A Conversation About “The BluePrint”

Massie Ritsch http://twitter.com/ED_Outreach (link to his appearance on The Colbert Report) with the US Department of Education, and a teacher on special assignment named Jose Rodriguez, contacted me through Twitter after I made a few comments about the ESEA “Blueprint” We talked for close to an hour and they allowed me to dump most of my concerns and issues on them.

They were very respectful and supportive and allowed me to carry on and on (as I’m known to do) about the issues … dang I start out slow and get rolling along and become an avalanche about a third of the way through … I just get way too fired up. I know that’s mostly a good thing, but afterwards I always figure I’m way too over the top.

Massie and Jose explained that one of the changes I would probably like is that if a student demonstrates progress (say a 4th grader moves from high 1st grade level in reading to third) then not only would the school not be sanctioned but possibly rewarded. Definitely a positive change. They also feel the grants for science and the arts and other long neglected subjects that states CAN apply for might help alleviate the very narrowed curriculum students of poverty endure.

I pointed out that one of my major concerns was the wording. When the document says that states MAY apply, then we are probably right back to a narrowed curriculum because the people that make decisions at the state, school board and district / administration level will too often not value those education pieces for our at risk students, or fall prey to the politics and bad assumption that kids need to have mastered the “basics” first without understanding that when they miss all that schema development, reading becomes a boring chore instead of a window on the world. BTW – “states may choose / school districts may decide” was the same kind of wording that was in NCLB that infuriated so many of us (because mostly they didn’t decide to do those things).

I said the same about innovation … don’t give us 4 “models” to fit into that are narrow charter models obviously designed by the Broad and Gates people that have infiltrated positions in the Ed Department, give us REAL opportunities to innovate. I’ve mentioned often that the “Programs” pushed by the textbook companies are not making teachers more accountable, they are giving teachers cover. “I followed the research based reading and math programs to the letter. My principal observed me doing so and has copies of my lesson plans that follow the program to the letter. Oh, our test scores are too low? Don’t look at me, I followed the ‘research based’ program. Talk to admin and the school board that chose the program and requires us to follow it.”

They had me describe how I use 21st century tools in my teaching and said they were impressed … but I mentioned that much of what I do I have to “get away with” (sort of) … isn’t really the “program” I am supposed to be using. I have to get the required pieces out of the way so I can get to the meaty stuff. Therefore how can that be a model for others?

We also discussed the “all education problems would be solved if we just had good teachers” message that runs throughout. They claim that they realize that is harsh language, but that they understand that there are many other contributing factors. I suspect that this is another of those, “let’s appear to be tough to get the legislation passed pieces.”

In the end I mentioned I hope this wasn’t just a “let them vent and maybe they’ll feel better session.” That issues and concerns they are gleaning from these talks might REALLY be considered. They said they took notes, they assured me that Arne Duncan was listening and is aware that there are concerns.

The upshot I think is that educators, coming off the last 10 years of NCLB disconnects and disappointments, were and are caught up in that “Yes We Can!” attitude and expecting great and profound changes in “schooling”. So many see so much potential, need and opportunity for change and how a new pedagogy could transform education for all … and this legislation just isn’t going to get us there, or even a good chunk of the way there anytime soon.

It is an improvement, but political realities, societal understandings (or misunderstandings) and the difficulty humans have with change are not going to bring us fulfillment through this bill … but to put a positive spin on the situation, at least maybe the process (after the healthcare mess is over?), will bring at least a modicum of national focus and discourse as the “ESEA blueprint” moves up the agenda?

Learning is messy!

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4 thoughts on “A Conversation About “The BluePrint”

  1. I’ve also had an opportunity to funnel some feedback to the DOE by way of the Teaching Ambassadors program. They assure me that we’re being heard when we speak from the classroom. I can only assume that our voices are drowned out by better connected better financed and better financed parties who are working a political angle more than a pedagogical one. We need more teachers and parents to get fired up about what really works for our students and schools. I hate hearing stories about innovative teachers who have to act in sly and subversive ways to do the right thing – challenge and engage their students in real learning!

  2. I don’t think you (or anyone) can be over the top when we are arguing for the survival of our education system – our country. What we do not need is an under-educated workforce – just what NCLB and the new version of NCLB seems to working towards. Now don’t get me wrong – kids need to know how to read and write. But that alone will make them illiterate!

    Yes, illiterate. (Now I am being over the top!) Kids who can not use 21st century tools and do not have 21st century skills will not be able to compete against my kids! They will just be smarter McDonald’s employees. But they will not be the kind of employee that has the skills and knowledge to truly compete in a global economy. (Actually, if you buy my logic, you will notice that my last statement is incorrect. After all, there are McDonald’s world wide!)

    This is what I ask of anyone who reads this. Keep advocating! If we can not fix the system from the top (which would be quick and easy), then we need to take the slow, methodical method. Yes, Brian, even though you may think that you are not making a difference, you do! At worse, you will make a difference for the students in your class. I envy you for that. But I really hope that you – and others like you – will eventually bring sanity back to education. Give us students that are educated and ready to compete in the 21st century, not kids that are under-educated because we have lost sight of what a good education system is!

  3. I’m with you on yes we can Brian.

    Not only with you but thanks to you.
    It was over a year ago that I was first directed to you to learn about Skype.. my – how that has changed my world.