Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Where should we start?

What issues in education bother you the most?  What most concerns you?  What do you think we need to start with? 
Anyone who has worked with me knows I am interested in thinking outside the box and entertaining at least conversation on all the possibilities…and a few impossibilities while we are at it.  I like to ask people to design an entire educational system from the ground up and see what we have.  What would be different if we started with a clean slate?  If we would design anything other than what we have, then we all need to be working for change.  This is about our students, our children, our communities and our long term quality of life for all.  So let’s get to work.  Let’s quit with the excuses.  Bus schedules can be changed, vacations can be altered, contracts rewritten.  For the good of our society, let’s get it all on the table.
So here is a little brainstorm of issues I see with a short comment on each.  You tell me what you think is most important.  Where should we begin?
In no particular order
-The racial achievement gap, performance disparity between Black, Latino and White and Asian kids – I believe this is THE civil rights issue of our day and it has been time to stand up and get something done on this for a very long time.  What is stopping us?
- School Funding – The economy is in the tank, but some areas of our government budget remain healthy and funded.  Can we do the same for education?  Are we ready to pay for it?  Where should the money be spent if we had it?  How can we get improved student performance without more money?
-Increased obsession with test scores – Can we have strong test scores and a good education?  Are they the same thing?  At what cost do we increase test scores?  Do the scores really tell us anything?  Recess, arts programs, physical education and more have been cut to provide more time on the skills measured by high-stakes tests.  Is this okay?
-Loss of enrichment programs like Physical Education and the Arts – Do these not go hand-in-hand with an academic education?  Strong mind, strong body?  Do students with creative outlets perform better? 
-Loss of athletic programs – see above
-Technology – Does having a projector make you a better teacher?  Should students all have laptops?  Can Facebook and Twitter be used to enhance education?  How can teachers get a handle on the varieties of software, websites, and social media in such a way that we improve what and how we do?  How much can or should the hardware impact the classroom?  Are there ways to harness the power of smartphones, iPods, etc. to enhance education?
-Institutional Food – Can we enhance acamdeic performance by serving higher quality food in school?
-The Calendar – We know summer loss is a real concern for our lower-performing students.  What about year-round schooling?  But doesn’t summer vacation help enhance our wealthiest students’ performance?
-The Daily Schedule – little kids wake up wired and teens….don’t wake up.  Why do teens start school earlier in the day than the little ones when we know that this is physiologically unsound?
-Administrative Overhead – We have more administrators now than ever.  Why?  Do we need them?  Can we incorporate them back into the classroom to teach real students once a day? 
- Poorly prepared teachers – Did your university education have you prepared to teach?  Do you wonder if your son or daughters’ teachers know their craft?  What would an ideal teacher preparation program look like?  Should there be a long apprentice-ship program?  How do we improve on-the-job training?
- Teaching as an Art – Is it even possible to learn to be a good teacher or do some just have it while others do not?
- Lack of respect for an education – From Beavis and Butthead to Survivor, have we become a culture so obsessed with the rude, cynical or trivial that we don’t actually care about a well-rounded education?  To what degree does pop culture, advertising and the media send messages that fly in the face of intellectual development, thus making it a gigantic uphill battle for teachers to have any impact?
-Science and Math – Have we emphasized these areas to the detriment of social studies, language arts, foreign language, art, music, and physical education?  Are these equal pursuits?
- Educational Inequity – as highlighted by the movie Waiting for Superman, are we harming families and communities with poorly funded school districts in the communities most in need?  How do we provide excellent resources and educations to the places with the least ability to fund it?
-Obsession with Achievement – as highlighted by the movie Race to Nowhere, do we have students and families so obsessed with getting into the best schools, having the highest test scores, and making the most money that we have lost sight of getting an education, being a kid, and quality of life?
- Parenting – Too often we have parents who seem to want to hold their child’s hand every step of the way, sheltering them from anything difficult, anything that might injure their fragile self-esteem.  On the other hand we have too many parents who seemingly do not care.  At my first position on back to school night I met 4 students’ parents out of 134.  In my current job I met with 63 of 65.  Should parents be bothering their kids’ college professors?  Should parents be skipping IEP meetings for their 17 year-old children? 

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