I recently passed the five-year anniversary of when I started writing my blog. What has changed? In this post, I analyze some of the issues I’ve written about over the years. Then, I thank you for your support.
Change or lack of change in education can seem dark and foreboding, but there’s a great deal of hope too. Where does one find such hope? Parents and teachers are savvy and willing to speak out about the issues affecting children and their public schools.
In poor schools across the nation, children still don’t have access to the arts. Not only is this detrimental to students but it takes a toll on the arts in society. Every student deserves access to the arts which include visual art, drawing, dance, acting, and music. The arts keep students in school and can lead to jobs in the future.
President Obama began Turnaround Arts in 2011. It is a partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. But the arts should never have been removed from public schools in the first place, and many schools still omit formal art and music classes from the curriculum. It’s not fair that only some students get the arts.
I don’t know of anything President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos do for the arts in schools.
Charter schools are another maneuver to segregate students. Creating two systems means resources are stretched and neither system works well.
We have a few elite private schools for the rich. Most charter schools for the poor stress rigor and strict compliance. Charter school managers seem to believe that poor students need strict behavioral control.
Charters divert funds from real public schools. If they close they get to keep the money! They’ve never proven to be better schools. A good example is the Achievement School District in Memphis, a group of charters which have consistently failed to produce favorable results.
This critical issue is still ignored when safety is discussed by bureaucrats. Yet lowering class size would improve academic results and provide teachers with manageable numbers of students. Teachers who know their students and the problems they face might avert catastrophes.
Private schools advertise smaller class sizes because they understand how important it is for teachers to get to know their students.
Leonie Haimson’s Class Size Matters is a clearinghouse which provides a wealth of information about the importance of reduced class size.
Common Core State Standards
Common Core is also called “Next Generation.” The assessment tied to CCSS, PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment have been dropped in many states. Fears now surround competency-based education, or personalized learning. Parents recognize that standardized tests are morphing into online, nonstop testing.
The indiscriminate misuse of student data is next to safety one of a parent’s biggest fears. To lose control of who sees your child’s information, and how that information is used, is alarming. Weakened FERPA laws add credence to these concerns. Compromising such data for advertisement and for companies to target students to do jobs in the future is concerning.
Online assessments misrepresenting a student’s personal information could be life-ruining.
Even posting a child’s progress on data walls for everyone to see should be a violation of a child’s privacy. Any information about children should be between teachers, children, parents and those responsible for helping students. There was a reason this information was once kept in a locked filing cabinet.
Early Childhood Education
Politicians still talk about the need for preschool education. Like reading, there’s a push to make children learn faster. There’s still too much testing and not enough play.
This maligned subject continues to be pushed ferociously by school reformers. The media unfortunately helps them by promoting a reading “emergency” instead of insisting on smaller class sizes and better resources for reading teachers.
Shame on you Chicago Tribune for greeting kindergartners this school year by harshly judging them for what they don’t know. I appreciate this rebuttal.
My favorite post is about how wrong it is to push children to read before they’re ready. It’s still the most popular post at 85k likes so readers must agree with me. We need to make reading the joyful activity it is, and help those students who struggle, with reading curriculums that work!
There’s been some improvement here. More children get at least one break during the school day. But it’s not enough. Elementary students deserve several breaks without micromanaging by adults. There’s evidence to show recess helps children focus better on school work.
These breaks should not be structured physical education classes through non-profit or for-profit groups. Recess should be time for children to get a respite from academics to play the way they choose. Supervision should be from afar.
Activists like Florida parent Heather Mellet and Arizonan’s for Recess and School Wellness have fought to bring back this critical part of schooling. I am especially proud to know these well-spoken parents who fight for all children, not just their own.
Middle and high school students deserve some informal chance to socialize too. All students deserve time and space to recharge.
The research has been strong against retention throughout the years, so it is nothing but draconian that states like Michigan have signed onto it. Having taught students with reading difficulties, I always question how students with learning disabilities and dyslexia can be held back. It is the state that has failed to serve these students. And it is the state that punishes them for their own mistakes when they enforce retention.
Social Emotional Learning
This sounds good at first, but the online behavioral assessment information collected on all children is unnecessary and worrisome.
School Reform: Those who now push for school reform claim they don’t like the school reforms that were put in place thirty years ago by their predecessors.
Bureaucrats like Betsy DeVos have ignored gun control, but there has also been no discussion of lowering class size and truly personalizing learning (not talking about computers) so that students feel they have someone to talk to in school. More counselors and smaller classes are real solutions that no one, thus far, considers.
We need a continuum of services and a way to extinguish harmful stigmatizing of students with disabilities, or giftedness. Parents are promised the glory of inclusion, which often turns into a nightmare. Funding stops short of assisting students to thrive in general classes which can be too large and impersonal. Smaller class sizes would be helpful.
Politicians have never wanted to fund special education. States like Texas turn this into a reality by creating policy that denies services to children. Education secretaries like Duncan and DeVos chip away at such services. But parents need to be wary of private or parochial schools. Here what to consider.
Students are still over-tested, but focus is changing to concern about data collected on students, including sensitive personal information obtained through social emotional learning assessments and nonstop online testing.
Reformers still claim there’s a teaching shortage. Maybe there is. But they do nothing to help teachers, or make the profession more attractive. Instead, they support turnaround groups like Teach for America, Teaching Fellows, and Relay Graduate School of Education.
Schools should always evolve, and technology has much to offer. But there’s no proof that technology without teachers and brick-and-mortar schools will serve students well. Ask yourselves if there’s a reason why the incredibly wealthy push this ideology on our children. I have frequently written about the threat of CBE and personalized online learning. How will this serve students? I don’t always understand Wrench in the Gears, but what I do understand is frightening. Save Maine Schools, Missouri Education Watchdog, Seattle Education the Network for Public Education and other blogs address this growing concern. Teachers are in danger of losing their jobs to machines. Children are in danger of losing their schools.
It’s amazing that anyone would believe that vouchers will work. An opinion piece in USA Today reminds us that it’s useless to compare test scores of private and public schools. Private schools are selective. Public schools serve all children.
There are many more issues. It’s always difficult to choose what topic to write about because there are so many concerns. But I continue to believe that good public schools that are democratic and open to all children is within our grasp!
I have made many friends since I started this endeavor. I began my blog after writing two books about schools and reform.
I am grateful for having been re-posted, interviewed, and mentioned by Diane Ravitch, the Badass Teachers Association, Garn Press, Curmudgucation, Seattle Education, Parents Across America, Accountabaloney, The Answer Sheet, Defending the Early Years, Living in Dialogue, Teacher in a Strange Land, The War Report on Public Education, Live Long and Prosper, The Rick Smith Show, Edutopia, Rochester SAGE – Supporting Advanced & Gifted Education, and for having my posts mentioned by Thomas Ultican, Mike Simpson, and others
Sharing thoughts about public schools and how children learn best has been especially interesting to me through comments on my posts. I may not always agree, but debate is the heart and soul of this country and I am happy my blog contributes to that.
I also want to thank the following post contributors to my blog:
- Monica Kounter
- Marcie Lipsett
- Mark Naison
- Joanne C. Simpson
- Leah K. Stewart
- David H. Rose
Many thanks also to my friends across the pond, Roger Titcombe and John Mountford.
My website is a work in progress. I try to add blogs and books and update information. If you want your work highlighted there let me know. If I missed someone or an important group remind me and I will add.
I want to especially thank all the parents and teachers who stand up for children and public schools and who have been my friends.
On with the next five years!
Monica Kounter says
Nancy thank you for all you are trying to do for children with special needs as well as public education itself. Although I homeschool my son with special needs because of what he experienced in school, I recognize that it is not a solution that is possible for everyone. We need to make sure that our students are receiving the best, Individualized education. The current standards based education is the antithesis of what the IDEA is supposed to provide. Keep up the good work!
Nancy Bailey says
I appreciate your post, Monica. You’re insight on education is spot on. Thank you.
Rick Bobrick says
Here is what has not changed. Five consecutive years of FAILED reform laws, policies, programs, and products. By their very own metric (test scores) nothing they have done has significantly budged the needle. Standards-based, test-and-punish reform is an abject FAILURE. The next five years? Ha! Watch that well known definition of insanity prove us point blank crazy.
Nancy Bailey says
The hope is in the parents and educators who are realizing what they are going to lose. But you make a point, Rick, that’s hard to deny. Thanks.
Roy Turrentine says
Thanks for the blog. I always enjoy your pointed comments on relavent issues.
Your comments on retention remind me that the general public mostly knows education from their own experience. So many times I have been approached by someone who wanted to tell me that the problem with education is that we do not hold kids back. They remember kids being held back when they were young, so that particular policy is what they remember.
Retention seems to me to be the natural result of underfunding in schools. In years past, students who did not learn were retained at least in part to provide punishment for improper behavior. Those involved justified the policy with the idea that it was upholding some standard of excellence.
Rick Bobrick says
Academic rigor, high expectations, world class standards, and college and career readiness have been the promise of the modern school reform movement. However, most middle schools hide a “dirty-little-secret” that undermines these very ideals: social promotion policies that enable and encourage too many students to take a free pass to the next grade level – and on into high school. Those who support these lofty educational principles and support social promotion cannot have it both ways. Anyone who thinks otherwise simply does not understand the mind set of most middle school students and their preference for the ‘path of least resistance’.
Those who argue against retention, support social promotion because some studies show that the small number of students who are held back for a year receive little if any academic benefit, that they may develop poor self-esteem, and that they may even be more likely to drop out of school.
Opponents of social promotion, like myself, believe that a middle school program that does not set substantive academic goals gives students nothing to strive for; that a free ride to the next grade fails to instill the necessary work habits required for high school success. A related concern is that promotion awarded with little effort, achievement, or even seat time (attendance) can give students a false sense of accomplishment, sending them on to the next grade entitled yet unprepared. Detractors also believe that social promotion is a strong force that works against the high academic expectations established. After moving up to high school, freshmen often find themselves up against strict graduation requirements that diametrically oppose the free ride that social promotion allowed. For many, the lack of academic momentum they bring into high school becomes a major impediment to success. From the standpoint of teachers, social promotion effectively removes one of the most important motivational levers in their toolbox: classes that “count”. Middle schools that have adopted a policy of social promotion have an unspoken message for their students: we have no serious expectations for you and we are unwilling to hold you accountable for your efforts and achievements. Those of us who favor fair and reasonable promotion/retention policies believe that they provide a benefit to all students in the form of motivation and incentive.
I believe that the opponents of middle school retention can now be convinced to adopt the new and innovative ‘Fresh-Starts’ promotion program developed by our district that aligns with the philosophy of restorative justice. This new promotion program for middle school students provides a fair and effective alternative to social promotion by doing away with the traditional 40 week time frame for success that disadvantages so many marginal students. Instead students now earn independent course credits at the end of each 10 week marking period. Awarding credits every 10 weeks is the key feature, providing short term credit goals to help students stay focused and motivated. The ‘Fresh-Starts’ grade level promotion program is kinder, gentler, highly motivational, yet more academically demanding. It is now, after seven years of implementation, a proven promotion policy that instills consistent work habits and most importantly, provides multiple chances for students to re-set their academic opportunities without being penalized by previous failure. The ‘Fresh-Starts’ program also accomplishes what none of the traditional middle school promotion policies do: it promotes the work habits required in high school by making every class “count” – and it introduces the concept of credit-based success. ‘Fresh-Starts’ is also free, easy to implement, user friendly, with no new teacher demands. I will be happy to provide any teacher or administrator detail on the program.
Nancy Bailey says
Sounds interesting, Rick. I look forward to checking Fresh Starts out.
Anyone who favors retention should visit a middle school class that includes students who have been retained. They’re usually far more developed than their peers, stand out uncomfortably, and are either bullied or bullies. It is heartbreaking.
Rick Bobrick says
I would be happy to send you, or your readers, more information on our ‘Fresh-Starts’ program.
In the seven years since its implementation at our middle school, our high school graduation rate has increased from 59% to 80%. Of course other factors have contributed to this increase, but we know that sending students with good work habits and an understanding of a credit system into high school has helped significantly.
Our middle school retention rate under ‘Fresh-Starts’ runs about 3% to 5%.
The small handful of students retained typically have maturity issues. We find that the extra year in 8th grade is beneficial before entering high school and the fairly rigorous demands of the NYS 22 credit HS graduation requirement.. Principal and parent discretion still apply and we do have a very small number of students who are socially promoted if they are too old or too mature to continue in middle school.
Roy Turrentine says
Rick: I do not like social promotion either. I do consider it a natural result of claiming high standards (whatever that may be perceived to be) and underfunding schools.
I taught at an alternative school years ago that tried the approach you describe. It worked fairly well in many ways, and failed in others. I assume you agree that it is more expensive than social promotion.
We need to try new avenues like you describe. And we need to provide the funds.
Rick Bobrick says
‘Fresh-Starts’ is FREE, No new teacher demands either. And it now has a proven track record in our middle school with a challenging population. ‘Fresh-Starts’ also allows for customizing promotion requirements to fit any student demographic. It is not magical by any means but the academic demand are simple, concrete, fair, and reasonable. It has really resonated (makes sense) with our students as they keep track of quarterly credits as they progress through the school year. Not surprisingly it has nearly 100% support of teachers, administrators, counsellors, and parents. It has been an absolute game changer for our students.. One other local district has adopted ‘Fresh-Starts’ and the building principal called it the best thing they have ever done to improve student work habits and attitude.
Remember you cannot support high standards AND social promotion.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Roy!
John Mountford says
Congratulation, Nancy. Thank you, too for your kind words. It has always been rewarding to follow your insightful posts.
I am re-reading Ishmael – by Daniel Quinn with my coming-up thirteen year old grandson – a joy and privelege I might add.
At an early point in the novel, Ishmael is in conversation with his new ‘student’. The student is talking about his time in high school when he wrote a short story for a philosophy assignment about how things might have been different if the Nazis had won the war. He explores how history would have changed, affecting the lives of ordinary people. The conversation follows the line of the victor getting to write history in support of their case. The question of being lied to under such one-sided outcomes arises. The student admits to still feeling this way but not to the extent he did when he was younger.
“And do you still wonder if you’ve been lied to?”
“Yes, but not as desperately as I did then.”
“Not as desperately? Why is that?”
“Because I’ve found out that, as a practical matter, it doesn’t make any difference. Whether we are being lied to or not, we still have to get up and go to work and pay the bills and all the rest.”
“Unless, of course, you all began to suspect you were being lied to – and all found out what the lie was.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you alone found out what the lie was, then you’re probably right – it would make no great difference. But if you all found out what the lie was, it might conceivably make a very great difference indeed.”
“Then that is what we must hope for.”
Pardon my indulgence in adding such a long response. I add it because we are all being lied to in a ‘one-sided’situation. It would be understandable if we believed we are helpless in the face of such raw power wielded by the giants who seek to set the agenda. The future does not belong to them, so in the words of Ishmael, if we all saw what the lie was, it might conceivably make a very great difference indeed. Thank you for exposing the lies and exaggerated claims made out of misguided self interest.
I leave the final words to Ishmael.- “we must hope” – hope that “if you all found out what the lie was, it might conceivably make a very great difference indeed.”
Roy Turrentine says
Call me, Ishmael.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, John. I appreciate this response. I also worry about being lied to and the gaslighting that takes place when questioning the lies. I’m thinking of all the teachers who work with children every day. The job is becoming increasingly difficult and there’s a really fear that unproven technology will replace them in the not so distant future. .
ciedie aech says
NANCY: YOU HAVE certainly helped to educate me, time after time! I am very grateful.
Nancy Bailey says
I am grateful for YOU, Ciedie!