Monday, June 26, 2017

Are You Going to Educate the Children of This Nation or Not? by Cheryl Binkley

After teaching for 18 years, and being a volunteer defender of schools for the last 5 or so, it amazes me sometimes that I am still surprised by the remarkable conversations and lack of perspective that we as localities and districts have about teaching our kids what they need to know to survive and thrive in the world.

These are a few of the realizations that shock and amaze me:

1.       We allow the question of “What should the government do, and what should private enterprise do?”—a totally ideological concept – to get in the way of providing collectively for our children.

The question of whether everything should be managed by private enterprise has been the driving decision maker for policy at least since the Reagan years, and though it’s tempting to lay that concept at Republicans’ door, that would be overlooking the massive promulgation of that idea by both the Clinton and Obama administrations.  We have reached the point that many in our society (especially among our policymakers) believe government serves little or no purpose , other than to militarily protect us, and even that can be privatized.  But the corollary of that idea is that business’ goal is and should be profit, not providing for the “greater good” when it does not profit the business.  As a result we have a system where no one wants to fund the local government schools, and businesses only want to run schools if they provide substantial profit, a situation which does not serve our children well, and leaves many out.

There have been other ratios of blended government-private management of the nation in other times, than the current extreme view that holds only private enterprise will work.  

In the case of education, who manages it, local governments or private businesses, should not be the major question.   The major questions are:
•         Do ALL children get equal access to a strong, vibrant, positive education?
•         Does the education we provide, provide for the current and long-term  social and economic health of individuals, our communities, and the nation?
•         Are the children and their/our future the first and compelling reason for how we run our schools systems?

2.       We allow non-education “experts” to hang up shingles and pretend that we do not know what works,
(In today’s work landscape it takes considerably more credentialing to become an Interior Designer than to be an Educational Consultant),  and we allow our schools to be sold  packaged products that fly in the face of what we already know.

We know what works in education and it’s more utilitarian than glamorous.  Here are a few items:
•         Regular attendance and consistency.   
o   The single highest predictor of success at learning and life is showing up.  Beyond that, a regular well-organized plan of instruction is needed. That means a student has to be able to get there and when they get there, it’s best if they have a known person they can rely on, who has decided what to do next.
•         Students who are ready to learn—
o   ie healthy and well-fed, not hurting, not tired, not traumatized.
•          Optimum (small) class sizes,
o   not too large, not too small. We know that over 25 is too many, and under 9 or 10 can be useful for some types of learning, but not optimum to all tasks.
•         Well-trained teachers who believe the students can learn.
o    Teachers who have both substantive knowledge in subject fields and pedagogical skills, such as classroom procedures and organization of tasks, and developmental knowledge of students at a particular level.  
•         A space that is conducive to the work of learning.
o   Clean, safe, not too hot, not too cold, with enough room for activities, and reasonably well kept including provision for human requirements like food, water, and bathrooms.
•         Materials that enable the work—
o   chairs, tables, writing & reading materials or subject area materials such as labs and lab supplies, and in today’s world some technology resources.
•         Programs that include a broad range of interests  and a plan for students to pursue,
o    ie  students learn best when they Want to Learn.  Both well planned content and electives that provide expression of their learning, hold their interests, and hook them to liking school.
•         Integration of subject fields
o   so that students can see how the world fits together.
•         Teaching of both metaskills (including design and critical thinking)  and subject specific skills
o    to enable students to learn basic knowledge and know how to learn on their own.
•         Assessment to guide both the student and teacher
o   to understand what they already know and what they have yet to learn.

Seriously, all these items are well studied and documented-- those are the basics.  The rest, many of which are pushed these days, are often not well-researched or serve other purposes than learning.

3.       We pretend there is not enough money to do the job well, while throwing money at outrageous initiatives that don’t contribute to learning, and while spending large proportions of our budgets on measuring rather than learning.

The fact of the matter is that we are the richest nation that has ever existed on the face of the planet.  If we do not have enough money to graciously and completely educate the current and future generations, no one ever has or ever will.   We hide money in tax deferments and exemptions, in poorly conceived but well-sold initiatives, and in 1000 boondoggle crony deals and made up spending needs outside the education arena --rather than just paying the bill to provide for our children.  As a nation we have become the worst kind of derelict parent, refusing to pay our child support.

4.       We allow businesses to demand that schools deliver specifically trained employees to their door with certifications, licenses, core skills, and work ethics to reduce their cost of doing business, but we do not ask them to pay their fair share to educate the workers they will need.

It’s become popular for some businesses across the country to complain that workers are not career ready, yet companies that do their due diligence in workforce training do well—only those who refuse to do the needed job specific training are without the kind of workers they need, and some businesses that object to paying US citizens are more than willing to hire non-U.S. workers who were often U.S. educated, at lower pay and pay immigration costs, along with training supports for them – rather than hiring our own STEM graduates.  Demanding schools do career specific training is a bogus and ill-calculated set of requirements that cannot be effective in a working environment that is expected to change at the speed of light in the present and near future.  Do career electives fit in, for heightening interest for students and helping them career select? Sure it does, but providing an ever rolling set of workplace training programs for businesses while relieving them of responsibility for job training is hardly appropriate.

5.       We insist we want to educate all children equally well, but sabotage poor districts when they do well.

We accuse poor districts of cheating or demand they change what they are doing when their kids do as well as those in affluent neighborhoods, and often deliberately destabilize schools to provide business opportunities for edu-preneurs.  We quite frankly, won’t allow them to succeed, as though it would somehow hurt our more favored children if those with less thrived.

I have watched this in person, as schools in poorer neighborhoods developed programs and sought and received  grants to raise the quality of school for their children, only to be blocked or accused of nefarious means when the district or state saw the scores. It is one of the ways bias creates a no-win situation for poor kids and their teachers  daily in our society.

6.       We know from studies that the quality of teachers is the primary determiner, outside of quality of homelife and basic health, in whether a child/children learn well.  Yet, we continue to micro-manage, undermine, underpay, and refuse to listen to teachers who have consistently performed well.

The members of the one profession which has delivered for over 100 years a populace educated enough to bring us to the pinnacle of nations as innovators, workers and creators in virtually every field. Yet, we rarely believe teachers have anything to contribute to management decisions or the public conversation on education.

7.       We continue to report and accept reports of school performance based on invalid and useless test scores as though they meant something, when in fact the measure of a good school is in the quality of their teachers, the breadth and depth of their programs, and the sustained time and monetary investment of the community they serve.

8.       We allow people to publicly lie about our schools, the children in them, and the people who work for them without contesting or refuting what they say on a regular basis—even as we know they are lying and know it is with malevolent intent.

From the constantly circulating memes that imply or openly say that schools do not say the pledge of allegiance to the much more sophisticated state cut scores that are decided after the tests based on how many children test proponents have decided Should fail; people lie constantly and pervasively about our schools.  From accusations that we are values bereft, to those that we are academically bankrupt the enemies of locally run and funded public schools say and do outrageously dishonest things, but expect to be credited with having the kids’ needs at heart because they are holding teachers accountable.  The master lie, is that it’s about the kids.  Whether you are a philanthropist, a consultant, a vendor, a trainer, a schools company executive, a politician, policymaker, or an upper level manager,

If you lie in order to denigrate others based on ideology, or to make money—IT IS NOT BECAUSE YOU CARE ABOUT THE CHILDREN.

So I would ask as loudly as internet etiquette and the gods of human decency will allow,

Are you going to educate the children of this nation or not?

Because right now, Or Not, is winning.

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