller and more homogenous).  Not to say that there aren't lessons to be learned but the U.S. has a huge problem trying out solutions to scale with any great results.

I put the title of this thread in quotes because there was a great op-ed piece in Education Week by Peter deWitt with just those words.

Sarcasm, fighting, name calling are all the weapons du jour that both sides choose, while many in the middle watch in awe. The politics of education have taken over the conversation, and good learning practices aren't just taking a back seat, they are in the way, way back.

There seems to be some adults seem to want to take on the fight, not because they want to help the schools in need, but because they relish a fight. And they are getting in the way of us making any positive changes. On the other side we have reformers who want to help make changes. Yes, there are some reformers who want to make positive changes, they are as tired of the red tape as those who are anti-reform. Unfortunately, there are some who just want to make a buck, and would love to see public education become privatized.

And then there are all of us in the middle, beginning to feel comfortably numb watching the situation around us because we have become so desensitized to it all. So many issues...so little time. Where do we start?
He starts off in (to me) a good place:
  • There is too much testing that is not age appropriate. 
  • We have state education leaders who believe that students with special needs should take grade level tests they cannot read, but they give them double time just to make those students feel doubly worse about themselves. 
  • They believe that tying teacher evaluations to tests that teachers have never seen are a positive way to move education forward. That's just really stupid. Especially tests that offer no feedback in how to change instruction.
There is so much accountability, and red tape that comes with it, that it doesn't change instruction, but just creates more unnecessary work for teachers and administrators that prevents them from focusing on instruction and learning.

All schools deserve proper resources. 

Perhaps I have too much of a Utopian view, but I believe all schools should have:
  • current technology, 
  • desks that don't wobble, 
  • tables with all four legs, 
  • enough chairs for students in the classroom, 
  • certified teachers in every room, 
  • books, paper, pencils, 
  • ceilings that don't leak, and
  •  adults who care about them. 
Maybe then they can pass a test or two. 

We need outside groups, politicians and policy makers to wake up and stop ignoring teachers and administrators. If they are left out of the conversation, they will only prevent any new initiative from coming through, as they should, because no new initiative is worth its weight if there has not been administrator, teacher, parent and student voices heard in the process. 

We need our elected officials, especially at the state and nation level to do two things.  Fully-fund modern-day education and quit bogging down teaching and learning with one new initiative after another.  Oh, and remember - at all times and all places about children - poverty affects every single part of the lives including learning.

We need wealthy people, and their myriad of made-up groups, to go away.  Not because they don't have a voice - all voters do - but because they are really not helping in any visible way and a lot of their work muddies and confuses. 

Yes, take your money and go because right now, I'm not sure the ROI is worth it... to public education. (Look at me, getting all businessy and stuff.)
Lastly, we need parents who care. We need them to read to their kids, turn off the electronics and bring them to school ready and excited to learn.

We don't need to make it more complicated for them to understand how their child is doing; they need to be able to see their child's work and KNOW how their child in doing.  They don't want to be consumers, running desperately from school tour to school tour with a checklist. 

See, that list above.  That's what most parents want.

Back to the basics, baby.  (It's not rocket science but some people are trying to make it that way.)


Anonymous said...

A bureaucracy like SPS should run strictly by policies and procedures.

Of coarse the polices and procedures should be well thought out, legal and in the best interest of common good.

Here's the problem, the more public disclosures I make the more I see a complete brake down in the district following most of it's own P and P. It's literally a free for all with a lot of collusion going on to circumvent controls.

If SPS were a public company most of the execs would be in jail.


Anonymous said...

Why technology though? Does it really add to education, especially in the lower grades? Do kindergartener classrooms need computers and smart boards? Or do they need blocks, pretend play and books? Same with even third graders...sure you can have them type their papers as final versions, make power points and use a calculator, but is that really good/useful at that age?

I haven't been in many classrooms, but from the teachers I know, none have ever talked about doing much with the technology they have...even when they are part of school grants that put super cool looking things in the classroom. I would rather my kids have a great teacher, a decently maintained school (not desperately in need of renovation like Wedgwood) and plenty of physical supplies for manipulatives/art/writing/etc. i don't need them learning to use a computer so that they are prepared for computer testing.

NE mom

Anonymous said...

Ha! you think Wedgwood is bad? When a toilet at Wedgwood is flushed a toilet overflows at Salmon Bay.

SB Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

The technology issue is indeed one that needs to be examined. But the more testing you have (seemingly), the more technology you need.

Anonymous said...

I think Scantrons were cheaper and faster then all these expensive computers. K-5 has no business using computers, except perhaps to learn typing. I certainly don't trust my little one to have access to the internet.

Agree NW

Anonymous said...

"K-5 has no business using computers"...I don't agree. We live in a world where our kids will need to be extremely comfortable with computers and other technology. I spend the majority of my work day in front of a computer, as I am sure many of you do. I am assuming lots of our kids will as well.

When I was in elementary school back in the 80s, we had a computer for every 2 kids in the class, and we all learned BASIC programming. This was in a public school in a poor area with a substantial percentage of children qualifying for FRL. It is somewhat shocking to me that my child's 1st grade class did not have a SINGLE computer other than the one for the teacher, and we are in Seattle in the 21st century.

That said, I agree with Agree NW that our little ones shouldn't have unsupervised access to the internet.