Archive for the 'Policy issues' Category

3 primary threats to public education

We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis. Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it. —Kristina L. Taylor

A robust system of public education is essential for a thriving democracy and a growing economy.

Historically, Americans have invested in public institutions.

Nikole Hannah-Jones describes that history in a piece titled, “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?”:

“Early on, it was this investment in public institutions that set America apart from other countries. Public hospitals ensured that even the indigent received good medical care — health problems for some could turn into epidemics for us all. Public parks gave access to the great outdoors not just to the wealthy who could retreat to their country estates but to the masses in the nation’s cities. Every state invested in public universities. Public schools became widespread in the 1800s, not to provide an advantage for particular individuals but with the understanding that shuffling the wealthy and working class together (though not black Americans and other racial minorities) would create a common sense of citizenship and national identity, that it would tie together the fates of the haves and the have-nots and that doing so benefited the nation. A sense of the public good was a unifying force because it meant that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the meek, shared the spoils — as well as the burdens — of this messy democracy….”

Public schools today are being profoundly affected by strong social and political forces that those invested in the future of this country cannot ignore.

Those forces are part of a larger anti-public institution agenda that has been gaining momentum for several decades.

Public education as we know it has, in my view, three primary threats:

1. Radical capitalists who believe that maximum profit should be extracted from every revenue source, including those provided by taxpayers to support the public good.  A primary strategy to divert funds intended for public education is to denigrate and create distrust regarding teachers, teacher unions, and, most of all, public education in general.

2. Poverty and low-quality healthcare that has a particularly profound affect in impoverished neighborhoods and communities on the ability of young people to learn and on their overall well-being. (You can read more about the effects of poverty on children here and here.)

3. The possibility that unrelenting attacks on teachers and the consequences of high-stakes testing and other “reforms” will demoralize teachers and create a sense of resignation about the chances for meaningful improvement. That, in turn, would provide a further opportunity for radical capitalists to exert their will over public education.

Nonetheless, Hannah-Jones continues to place her faith in public schools:

“If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools. Nine of 10 children attend one, a rate of participation that few, if any, other public bodies can claim, and schools, as segregated as many are, remain one of the few institutions where Americans of different classes and races mix. The vast multiracial, socioeconomically diverse defense of public schools that DeVos set off may show that we have not yet given up on the ideals of the public — and on ourselves.”   

Although public education has been an important force for the common good over many generations of students, there is no guarantee that it will continue to play its historic role in American life.

It remains to be seen if the public good provided by public education is sufficiently resilient to withstand these threats as they are intensified over the next several years.

What would you add to or subtract from my list?

Together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies: it took a village to translate Park’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. —Parker Palmer

Resilient people understand that sustaining a commitment to significant change requires the support, guidance, and inspiration of a community.

But not all groups are created equal in their resilience and effectiveness.

Groups that make a difference:

• have skillful, committed leaders who maintain focus and momentum over time,

• ensure that group time is used productively to achieve the group’s goals,

• have a stable core membership,

• engage in high-impact activities,

• follow through on plans with accountability for results, and

• train group members to successfully complete agreed upon activities.

In schools such collective work requires strong teamwork which can take a variety of forms.

In the area of social justice and political change the group RESULTS sets the standard for grass roots advocacy. Its purpose is to end poverty by “improving access to education, health, and economic opportunity” through advocacy and education of policy makers.

More recently “Indivisible” groups are forming and beginning to take action in many communities throughout the United States. Their purpose is to create local pressure on members of Congress to counter the most destructive policies and actions of the new administration, and even at this early date it appears that they are beginning to have some success.

Indivisible’s advocacy is based “…on a simple idea: Donald Trump’s agenda doesn’t depend on Donald Trump. It depends on your elected members of Congress and whether they go along with him—or whether they fight back.”

If any or all of these approaches are appealing, I encourage you to get involved.

Remember:

• that demagogues win when citizens feel overwhelmed and become resigned to the status quo, and

• that together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone.

Why it’s essential for school board members to be intentional learners

Dennis Sparks

First among many superb ideas to be found in A School Board Guide to Leading Successful Schools: Focusing on Learning by Stephanie Hirsh and Anne Foster is this one:

“Exemplary school boards are made up of members who come to the board for the right reason–to provide quality public schools for the children of their school system.… They are committed to serving and learning, and their example can become a model for the entire school system and community.…

“Each person on the school board brings a unique set of experiences and knowledge that can be valuable to the group as a whole. But regardless of the knowledge and viewpoint that each member brings, the entire board is on a continuous learning curve. Board members can grow together in their knowledge of public school issues, school system business, and their role as board members. How they go about learning and continually upgrading their knowledge will determine to a large degree how successfully they will work together and lead the school system. How deeply they are willing to learn about important issues will determine the quality of their decision making, their attempts to reach consensus, and their ability to support the superintendent and staff. (bold mine)

In my experience, a system of learning schools requires a school board and superintendent who are intentional and public learners.

There are no exceptions to this requirement if the goal is high-quality teaching for all students in all classrooms in all schools.

Do you agree?

If so, I encourage you to read and pass on Hirsh and Foster’s book to a school board member who seeks to better understand the importance of Board learning and teamwork. Better yet, if you are in a position to do so, provide copies for the entire Board and ask members to devote as many sessions as possible to its study.

 

When educators neglect “politics,” they do so at their own peril

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Each week this summer I’m introducing a blog theme that connects popular and important posts from recent years. Each theme offers a number of perspectives on a perennial challenge of school leadership.

This week focuses on policy issues that face public education and, therefore, school leadership.

Successful school leadership requires simultaneously paying attention to the micro—the urgent and immediate—and the macro—the policy and legislative environment that often profoundly influences their day-to-day work and the well being of students.

Because the first category is typically more pressing and because leaders by talent and inclination find more satisfaction in the daily responsibilities of teaching and learning, it is easy to neglect  broader political context of public education.

I encourage you to scroll through articles in this thread to find those that match your interests.

In addition, I encourage you to take a closer look at these essays:

“What the best and wisest parent wants…”

“The storyline used by those who seek to destroy public education”

“A strong rationale for public education”

 

Why “business capital” methods will destroy public education

IMG_1365In the June 2013 issue of the JSD Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan contrast “business capital” and “professional capital” approaches to public education (“The power of professional capital”) .

“Right now, there are two visions for capital in how it can be used to improve teaching in the U. S. and elsewhere,” they write. “One is a business capital approach. In this view, the purpose of public education is increasingly to yield a short-term profit with her returns for its investors. The purpose of public education is to be a market for technology, for testing products, for charter schools and companies and chains and their look-alliance in Sweden in England and other parts of the world…

“The opposite stance toward teaching is a professional capital approach. In this approach, teaching is hard. It’s technically difficult, for example, knowing the signs of Asperger’s, differentiating instruction, learning all the skills to deal with difficult adults. It requires technical knowledge, high levels of education, strong practice within schools, and continuous improvement overtime that is undertaken collaboratively, and the calls for the development of wireless judgment.

As seems obvious, the approach used will have a profound effect on teaching and learning and on the very existence of public education as we have known it.

Business Capital Approach

• An unrelenting emphasis on short-term gains in the form of standardized, high-stakes tests at the expense of the broader, long-term purposes of public education such as preparation for citizenship and the cultivation of interests and talents not included on these tests.

• The overarching purpose of maximizing profits requires minimizing costs—that means teachers, particularly those with experience. That requires…

• Denigrating the value of teaching as a career-long profession and demonizing teacher unions.

Professional Capital Approach

• A wide variety of assessment methods are used to promote learning and to measure student progress related to a broad range of valued outcomes.

• Teaching is viewed as career-long profession in which expertise is continuously developed. That requires…

• Substantial investments in the preparation and continuous development of teachers’ and administrators’ knowledge, skills, and professional judgment, including their ability to participate effectively on high-functioning teams.

The business capital approach—which is being aggressively pursued on many fronts—is likely to destroy public education as we have known it, except perhaps in the most affluent communities where engaged and influential parents will not tolerate a limited standardized-test-driven education for their children.

In contrast, the professional capital approach is essential to the continuous improvement of teaching and learning for the benefit of all students.

From your experience, what are the implications of these two perspectives for teaching and learning and for the future of public education?

Why trying to improve student learning while decreasing physical activity is like shooting yourself in the foot before running a marathon

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Physical and emotional energy are arguably a school community’s most important resource. Skillful teachers and administrators have always known how to heighten, moderate, and refocus that energy as situations demand.

However, outside forces can sometimes have a profound effect on energy in classrooms and schools. Federal, state, and local policies have unwittingly conspired to decrease physical education requirements and even eliminated recess in a misguided effort to improve test scores.

Students who are not able to discharge their energy in appropriate ways are far more likely to create management problems. So it’s not surprising that at the same time that physical activity has been declining in schools students diagnosed with attention-related disorders and discipline referrals to administrators have dramatically increased.

In addition, because students’ health correlates closely with their ability to learn, eliminating physical activity to improve test scores is self defeating. It is also a source of the youth obesity and other health-related problems that plague our country.

Therefore, I was pleased to see a new report from the Institute of Medicine that asks the U.S. Department of Education designate physical education be a core subject, as reported by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.

About the report, Strauss writes: “While definitive data are not available, it says, the best estimate is that only about half of young people in the United States meet the current guideline of at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity daily.”

Strauss adds: “The consequences of inactivity are very real, the report says. ‘A lack of activity increases the risk of heart disease, colon and breast cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression, and other diseases. Recent studies have found that in terms of mortality, the global population health burden of physical inactivity approaches that of cigarette smoking and obesity. Indeed, the prevalence of physical inactivity, along with this substantial associated disease risk, has been described as a pandemic.’”

Given the strong link between physical health and learning, it is difficult to fault this recommendation, although I know its implementation will be challenging given the narrowed, standardized-test driven focus of many schools.

What do you think… Is this recommendation just one more responsibility unfairly added to an already overflowing curriculum or is an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity essential to students’ learning and health?

 

Improved teacher evaluation may be necessary, but it’s far from sufficient

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For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. – H. L. Mencken

The problems of teaching, learning, and school leadership are complex. Perhaps that is why policymakers often respond with solutions that are “clear, simple, and wrong.” Or at least wrong in part.

Recent efforts to strengthen teacher evaluation provide an example.

There’s no question that improved teacher (and principal) evaluation is desirable. Evaluation methods used in most places in recent years have done little to improve teaching, support struggling teachers, and identify and remove educators who are incompetent.

But the effects of improved processes of teacher evaluation will be minimal unless they are well integrated with:

Well-trained classroom observers, evaluators, and peer assistance teams.

Peer evaluation and mentoring of teachers in their first few years of employment to ensure that only competent teachers are admitted into the profession and that they begin their teaching careers on a solid footing.

Sustained, high-quality professional learning with coaching targeted at high-priority school and school system student learning goals.

Participation by all teachers on instructional teams that have as their primary purpose the continuous improvement of teaching and learning for all students.

School cultures that promote innovation and experimentation and that surround all members of the school community with encouraging and helpful relationships.

Skillful principals and teachers leaders supported by skillful system administrators.

Effective leadership at both the school and district levels will determine to what extent these elements are integrated into a coherent, high-quality program of career-long development that serves students, the school community, and the teaching profession.


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