I’m Just Asking … Is Our Education Plan The Best We Can Do?

Dear President Obama and Nation:

Here we are well into the 21st century, and through the “Race To The Top” legislation we are about to spend more good money after bad tweaking a centuries old model for education instead of doing the real work of looking at where we are and where we have come from. What other models are there that have a track record of success? Should we look at what schools could be and perhaps should be, and doing what’s best for our students and our country? Should we be trying as many models as we can to learn what works NOW instead of what worked before and during the industrial revolution?

It seems to me we owe it to our children, and the future of our country to ask the tough questions and do our best to develop the best education system possible, instead of patching up a system that has been in place since the American Revolution.

Are the assessments we are using the best? Are they actually very poor? Just what we have so let’s use those? If they are not the best, why are we racing to get to their top? Why not develop quality assessments first, that actual people that are education experts agree are appropriate? Same with the standards. Do the standards actually make sense? I mean really … do you/we know? Should we look at the standards from the countries that score the highest in the world and learn from them? Maybe before we spend 5 billion dollars “racing to the top” we should spend some time and money making sure the race has the best goal possible? Otherwise how will we know if we are really “at the top?”

“Data driven” decisions can be very powerful. If good, meaningful data is used that is based on well crafted, sensical standards that are grounded on what is actually important and achievable by students (All students? Most students? Some students?). Can all students do as well as all other students in every subject? If not, do the standards reflect that? Does making every child take a college prep curriculum regardless of their abilities in certain subjects best? It seems it is exclusionary at best and purposely setting schools and children up for failure at worst.

If our schools are basically still following a design from well over 100 years ago, is it time to re-visit that design? It seems like we have done that in business, health and every other field. Would you want to go to a hospital designed 100 years ago that has been been barley updated? Wouldn’t now be a good time to do that before we hold people accountable and spend billions of dollars?

Stating that we understand that children of poverty lacking proper nutrition, healthcare and support are destined for failure in school. And therefore we are attempting to pass healthcare legislation, without tying the access to healthcare, nutrition and support to when we can hold schools and teachers accountable, is at best disingenuous. If students are destined for failure without those pieces, and they are not in place yet, how can we legitimately hold schools and teachers accountable?

What percentage of the “blame” for America’s educational failings is the teachers’ and schools’ fault? 100%? 90%? 80% … 10% ? Do we really know? What else contributes to our educational failings? Are we holding them accountable too? Or are we addressing issues that hold students back? Are we taking these other contributing factors into account before we hold schools, teachers and students accountable? Wouldn’t that make sense?

Is one of the issues that holds our schools back that maybe there is little to no consensus on what schools are for anymore?

Why is it that in national polls schools are thought to be doing poorly, but when parents are asked about their child’s school the polls come out on the positive side? Does that demonstrate the results of negative media coverage shaping a general belief that schools are doing poorly but my own experience is that my children’s school is doing OK?

If one of the guiding principles behind “Race To The Top” is “innovating our schools,” wouldn’t it be key to promote REAL innovation? Currently RTTT only supports a certain very narrow range of school model that relies on only standardized test scores to drive and assess student learning and success (and again are those test valid? The best tests?). Is that REAL innovation? Is it a model with a long term consistent record of achievement for ALL students? Do these schools that we are using as models accept and take as many students with special education needs and behavior issues as the public schools they are being compared to? If not, then how is that a proven track record? Again, shouldn’t we be looking at all kinds of models that perhaps lead us to many successful models?

Why is it that those that are pushing the specific charter school model don’t send their own children to the schools they promote as being superior models of educational achievement? Is sending children to a school that severely narrows the curriculum for its students really better for them? Who says so? Are they really correct? Have we effectively discussed and studied the ramifications of that policy? How many would send their own children to those schools? Or are these schools only good enough for THOSE students? Isn’t that a form of apartheid?

I’m just asking.

Learning is messy!

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5 thoughts on “I’m Just Asking … Is Our Education Plan The Best We Can Do?

  1. Brian,

    I don’t even know where to start. You have made so many points! And I would have to agree with the way you phrase them. They are in the form of a challenge, a question, a debate. And if we are to truly provide the best education for our children, we had better start having some serious conversations, some serious dialogue, some serious discourse. If there was to be a debate, I know you and I lean toward the same answers. But I also know that you and I don’t think we know it all.

    But wouldn’t you love to to take Socrates and give Plato to two educators that lean toward different answers and have that discourse? It would certainly be entertaining if not down right educational!

  2. Brian,

    We need to be asking lots of questions. We also need to dispel the notion that to question is not to be confused with being an obstacle.
    Though there is much I would want to comment on, I will just reflect on your 3rd paragraph on assessments. I think we tend to focus on what we test. Maybe we should first determine what our goals are for student learning, thinking and skills. Then decide what is test able and what is not. I tend to think we have thrown out the unmeasurable and no longer include it in our schools to our students detriment. Back in the 70’s and 80’s when the first International Tests on Math and Science came out, the US did poorly on those tests, yet we were an economic, academic, and industrial powerhouse. Maybe we were just teaching some thing different?

  3. Brian,

    Fundamentally, you bring up one of two choices: fix what we have, or start over. I appreciate all the time you put into writing this post, but recognize that it is one of hundreds of posts asking the same questions. Maybe thousands! And these are the same issues that have been addressed in a hundred school districts (maybe thousands!), only to then move on to the next hemorrhage in a never-ending chain of repair actions. I characterize this as ‘bandaids on a gushing head wound.’ There are too many foundational flaws in the public education system to attempt to correct it at the surface, we need to address the roots.

    Our current system is based on outdated determinants (the agrarian calendar and the industrial age ‘basic skills’ requirements), has grown grossly capital intensive, and produces vastly disparate results from one town to the next. It cannot support what we now know about learning styles, cultural differences, and the overwhelming burden of spectrum disorders and other health impediments to group learning environments.

    I propose we instead address this question: “If we could start over and create a new public education system with no preconceived ideas of what education is, who receives it and how—what would it look like?” I have taken a stab at such a system on allnewpubliceducation.com where I welcome your comments and ideas. As I wrote in my letter to the President, “We are a nation of innovators well equipped to revolutionize this most important of our legacy systems.”

    I applaud your thoughts and efforts to raise awareness and commitment on the part of the Administration and the world. Please consider adding your support to the pages I have set up on Facebook and LinkedIn, both titled LONG Overdue: Reboot Public Education, in the hopes that together we convince the most influential President this country has had in a decade that while we know he must continue programs that patch the broken system he adopted, we also hope that he can mobilize a team to design the next public education system for the benefit of the world’s children.

    Finally, I want to draw your attention to a discussion held on Twitter every Monday night at 9 PM EST that uses the hashtag ecosys (#ecosys). You can join in, everyone is welcome. The wiki for the group is at http://ecosysedu.pbworks.com and there is a lot of background information on what the group intends to do. If you have any questions, feel free to comment here or email me. I will check back.

    Thanks again!

    Stephen Dill

  4. Brian

    I certainly agree. It makes sense to base our important policy decisions on actual evidence rather than just vague ideas about what is best for learning and teaching. And data is a form of evidence–so we can see why it’s appealing.

    But doesn’t it seem that our current system favors accumulating data in the easiest way possible (standardized test scores, to name the biggest example) instead of attempting to find the most meaningful data.

    As long as our process is flawed in this manner, it’s certain that the decisions based on this process will be flawed, too. Like the say, garbage in, garbage out.

  5. What a great title to an educational blog…..”Learning is Messy”. I feel learning should be learning. Administrators, teachers, and students should never be afraid to get messy. There are many people in our society that are quick to point fingers and give blame. I have been raised and am currently teaching my students that pointing fingers and blaming individuals is inappropriate. We teach our students to not look for the fault, but instead to look at what I can do to make things better. A lesson learned early in life, that many adults could use again.