Public Education: Start Again

If you could start from zero, what would public education look like?

Is There Time For Ed Reform? Or Is It Time For Revolution?

Posted by Stephen Dill on March 8, 2011

The President is asking for your advice. In a program called Advise The Advisor, Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council and one of President Obama’s senior advisors on education policy, is asking for feedback from parents, teachers and students about what’s working in their communities and what needs to change when it comes to education. There is a promise within her video that all responses submitted before end of the day Friday (3/11/11) will be read by White House staffers and compiled into a summary document for review by the President and his advisors.

Here is what I submitted. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts of what you would have said (or did) in the “under 2,500 characters” they asked for.

Our system is antiquated, built on foundations that could not scale with America and have not provided consistent results for decades. When a system is broken it is a waste of time to focus on bandages if no one is developing a cure for the cause. Can we entertain a two-pronged approach that maintains buildings and programs for a little while longer while another team starts from square one? The smartest investment would be a new system that is in tune with the future: distributed, decentralized and individual. A system that is not based on capital-intense administration and buildings. One that affords every citizen the same opportunity, not just what their community can afford. We need to put a team together to rethink education from scratch.

And with a new system, we need to accept that success will not be determined by test scores. Not all those individuals are going to want to study languages, math, science, engineering or art—at least not at the exact same time as everyone else born the year they were born. They may not test with their peers, ever. They may outshine their peers, or lag behind, but they will be creative individuals, leaders, innovators guiding their own lives at their own pace.

I have a dream for my kid’s kids to live in a world where education starts at conception: parents are taught how to parent and raise a world citizen. Education is a daily occurrence for everyone in this world, for everyone is a student and a teacher, as soon as they have something to teach. Classes are local or worldwide, alone with a teacher or hundreds of students working one-on-one with a teacher in a hub-and-spoke topology aided by technology and managed by the student. In such a world, nations do not measure their success by how many hoops they can teach their children to jump through.

Let us all hope that we can begin the process of revolutionizing education in our lifetimes for the benefit of our progeny, and of the world.

(and then I pointed them to this site)

Bottom line: is there really anyone out there who thinks that Ed Reform is going to direct the system we have to any semblance of stability? Consistency? Humanity? And isn’t there still that messy issue of mass testing to determine “success” (whatever that means)? How did we ever buy the idea that our child was the same as any child their age? On every continent!?!?

5 Responses to “Is There Time For Ed Reform? Or Is It Time For Revolution?”

  1. Jessica said

    In the interest of the advisors of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council, the U.S. Department of Education, and most importantly President Obama, I am sharing my concerns for open review, but essentially means of action rather than reaction. I speak on behalf of the trepidation parents, teachers, and the nation at large face. Apart from my qualifications and credentials, I am a simple and ordinary woman within this nation that has witnessed a shift within the educational realm. I have been extremely fortunate with my educational endeavors and experiences as a military dependant child living overseas over eighteen years. I feel that my insights can be utilized to the advantage and need for continuous improvement, growth, and development within the educational system. As a graduate from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor’s of Science in Art Education, a recent art educator in Merritt Island, and a current graduate student at Florida State University studying within the field of Art Therapy, I find in crucially imperative to share my opinion based off my local and international work experiences. My goal is to shed light on the gravity of issues faced daily in public education, to enact educational reform, making the invisible visible. I personally believe it is important to share my viewpoint on the current downfall of the U.S. public education system and what needs to change.

    Some people may call for a revolution, but it is a time for evolution. We are living in a nation that has constantly been evolving over time socially, politically, culturally, and economically. The people across America are watching current events unfold and are witnessing it personally with financial hardships, yet the concern should be on the children. Do the younger generations even stop to notice what is occurring around them? Some people do not even realize we are at war. The President elaborates on his political ideological agenda to keep the masses alert that he wants all of the American people to feel safe, to live within our means, and continue to manage our national budget. President Obama says he thinks about our future generations, and initially started his whole campaign, spreading inspirational, yet questionable statement of “change,” and working for the interests of the American workingman. His ideals about reforming the educational system, and supporting the arts from a strong standpoint made me believe in him, because as an art educator, I believe the arts are morally and socially important to integrate into the curriculum. I, like many other educators, believed and looked forward to this change. These beliefs in the President began to disintegrate over time due to events or political persuasions by other parties unknown to the public. But these distractions led to lack of intervention and utter apathy within the educational system.

    Despite the economical downfall and worldly issues plaguing his mind to save the world, he has the time, effort, and power of the distribution of wealth and resources to make an everlasting mark in American History for the betterment of society. Without education, he would not be here today. Without education, there would be social uproar. This is a pivotal moment in time where ironically we do need change as President Obama once stated. It would be a walking contradiction on his behalf to walk away from one of the most vital issue in America, and mainly focusing on economical recovery, oil stabilization, the war on Iraq, troops in Afghanistan, kicking Kaddafi out of Libya, the energy advancements in China, India, and Brazil, nuclear plant threats, emergency assistance to Japan for the earthquake, ect.. What about this emergency within public education? We need an antibiotic injection for public schools in this 21st century, and I believe integrating the arts are the key. What about assistance to our educational crisis in America? Where is the intervention there? We always are providing immediate assistance to other countries, when here in our very own homeland; we are struggling as a nation. Children do not realize what is happening around them globally, culturally, or politically. National security, where trillions of dollars are being wasted by the minute by the persuasion of elitist and imperialistic views. Things faded away over time, and apathy began to fill the room in the White House when it came to education. The time has shifted, issues and unfortunate events have arisen unexpectedly since then, yet as time continuously passes by, everyday people are witnessing the downfall of the education system in front of their very own eyes.

    Within this digital era, if we continue to go at this rate with no movement, no change, today’s’ generation and generations to come will be on a path to depersonalization, self-destruction, and a stripping of moral consciousness in society. It is vital to address this issue now before it is too late. Thousands of people across the world have written hundreds of letters to their senators, congressman, or the White House, which most likely have been shredded and these integral issues continue to be ignored on a mass scale. Those with ultimate power, prestige, and status have the capacity to change certain policies on a wide scale macro approach, but the concerns of parents and teachers covering this topic is briefly brushed upon in speeches. The main concern our nation domestically whether it be social, political, or cultural, it is the time to stop and take the necessary steps towards a meaningful and lasting impact for future generations.

    It makes sense that the President has a moral obligation to protect and serve the country, to monitor actions, to maintain sustainability for our government and society, making decisions. But what about President Obama’s’ responsibility to his people and the preservation to future generations to come? These short-term goals are going to affect us in the long-term. As he once said it is important to “out-educate, out-innovate, and out-research other nations,” in order to do that, it must start with educational reform in our very own nation. Educators around the world see these problems, and it is a disgrace that other educational systems internationally see where our younger generations our headed, towards more ignorance being constantly bombarded by tests, worksheets, pressure of FCAT scores, technological upheaval leaving students only to focus on their interpersonal world based off texting, video games, wii, ipads, ipods, laptops, iphones, and television. Discrimination will be on the rise, there will possibly be an increase in suicides, bullying, cyber bulling, violence, and increase in mental illnesses.

    Over time, there have been remarkable changes within the educational system yet most of the attention lately has shifted from student interests to school interests to improve education. By examining the positive effects of fostering creativity in the classroom, it makes one re-think about the nature of learning and the possibilities of education into the twenty-first century. In today’s classrooms, students are bombarded by an abundance of facts and testing that they are now motivated by a desire of good grades rather than love of learning. What’s lacking? A collaborative instruction that they can relate to and learn from with more challenge, creativity, and thought-provoking material. A common goal shared by most educators is the belief to create productive, engaging, and high-quality student learning. If this is not occurring recently in schools today, we must ask why?
    There comes a moment where the role of teaching must be reexamined, and different approaches must be considered for the student’s personal and emotional growth. There has been overemphasis on standardized testing, grades, achievement, and standard-based teaching that it seems to be stripping the system of personalized learning through addressing ones’ values, attitudes, and beliefs. If we support diversity and implement strategies that are appropriate for teaching culturally diverse learners, then we should also meet the diverse needs that include the affective domain. Society is constantly changing in a political, economic, and cultural sense, where student’s educational achievements are threatened by depression, changing family patterns, poverty, substance abuse, suicide, and sexual abuse. It takes more than a structured based curriculum that revolves around the mere acquisition of prescribed academic skills and meeting the No Child Left behind Act. It involves taking your motivation and compassion as a teacher to the next level, promoting creativity and the affective domain within the classroom.

    Branching away from traditional world to the progressive atmosphere, students are encouraged to express their thoughts and opinions which foster their critical thinking skills and creativity. Most educators want their students to walk away from their classroom with a positive attitude toward the subject, themselves, and others. Then there are alternative approaches to create curriculums that are personally-enriching tying in different cultures or social experiences. It is critical for us to accept and realize that all students are critical thinkers and each has their own level of creativity. As teachers it’s imperative to create a learning atmosphere that promotes creativity in classrooms by using the affective domain supporting personal growth, flexibility, and originality.

    We need a way to channel these young minds through these technological advancements in society that are changing at a rapid pace. Introducing contemporary themes into the classroom are a start, and integrating the arts back into the curriculum. At first, on Obama’s website he advocated for the arts and how crucial it is to have in schools, now it has shifted to President Obama’s campaign to “educate to innovate,” by improving the performance of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This will widely benefit young people to excel in the future with these rapid changes in technology worldwide, yet a missing and widely integral component that is not addressed is the arts which has been taught over decades, that has been proven to widely stimulate innovate thinking, build problem solving and critical thinking skills, and pave new avenues of thinking through an artistic process. This issue is invisible, that needs to be made visible again. Math, science, technology, and engineering are all introduced in the world of fine arts education, including literature and history. This is more of a wake up call of national priority. If we want to raise our students with simply left-sided thinking, there is no room for improvement, or innovation. The arts support this creative development.

    Today’s generation is far more visual than it has been in years and studies have been done whether we learn more through what we see than through what we hear or touch. What is more conductive to learning that is the question, confronting attitudes and values or plain facts and rigid rules? What you learn in the art room, you can apply to the outside world, it’s more than just a drawing, a painting, or a watercolor you made, it’s reflecting and appreciating the impact of art, making it meaningful. The arts contribute widely to the development of the mind. Art encourages us to stretch beyond the limits of our imaginations. There lies a deeper abstract knowledge that pervades with in us all, involving the ability to relate images to language, language to images, and views based on experience, social, mental, ethnic, religious, environmental, political, or personal.
    If we do care as a nation, to work together to prepare future generations as world-class citizens, then other than just hearing this feedback, it is time to enact change. Are we making progress? Are we making change? The rhetoric has been skewed across the nation, and it is a disgrace that nothing has been put into effective practice, except making matters worse by placing more emphasis on raising FCAT scores. It is time to put an end to this uncertainty. Many issues exist, and problems are on the rise within the educational realm due to the ignorance of the government. These ideas are trashed, voices blocked out, crowds made invisible. These problems must not only be re-examined thoroughly by the National Board of Education, but by currently practicing educators across the nation, to share their personal accounts of what needs to be changed. Educators see a lot more of what is going on daily within their classrooms, I was one of them, and it is scary where we are headed if we do not act now. Curriculum re-examination and change is crucial, more funding, no more budget cuts within the arts, arts integration in all public schools, equal distribution of wealth and resources to all public schools, less emphasis on FCAT scores, and job security and more opportunities for all teachers.

    Just like the U.S. goes in with military force to better other societies, to pave way for a better future for their people, what about our own race? President Obama says through providing these people an education, they are able to become citizens and one day obtain a job to support their family and have personal freedom. What about the thousands of people here in the United States that have lost their careers, and have become homeless. Housing was recently brought up as an issue here in the states. What are we doing about this, when we are drilling out trillions of dollars and resources to other countries, it just baffles me how we cannot provide books, supplies, and rebuilding schools in impoverished communities or low-income schools? The public school system should be the main concern of the nation right now, within this time of globalization and sustainable measures. I have gone into schools personally as an observer, an assistant, and substitute teacher, and it was appalling to see how children have lost the drive to learn. There were unsanitary supplies, unmotivated students, classrooms without air conditioning, trailer overcrowded classrooms, frustrated teachers, no classroom organization, and school administrators that are there merely there for a paycheck not the well being of their students progress.

    I bring to your attention my concerns so that you may enact change now to contribute to the success of this nation. I can be reached at the above email address or cell phone number. Thank you again for this opportunity to share my voice.

  2. I just read an article by Malcolm Gladwell in which he is highly critical of the current tenure system used to reward teachers. I urge you all to read it to understand, at least in part, the challenges faced when trying to select and retain good teachers and jettison those that are not up to the task. Find it here: http://www.gladwell.com/2008/2008_12_15_a_teacher.html

    • Michael, you are right, this is such a key topic in the creation of a new system: how to build and maintain great teachers. The current method is akin to the Government Service system, once in, it’s very hard to get an under-performer out. If teachers were free agents and responsible for finding their own students the market would tell us who was a good teacher and who wasn’t, wouldn’t it? If students could talk to their peers and work with their parents to decide who they wanted to learn from next you know there would be a lot of teachers who have had long careers in teaching who would be forced to find other work fast. There are already examples of this selection process in private preschools and some private teaching programs like Perduco Education in Foxboro. The word gets around about the environment and results and before long there are waiting lists year after year.

      Gladwell suggests teaching “needs an apprenticeship system that allows candidates to be rigorously evaluated.” I often refer to the apprentice system when I visualize the public education system of the future, because it is time tested and worked for centuries before industrialization created the mass education machine we now labor under. Many who I speak with counter that Plato and Socrates teaching under a tree is not a scalable model for the millions of students wanting to learn today, and that’s true. My question is, could we build a distribution system for learning with the technology we have today, with the Internet and iPads and software and wikis and webinars that we now have, that would offset the limits imposed by geography and classrooms? And if so, could the good teachers gather a few apprentices and leverage such a system to teach students of both the topics they are expert is, as well as the art of teaching? And what if some of those apprentices were being identified in the way they learned and helped others in the course of the class?

      One of the key tenets of All New Public Education is that we are all students throughout life—as well as teachers. Some of us will find that we are gifted and truly talented and become teachers as a profession. The rest will take on small groups to teach some specifics of what it is that they do well, similar to merit badge counselors in the Boy Scouts, in response to a request from one or more students who find on the Web that they are open to some “personal instruction.” Ratings and feedback, akin to the Yelp! review system of today, will become crucial indicators of those who understand how learning happens and can inspire it, and those who are the “broadcasters” that Gladwell talks about.

      Thanks for the link, Michael. The daunting task ahead of education reformers is clear: humans are slow to accept systemic change when the outcome is going to mean many will no longer be considered qualified to do what they have been paid to do for many years. Such change is even more challenging when the practitioners have hired a protection service (in this case, a teacher’s union) to make sure they can keep doing what they decided they wanted to do (as opposed to what they were imminently qualified to do).

  3. Jon Sackler said

    The school choice movement can empower great young entrepreneurs to create a dynamic and diverse public education sector. Choice and creative destruction will allign interests of the people inside (teachers, admins, etc.) with the people outside (parents and students).

    On testing, it’s time to see statewide or national exams as an academic version of the physician’s vital signs: they don’t tell you everything you would want to know about a patient, but when one of the signs is out of wack, it’s a fair bet that the patient is in danger. I’ve never met a parent who would be sanguine about their own child being unable to read or calculate at something approximating “grade level”.

    • On face value, Jon, I agree, of course. But from the point of view I am asking everyone to take here on ANPE, it’s another BandAid on the terminal wound and not yet thinking on the level of starting from zero. “School choice” as an attribute of a new system would probably have a new meaning, indicating an infrastructure, perhaps, of total decentralization, private organizations responding to aggregate market demand, and perfectly equal access to all knowledge and resources.

      If you accept that every person is an individual with a unique path to realization of their passion, potential and choice of occupation, then the term “grade level” is problematic. Every parent should want their children to be a self-realized individual, not a clone of someone else or walking someone else’s path.

      It’s a challenge for many to set aside the concepts and frameworks that they grew up within, especially when they never experienced any friction with them. But for those who have been able to step away, they see a remarkable array of unintended consequences brought on by a mechanical system of forced labor and false standards. It will not be easy to put a new system in place, if only for the inertia built up of hundreds of years and billions of unquestioning minds. But try we must.

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