Monday, October 11, 2010

Education "Reform" Should be Child-Centered

Self proclaimed education experts have recently ignited an anti-teacher "reform" frenzy aimed at fixing America's so called "failing" public schools. Sunday's Washington Post ran a teacher-bashing, anti-union manifesto written by education leaders who want to fix public schools by getting rid of all those "bad teachers." How to fix our schools: A manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders

The authors of this manifesto want to close down the public schools that have been labeled as "failing" because they don't measure up to unrealistic Federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) standards. The experts are allying with business leaders and super rich big shots like Bill Gates, who have given millions of dollars to charter schools. See Leonie Haimson: Education Indoctrination for an insightful outline about what's going on. Their plan is to convince legislators to mandate even more testing, to use these standardized test scores to measure teacher performance, and to fire more teachers. Their ultimate goal is to privatize public education in the name of "reform."

Myths and fakers
There is no evidence that any of these untested ideas and punitive measures from the so called experts have ever worked to improve student learning outcomes. But let's First, Bash the Teachers. This corporate friendly reform, embraced by big media pundits and politicians, places the blame on teachers/unions, perpetuates myths about failing schools, and touts charter schools as the panacea for saving education. It's a fake reform revolution fueled by anti-teacher bias that cuts across liberal/conservative lines. The Myth of the “Bad Teacher” | nails it. It is disappointing that the Obama administration is funding these bad ideas that will do nothing to improve our schools and will ultimately harm our children and society. And it's the children who should be at the center of any real reform. Right now, meeting the needs of the child is not a priority. Teacher Anthony Cody brilliantly refutes every point made by Rhee and the "leaders" in A Manifesto of Errors.

Real Solutions

Real reform should be written and administered by expert teachers, and should be child-centered. See
Home — Whole Child Education. Reformers should not ignore real socio-economic problems. Public schools should be improved, not shut down. Children growing up in poverty are experiencing many stresses including mental and physical health problems, parents losing jobs, the burden of additional home, work, and family responsibilities. For many kids the only nutritious meal they will get is the school lunch. If a child's basic needs are not met, then the child will not learn. In Allentown 25% of children are living below poverty level. See Allentown, Pennsylvania (PA) poverty rate data - information about poor and low income residents living in this city The state average is 16%.

Simple solutions like providing breakfast in class has reduced tardiness, improved student concentration and performance, eliminated disruptive behavior and visits to the nurse, and improved overall well being of students. This is being done in Allentown and it works-
Allentown: Cleveland Elementary's homeroom breakfast serves nutrition and cuts down on hunger, disruption and fighting - Social services and community outreach programs have become an afterthought to the reformers who would rather misdirect and blame those greedy teachers for letting down their students.

Research shows that early childhood education is a key component to keeping kids in school.
Exceptional Returns: Economic, Fiscal, and Social Benefits of Investment in Early Childhood Developm Mandatory pre-school and full day kindergarten are good solutions. Funding is needed for these programs. Many kids enter Kindergarten without basic language skills because parents aren't even talking to their kids.

More parent volunteers, better parenting, after-school programs, better nutrition, more recess, less testing, more authentic learning experiences (student driven, not test driven), integrating arts activities, community leaders who lead, early childhood education, empowering teachers, these are all real ways to improve public education.

Learning should be a priority

The reformers have not addressed the importance of improving student
learning, or the value of intrinsic motivation, critical thinking, and creativity. Home — Whole Child Education
These are all important skills students will need to make it in our high tech world, but are not a priority to the experts who are still promoting NCLB's narrow curriculum focused on testing, assessment, standardization, and teacher accountability. NCLB has been a failed experiment on our kids. The school curriculum has become test driven.
We must let the teachers teach! Stop belittling the important job they do. Teaching to the test is wrong and immoral. We are headed backwards on a path toward molding kids and teachers into apathetic robots who don't ask questions, and just do what they are told. But that's just how the CEO's and the powers that be like their minions to behave.

Charter school myth

Charter schools are not the panacea for improving public education. Charter schools can pick and choose students, but public schools must accept all students regardless of language, learning disabilities, handicap, etc. It is not a viable solution for
all children, and each child deserves an equal opportunity for a quality education. Charter schools contribute to racial segregation. Report Explains that Charter Schools' Political Success is a Civil Rights Failure — The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. A recent Stanford study (Charter Schools Often Worse Than Public Schools - Newsweek ) shows that 37% of charter schools delivered learning results worse than public schools, about half produced similar outcomes as public schools, and only 17% outperformed public schools. If Bill Gates, and other big shots who are bankrolling charter schools really care about disadvantaged kids, then why don't they fund programs to improve the already existing urban public schools? Schools should not be run like businesses, and children should not be treated like employees. Education is a complicated issue, and students are human beings who are best served by experienced educators who are trained to meet the needs of all their students, not CEO's who are only concerned about the bottom line. We should not be "Waiting For Superman." Take Big Business Out of Education

Allentown School District
Allentown has a new school Superintendent, the highly acclaimed and accredited former PA Secretary of Education Dr.
Gerald Zahorchak - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

He has arrived with great fanfare. He is being paid a lot (just under 200k). He has some bold ideas for improving Allentown schools, and it seems that he is well liked and everyone is excited about his vision. I hope that he is successful, but I am not going to drink the kool aid yet, since he is the guy who wrote the tests and testing legislation that has been imposed on teachers and students, and he's a politician. I want him to address the real problem in Allentown, which is poverty. I hope Dr. Zahorchak consults with experienced teachers regarding the needs of students. And if the dialogue is not centered on meeting the needs of the children but on blaming the teachers and unions, then we are lost.

Nationally, teachers
are speaking out against this nonsense. (Facebook | Speak Up For Education and Kids )

Note: the author taught art in the Allentown School District for 7 years, and serves on the MPTA Board at Muhlenberg Elementary School.