Monday, April 30, 2012

Antiquated Models Go Flying By

It was a clear blue sky last week when I saw the unusual sight flying over my home. One vessel carrying another that is being laid to rest somewhere for others to visit and admire in a museum, somewhere, though it doesn't work anymore, and will never take off again. For those of you that think I am talking about the space shuttle Discovery flying on a modified Boeing 737, you are wrong. I am describing the antiquated model of what once was referred to as the public school system that promised a quality education to every child based on a fiscal foundation that guaranteed solvency and support from the government.

All too often in many localities this time of year, complaints about taxes that are too high, the ineffective school system and the overpaid teachers are the culprits responsible for this mess. Or, you will see and hear the attacks on teachers and their unions, unable to understand how they can selfishly accept contractual increases while everyone else is suffering.

If you live in NYS, you would also be confronted by the "bully-in-chief" in the form of the Governor of the State, that has never attended a public school, and acts as if his goal is to eliminate funding in schools permanently from the NYS budget.

Despite the great recession of 2008, funding for schools has always been an issue in this country, and with the suggestions and mandates to reform funding by judicial departments, the matter is still bedraggled, and hesitantly attended to.

Maybe it is time to aggressively consider a new model for public funding of education. One that is attuned to the message received from Washington DC about more competition, and more student achievement. What that model would officially look like, no one can say. But, all we have to do is wait and look for antiquated models flying piggy-back on the public sentiment and governmental control to figure out, this current plan is not working any more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Are Schools Inspiring Creativity?

I would like to think that there are many great qualities that come out of working, learning, and teaching in public schools. Things such as scholarship, academic achievements, academic discipline, research, rigor, and intellectual capacity are but a few. But, what of the area of creativity?

Sure, we have special subjects such as art, music, technology, etc, but they are not so creative as following the work of someone else and attempting to make intellectual sense from it. In fact, few activities in a school, with the exception of the inspired teaching of the chosen few, make the grade in offering children a chance to sprout creative wings.

Public schools, for all of their other issues, follow 19th Century, assembly-line, factory-driven instructional formats. It's the "one size fits all" paradigm, where each student is compartmentalized into a smorgasbord of classes, each and every day throughout a child's education. Given the added demands of state and local assessments to prove children may be learning something,and teachers are teaching something, the opportunity to foster creativity, exploration, and manipulation in a child's environment are quite limited, if they exist at all.

We need a renewed dedication to finding the time, the resources, and the challenges to inspire creativity in our students, as well as our faculties. In the April 25, 2012 NYTimes, columnist David Brooks does an excellent piece on this idea. He writes:
"The Creative Monopoly"
"Think about the traits that creative people possess. Creative people don’t follow the crowds; they seek out the blank spots on the map. Creative people wander through faraway and forgotten traditions and then integrate marginal perspectives back to the mainstream. Instead of being fastest around the tracks everybody knows, creative people move adaptively through wildernesses nobody knows."

Just imagine the curricular opportunities that would abound if a segment of each week was dedicated to student creative research projects. Students pursuing their own interests in a discerning and creative manner, mentored by their teachers, not dominated by them. Allowing them a chance to sprout their creative wings to reach for the stars. For as Mr. Brooks asserts: "We live in a culture that nurtures competitive skills. And they are necessary: discipline, rigor and reliability. But it’s probably a good idea to try to supplement them with the skills of the creative monopolist: alertness, independence and the ability to reclaim forgotten traditions."

After all, a culture that fails to inspire imagination will be a forgotten remnant of it's existence.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Letter from Will Richardson:

I could not resist sharing this letter from Will Richardson, especially as the testing madness begins, again:

To the Editor:
After much thought, we have decided to keep our son home during the 7th Grade NJ ASK standardized assessments that are being given in his school next week. It is our legal right to do so, and we are basing this decision on our serious concerns about what the test itself is doing to our son’s opportunity to receive a well-rounded, relevant education, and because of the intention of state policy makers to use the test in ways it was never intended to be used. These concerns should be shared by every parent and community member who wants our children to be fully prepared for the much more complex and connected world in which they will live, and by those who care about our ability to flourish as a country moving forward.
Our current school systems and assessments were created for a learning world that is quickly disappearing. In his working life, my son will be expected to solve real world problems, create and share meaningful work with the world, make sense of reams of unedited digital information, and regularly work with others a half a world away using computers and mobile devices. The NJ ASK tells us nothing about his ability or preparedness to do that. The paper and pencil tasks given on the test provide little useful information on what he has learned that goes beyond what we can see for ourselves on a daily basis and what his teachers relay to us through their own assessments in class. We implicitly trust the caring professionals in our son’s classroom to provide this important, timely feedback as opposed to a single data point from one test, data that is reported out six months later without any context for areas where he may need help or remediation. In short, these tests don’t help our son learn, nor do they help his teachers teach him.
In addition, the test itself poses a number of problems:
•Over the years, the “high stakes” nature of school evaluation has narrowed instruction to focus on only those areas that are tested. This has led to reductions in the arts, languages, physical education and more.
•Research has shown that high scores can be achieved without any real critical thinking or problem solving ability.
•The huge amount of tax dollars that are being spent on creating, delivering and scoring the tests, dollars that are going to businesses with, no surprise, powerful lobbyists in the state capitol and in Washington, DC, is hugely problematic.
•Proposals to use these test scores for up to 50% of a teacher’s evaluation are equally problematic. The tests were not created for such a use, and to create even higher stakes for the NJ ASK will only create more test prep in our classrooms at the expense of the relevant, authentic, real world learning that our students desperately need.
•These tests create unnecessary anxiety and stress in many students who feel immense pressure to do well.

In no way are we taking this step because our dissatisfaction with our son’s public school, the teachers and administrators there, or our school board. We have simply had enough of national and state policies that we feel are hurting the educational opportunities for all children. At the end of the day, we don’t care what our son scores on a test that doesn’t measure the things we hold most important in his education: the development of his interest in learning, his ability to use the many resources he has at his disposal to direct his own learning, and his ability to work with others to create real world solutions to the problems we face. And we feel our tax dollars are better spent supporting our schools and our teachers who will help him reach those goals as well as the goals detailed by the state standards in ways that are more relevant, engaging and important than four days of testing could ever accomplish.
Will and Wendy Richardson
Delaware Township