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Education Nation: Teachers Want a Voice as Decision Makers

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a school in Washington State where the teachers decided what they wanted education to be like for their 650 kindergarten through 6th grade students. The staff collaborated as a group on what they believed constituted good teaching. Many of their group decisions continue to guide learning in every classroom at their school.

They began by redefining their teaching relationships with their students by deciding they would stay with the same class for two years instead of one. AND, they included students with special needs in their classrooms instead of segregating them out. They decided to be guides for their students allowing the students to direct their own learning. They did this through “inquiry based projects”. Several times a year these teachers helped their students develop questions in subjects that the students were interested in and wanted to investigate. The teachers then integrated reading, writing and communication skills into long-term projects.

Instead of giving all the answers to their students these teachers guide them in searching for responses to their own questions by assisting to help in research and identify and sort through information resources. These teachers have created a climate of collaboration not only between their students, but also the with the school staff, who supports their changed role in the classroom.

In their daily conferences with team partners, teachers encourage each other to make changes and try new things. One states, “Because we stay with our students for two years, we can’t use the same ideas with the class the next year, so we are always coming up with new projects.”

When teachers have a voice in their curriculum and a chance to be decision makers in formulating learning in their classrooms, learning is improved for each student. When teachers encourage a heterogeneous population in their classrooms, students become more involved in helping others to achieve and succeed. Everyone has a need to give and help those who are disadvantaged. When we segregate our population of students from each other they lose their sense of compassion for those who are unlike them.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, and an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity, and innovation, presented at the November 2011 TEDx London conference. He states that education must be Personalized for the student, which improves motivation for teachers; that education must be Customized to students to their place within their community; and that education must include Diversity instead of requiring teachers to subscribe to conformity. Sir Robinson strongly recommends that learning involves local community partnerships where students are exposed to the world in which they live and become community participants.

When teachers have a voice in their classrooms and the curriculum they teach; when they have a chance to be decision makers in their profession, they become motivated and inspired. Their classrooms become learning centers where students accept responsibility for themselves and others. They are invested in producing and collaborating for the success of all. None are left behind because all are involved.

For the above to happen educational leadership must be supportive of creative teacher innovation within the classroom. They must trust their teachers and advise rather than dictate. Of course it takes secure leaders to pass on creative responsibility to their teachers. Secure administrators are a rare breed. Their penchant is to control rather than relinquish.

What an amazing torrent of creative energy would be unleashed if teachers had a voice in decision-making within their classrooms and supportive educational administrators!

“Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”

Post Script: Yes Rob, the teaching example I give at the top of this post is simple in its approach. I know that many teachers live and work in small communities throughout this great nation. Their school budgets limit funding to basic concepts. This is written for them. Innovation in small districts across our country depends on the educator’s imagination and ability to engage their students in meaningful and passionate intellectual exploration. It does not take money to develop creative minds; it takes commitment. Sir Ken Robinson writes about getting back to basics. To me, getting back to basics means organizing learning experiences for children which develop inquisitive minds with tenacious curiosity. Once those minds are set into motion it is essential to then teach children how to use their knowledge and curiosity in their own life applications. What good is knowledge if we are unable to solve the mysteries in our own lives? What good is knowledge if we are unable to apply it to expanding our own horizons. Yes, simple approaches develop amazing innovation.

Education; It’s time for a new school model – STEM

September 22, 2011 2 comments

We have discussed in this blog many of the problems attached with education as they presently exist. Sadly, I have fallen into the trap of emphasizing the problems we already know; decrepit schools, unqualified teachers, teacher unions, bad parenting, useless teaching methods, parents sending unprepared children to school, wasted resources, corruption, etc.

Now, I am climbing out of the negative trap that I and so many fall into and will be writing about ideas, innovations, digital education, creative lateral thinking, new philosophies and techniques for helping children learn more and overcome their home deficiencies and parental neglect. It is my hope to change the dialogue to one of hope instead of despair. Let’s begin with a few important studies that inform and educate us regarding future trends and possibilities.

1. STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In 2006, the United States National Academies expressed their concern about the declining state of STEM education in the United States. Its Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy developed a list of 10 actions federal policy makers could take to advance STEM education in the United States to compete successfully in the 21st century. Their top three recommendations were to:

·    increase America’s talent pool by improving K-12 science and mathematics education;
·    strengthen the skills of teachers through additional training in science, math and technology;
·    enlarge the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees.

2. The Department of Labor identifies fourteen sectors that are “projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy, or affect the growth of other industries, or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers.” These are: Advanced Manufacturing, Automotive, Construction, Financial Service, Geospatial Technology, Homeland Security, Information Technology, Transportation, Aerospace, Biotechnology, Energy, Healthcare, Hospitality, and Retail.

3. A study on Education and the Workforce submitted in August, 2011 by the Georgetown University Center confirms what teachers, parents, and public and private sector leaders have known for years: A post-secondary education is now the gateway to the middle class. The Georgetown study indicates that the lifetime earnings for people with bachelor’s degrees are 84% greater than those with only a high school diploma — whose lifetime earnings translate to just over $15/hour.

4. According to the Milken Institute Review, which everyone should read for its articulate presentation of the facts,  “In 1969, the average male college graduate working full time earned about 55% more than an average worker with only a high school diploma. Four decades later, this wage premium was 116%. Powerful economic forces, including technological change and globalization, have reduced job opportunities for less educated, less-skilled workers while increasing them for higher-skilled workers.”

5. The single most important trend in the world today is that globalization and the information/technology revolution have catapulted us into a whole new level of worker skills. We have cloud computing, wireless connectivity, Skype, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and inexpensive Smartphones. We have gone from connected to hyper connected. The last I heard there were 3 million job openings with no one to fill them because our general population lack the skills to apply.

6. Thomas Friedman, New York Times, said, “We don’t have a jobs problem; we have a skills problem.” He goes on to write, “Think of what The Times reported last February: At little Grinnell College in rural Iowa, with 1,600 students, ‘nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China.’ ” The article noted that dozens of other American colleges and universities are seeing a similar surge as well. And the article added this fact: Half the “applicants from China this year have perfect scores of 800 on the math portion of the SAT.”

We already know that many parents of the students who are failing and dropping out are not motivated or committed to performing their important parenting skills. Their children are unlikely to succeed in this competitive climate if they live in a home where parents are uninvolved. Since this abysmal parenting problem is unlikely to change, I find it is more positive to focus on the teachers. They are the ones who are expected to teach skills in order to prepare their students, the ones who care, for the competitive future.

It is unfortunate that teachers have to spend time teaching character, values and disciplining students who come from homes where these attributes are nonexistent. It wastes their valuable teaching time with students who have a future. How many students who want to learn and succeed are stuck in classes with peers whose main goal is to disrupt and distract because they lack the discipline and intellectual ability to focus and learn? Enough said, let me focus on teachers, our valuable, hardworking teachers, at least most of them.

How do we change the systems/curriculum in our schools so this present generation of children is able to successfully compete in a one world labor market that is connected by the internet and World Wide Web? How does our educational system provide the skill sets needed for motivated children to succeed and fulfill their aspirations?

Computers are the language of our students; this is how they communicate with each other and their parents. I was at my son’s BBQ over the Labor Day weekend and spoke to some of his friends. I asked them how they communicate with each other and their families. They replied they Twitter or Facebook for quick notes and email to get longer messages to their friends. They Skype with their parents and extended families. They don’t know what a postage stamp is and they don’t write letters. This generation is more computer savvy than their teachers, parents, and anyone who is a generation behind them. They are involved in everything and disdain the obsolete, like the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s Google folks; it’s Wikipedia; it’s the internet!

For starters, I suggest we think about the following ideas for teachers:

·    We offer computer skill seminars to all existing teachers before each school year begins, some will be refresher courses and some will be starter courses. We teach them not only to become proficient in operating their computers and computer software, but we also teach them the skills in how to join in the conversation and operate the latest technological innovations and communications; Twitter, Facebook, Cloud Computing, Skype, Google and all of its components (Gmail, Ngram, Google Docs, etc.), LinkedIn, to name a few.
·    Have each school create their own email system so professional communication can be stored for future reference and information gathering. Teachers should not use their personal email accounts.
·    We include in our university education curriculum’s courses or laboratories for new teachers that emphasize computer skills and all of the latest online technology and methods of communication. They must be proficient in order to graduate.
·    We gift each teacher their own computer. We give each teacher a free laptop like federal and state governments give cell phones and laptops to many of their public employees. The taxpayer bears the cost for these perks for government employees why shouldn’t they do this for teachers, who impact every child in our country?
·    We require teachers to communicate with their students in online conferencing tutorials, like many corporations do with online conferencing when they brainstorm for solutions to corporate problems. Think of this, teachers and groups of students working out problems online, collaborating as a team for the success of all.
·    There is a program at New Humanitarian private school in Russia called “Curators”. These are designated teachers whose job it is to oversee students in each grade. Curators generally do not conduct lessons but observe classes, identify problems and take children to meals and activities. Many children stay at school until 6 p.m. doing homework with curators.
·    Every teacher should study and teach courses in “thinking,” as in critical thinking. A dissident Soviet educational philosopher named Georgy Shchedrovitsky argues there are three ways of thinking: abstract, verbal and representational. To comprehend the meaning of something, you have to use all three. Teachers should be “thinking” in their classrooms. They should delight in barraging children with word problems and puzzles to force them to think broadly. To do this they must think broadly!
·    Classes should be videotaped. This way we could critique how teachers interact with and nurture relations between children. The administrators and staff could work on reviewing footage and discussing methodology with teachers in order to improve their teaching skills and student interaction.
·    At New Humanitarian children are graded and ranked, with results posted. The school master says, “they send an entirely different message to the kids: ‘Learning is hard, but you have to do it. You have to get good grades.’ ” In our school systems we instill an ethos that everyone’s-a-winner. This is destructive and dishonest. A child needs to know when they are not a winner. They need to know they are being left behind.

Educational reform is the only real source for the revitalization of our country.

Education; Teacher Cheaters in Pennsylvania!

August 7, 2011 1 comment

I have a friend who is a teacher. She told me after reading my prior post on the Atlanta Teacher Cheaters, “Teachers shouldn’t be judged so harshly. Too much is expected of them. They have too much on their plate.” Stunning!

Why are we making excuses for teachers who are unable to educate their students without cheating them and stealing their futures? Who do the teacher unions speak for in this appalling 11 year intellectual theft?

The New York Times reported on July 31 that Pennsylvania joined the many states whose teachers are involved in a massive teacher cheating scandal involving 89 schools, 28 of which are located in Philadelphia, whose inner city children are mostly black. If, like Atlanta, this has been going on since 2000, think of the drastic, mind numbing consequences for these students who have been allowed to cheat and actually were assisted by the teachers in their cheating!

This is 2011. This cheating began in 2000 and eleven years later these students, who were robbed of their future by these teachers, have been out of school for 6 years. Where are they now? What are they doing? Where do they live? What glorious dreams do they have? Who stands for them?

Let’s look at Teacher Cheaters from the perspective of the student. Let’s call him Nate. He is a minority student in the Atlanta or Philadelphia school system and in the eighth grade. When he entered the eighth grade he was not performing at his grade level. It is the end of the year and he is being tested by his teachers to see if they brought him to grade level or above. He is too young to understand the terrible consequences for his future if he is passed on without certain scholastic proficiencies. At this time in his life he does not think of his future. He does what his teacher directs him to do and if the teacher teaches him how to cheat that is what he learns how to do well. He cannot read nor do mathematical skills at his grade level, but he does become proficient in cheating as taught to him by his Teacher Cheaters.

Nate is passed from one grade level to another with the assistance of the Teacher Cheaters and he graduates with a diploma, which he can barely read. Or worse, he may have dropped out of school. Nate needs a job because he is now 18 years old. His parents have given him the boot and told him to support himself. He can’t read well; he can barely do the most basic math skills; and his spoken language is unintelligible or filled with the most deplorable grammatical speech patterns, which condemn him to a life of poverty, crime or flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage. It was told to me once, “The spoken language is what determines your class, prosperity and success in life.” This subtle influence that plays upon the ear is as true as the sun rising in the morning.

Nate is doomed. He never had a chance. His Teacher Cheaters got their bonuses, promotions, and Federal Funding for 11 years as Nate struggled to make sense of his time in their prison.

Never before have teachers had so many reasons to cheat. Student scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether teachers should get a bonus or be fired, whether a school is a success or failure. If the Teacher Cheaters were doing what they were hired to do there would be no reasons to cheat. Is this broad based scandal foreshadowing the wholesale incompetency of teachers, administrators, and unions? Are they covering up this horrible crime against the youth of our nation? If they are doing what they are paid to do there would be no reasons to cheat.

Instead of accepting responsibility for their crime against Nate, teachers are finger pointing towards a host of others, which I find irresponsible, time consuming, and unproductive! When they cheat a student they cheat the entire country. I am so happy I home schooled our sons. They are now very successful young men who can read, speak articulately, and add, subtract, divide and multiply.

“If a seed of a lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.”

 Buddhist proverb

Education and the Teacher Cheaters

July 17, 2011 1 comment

The New York Times July 16, 2011 editorial states, “A cheating scandal in which scores of teachers and principals in Atlanta’s public schools falsified student test results has thrown the system into chaos and made its name synonymous with fraud. This shameful episode has destroyed trust in the schools and made it impossible to determine how much students are learning and whether the system is doing its job.”

At least 178 teachers, principals, and administrators in the Atlanta public schools cheated to raise student scores on standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. These teachers and administrators helped Atlanta’s minority children cheat for money, which included teacher bonuses for raising a child’s academic level, to teacher evaluations, and federal money for performance. This is being referred to as an “ethical lapse”. I call it Criminal!

Now Washington DC and Los Angeles, and maybe other school systems, have been implicated in this horrible crime against innocent and mostly minority children. The Council of the Great City Schools recently released a study that says, “By fourth grade only 12 percent of black male students read at or above grade level, while 38 percent of white males do. By eighth grade it falls to just 9 percent for black males, 33 percent for whites. Black male students are almost twice as likely as white males to drop out of school. And in some big American cities the dropout rate is around 50 percent.”

Cheating teachers, principals, and school administrators aid and facilitate these children ending up in poverty and crime. Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools says, “The overall academic achievement of African American males was appallingly low (in this study), not only in cities, but nationwide.”

According to a November, 2010 report by Bill Whitaker, who wrote an article for the CBS News’ series on education: Reading, Writing and Reform, “Dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs like food stamps. It costs on average $25,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year and only about $14,000 a year of community college.”

What should alarm us is that these “professionals”, and I use this term with disgust in referring to these cheating teachers and staff, felt that their students could not even pass basic competency tests, despite targeted school improvement plans, proven reforms, and state-of-the-art teacher training. This massive fraud against minority children, those who need education the most, is a reflection of these “professionals” who are so ordinary and incompetent that they need children to cheat on tests so they, teachers and administrators, can receive their bonuses and rewards.

While they spend their bonus money and bask in the glow of their rewards they condemn their students, without a trial and jury, to a life of irreversible poverty, ignorance, and maybe crime. How terribly heartless of these so called “professionals”. I wonder what the Teacher Unions have to say about  these people? Who will they defend the teachers or the children?

How terribly disheartening for the minority parents and their sons and daughters, who they entrusted into the public educational system. They thought their children would have opportunities they never had by getting a proper education. What they have in Atlanta, Washington DC, Los Angeles and maybe other cities across the country, are their children who cannot read, write and do mathematics at grade levels. One step forward two steps back! If it were my sons I would be storming the gates of the educational bastion with fire in my eyes and a sword in my hands.

What a mess!

The Chicken or the Egg: Good Parenting or Good Teachers – What comes first?

“For more than forty years I’ve taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in major American and Asian universities, and in progressive preschools and schools. In part because of the subjects I teach, in part because of the ways in which we work together, students of all ages often confide in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught. In particular I’ve learned that for all human beings nothing in life is more important than our experience of parenting. How we’re parented determines almost everything about how we envision and respond to ourselves, other people, life, and the universe: how we exist, how we seek, and what we accomplish.” Peter Glassman

I too taught school and had students confide in me with ‘uncommon intimacy and trust”. There was Gloria, whose mother was having an affair with a student who was 20 years younger than her mom. The student came to Gloria’s house one afternoon and shot and killed the mother. Gloria escaped his rage by hiding under the bed. I saw Gloria once after that and then she went to live with a relative in some distant place. Then there was Zack, who sat beside my desk one day. He was a “hippie” at 15. He drew a flower on the floor with chalk and said to me, “It is not the place where you live that makes you happy; it’s where you live in your head that makes you happy.” Zack walked onto the interstate one night in a happy state of mind and was hit and killed by a truck. Billy came from a family of PhD’s. Expectations for his success were high. He had blazing red hair, a frail frame, artistic nature, and was gay. He could not bear to reveal this to his socially prominent parents. He confided some of his misery to me. He became an addict. Kathy was the only child of doting parents. She was a talented artist who loved my English class and its emphasis on the art in each child as we studied literature and composition. She came to me one day in tears describing her parent’s shame with her desire to be an artist. She ran away. I too learned more than I taught.

Despite the immense importance of parenting we do not require courses, instruction, direction, or mentoring before a man and a woman make this amazing decision to have a child. However, we do require instruction, licensing and permitting for driving a car, flying an airplane, operating heavy equipment, opening a business, or practicing a profession. But in parenting, the single most important responsibility we ever undertake as adults, we offer no preparation in what children need, how children develop, and how we best can fulfill our immense opportunities and responsibilities in guiding, guarding, and gracing our children’s lives. Faith traditions, schools, or workplaces do not and should not assume this vital work.

This is the sole responsibility of parents in the early years. They are the ones who build self-esteem, confidence, sensitivity, compassion, and intellectual curiosity in their offspring. Parents are the ones who instill manners, respect, vision, ambition, and a desire to learn and to know. Yet in every jurisdiction on earth anyone can become a parent. We can raise our children, shape their minds, or devastate their souls in almost any manner we choose. Step into your malls on any weekend to observe our nation’s parenting results.

We create voids in a child’s life with our unskilled parenting. Voids create vacuums which are opportunistically filled with one substance or another. “Children have but one work in life. They learn. Learning is all that children do. They do it full-time, and they do it with genius. They observe. They glean. From the foundation of their own experience, they employ their intellect. They interpret. They judge. They learn.” Peter Glassman

Children long to learn from their parents; they are their first example, their first love, their first hero’s. However, as we parent badly or ignorantly, the void in a child’s life slowly fills with powerful competitors, the fascinating and alluring electronic media and their peers, who are a major influence in their lives. Because they have no strength of family to sustain them, they succumb to these immensely empowered alternative forces: schools, friends, play environments, and most importantly the contemporary pop culture that form our children’s emotional civilization. Parents, who have many excuses for their haphazard parenting skills, surrender their responsibilities for their children’s soul life to televisions, computers, or iPhones. These artificial caregivers become our children’s primary companions.

In our own hurried, frantic lives we let go of the careful and necessary supervision of our schools. We let lapse the passion for our children and our basic and necessary expressions of love and care. Children will not accept this void. They need to be loved, guided, and parented. If we can’t be there for them they will do three things to compensate for their unfulfilled yearning: they will decide we do not love them; they will conclude they do not deserve to be loved; they will look for, discover, and become profoundly influenced by other persons or presences that will parent them in our place.

In the end, we send these hapless children off to our schools, where classrooms are chaotic, disruptive, and filled with children whose parents had little time for them in the early years. Teachers often teach in classrooms that are obsolete and filled with children who have no identity or purpose. We expect teachers to be surrogates when we should be expecting them to bring the intellectual curiosity of our children to life. Teachers should be setting children on fire with knowledge and exploration of their God-given abilities. This should be the most exciting adventure of each child’s life; learning and exploration. So who is to blame for the failure of our schools? For the failure of our children?

Is it the chicken or the egg?

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