In educational circles, there is term coined, “Best Practices.” Best practices are taught in virtually every teacher education program. Teach for America uses them. There are books, papers, professional learning days, and conference strands on best practices. Best practices are point of order for the education and training of teachers.
The term makes sense. Why wouldn’t we want to do what is best for the practice for teaching? However, this term is a misnomer. Best practices and the best practices for the middle. They are the techniques that work for the students that hover near the middle of the first standard deviation. They influence the ‘most’ people. Perhaps that is the term we should use. The most practices.
With the exception of some specialty programs in urban education, best practices are actually the best practices for the majority, suburban culture. In fact, teacher education is geared toward the majority, suburban culture. Yes, there are classes on special education and multicultural education. But, these are add-ons. They are taught as additional to the curriculum of how to teach.
Education is about all students. While best practices help with certain skills, the goal of our educational system should be to give equal opportunity to all students. We need to focus on urban education. We need to focus on rural education. We need to focus on education for critical thinking. We need to focus on education for creativity. And yes, we need to focus on the majority, suburban culture. But, not just the middle.
Right now teachers, administrators and district level leaders have their hands tied by testing. They focus on best practices so make the most people score well on the tests. Life is about more than tests. Life is about more than speaking to the majority. Life is about developing the skills and knowledge to be able to think.
The other day I was privy to a conversation with some administrators in a local school district (not Columbia County) in which the topic was school improvement. Understand, I have my own personal views about how to improve schools which I have introduced previously and will continue to do so. However, this conversation stunned me. While the goal was change and improvement, the entire focus was how to do it within the notion of standards, the system, and assessment.
I understand why. This is where we are in education. What we do is mandated. The goal is to master national and state created standards. At the same time, the mantra is about critical and creative thinking. In my opinion, this creates and incompatible system.
Why you may ask? Schools are judged on test scores. They can be state scores, SAT/ACT scores, Milestones tests or reading batteries. The goal of education is to measure. However, critical and creative thinking are more difficult to measure. How do you measure inspiration? How do you measure creative problem solving? How do you measure and true understanding of society? Because of the reductionist view of education, deconstructing knowledge into measureable elements, schools are paralyzed into a relatively singular notion of success.
Administrators have become educational managers. According to Stever Robbins of Entrepreneur Magazine, “Leaders are the heart of a business. The essence of leadership means inspiring a group to come together for a common goal. Leaders motivate, console and work with people to keep them bonded and eager to move forward. That means setting a direction, communicating it to everyone who will listen (and probably many who won't) and keeping people psyched when times get tough. Managers are the brains of a business. They establish systems, create rules and operating procedures, and put into place incentive programs and the like. Management, however, is about the business, not the people; the people are important as a way of getting the job done.”
Administrators should be curriculum leaders and instructional leaders. As a curriculum leader, they should help teachers create learning opportunities. They should rely on the teachers’ expertise is designing experiences that a filled with opportunities for critical and creative thinking. As instructional leaders, administrators should push teachers to be innovative in their methods, utilize technology as a tool for learning (not as the learning), and create learning situations that push students to expand their understandings of the world.
Until we think of learning as an ongoing process that can’t always be measured, learning will continue to stagnate. Therefore, I argue that by reducing the influence of assessments, scores, and measurement of students, we can allow our educational leaders to lead, not just manage the system.
Please excuse any typos.
In a recent post, in which I espoused a penchant for experiential and place-based education, an online conversation swerved to charter schools, standardized testing and Pearson, private education, and the SAT/ACT. Instead of trying to respond as a series of posts, I decided to attack them all in one long post. So, here it goes.
As far as charter schools go, I am not a fan. I know that as a person running for the School Board in Columbia County (where there is a new charter school opening) this might not be the most popular opinion. However, in Columbia County, it is a done deal. Therefore, I give my support to the school that is opening. My biggest issue is the way charter schools have been implemented. Sometimes they are run by charter school organizations. These are for-profit organizations that are trying to make money with public funds. If they fail, they were still paid. While that only applies to 13% of charter schools, the others are funded publicly. When a charter school opens, they are funded with resources from the district in which they reside. Extra money is not added. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (this name is a misnomer…charter schools are public), this is a selling point. It doesn’t cost the state any more. However, it does dilute the money in the district. Another selling point in the “innovations” that charter schools can offer. Again, according to the NAPCS, these include:
My point is that why not do this at public schools?
The second point was testing and Pearson Education. Right now, the curriculum in our schools is being controlled by the textbook corporations. They need to sell textbooks. They want to make profits. So, a system of testing was created (if you look at who wrote the common core it is mostly people at the College Board) that requires books to make students pass. They make schools tied to pre-purchased programs and canned curriculum. Sometimes the tests are updated. New materials. Sometimes the rules changes. New materials. Schools become secondary to textbook profits.
The third point, private education, is completely different. That is a personal choice. There are some private schools that are amazing. Others limit education for religious reasons. The biggest issue is equity. Private schools have to be paid for. That immediately leaves out a huge part of the population. I know there are scholarships, but even then, they are limited. Again, why not use those things in public schools.
Finally, the SAT/ACT. Another money making scheme. Test prep. Test costs. School courses. Prep books. All of these things to help people reach for the golden goose.
So, what does all of this mean? The quest for profit is killing education. I am not saying that people don’t have a right to make a profit. But, right now, the mighty dollar is controlling the content, the delivery, and structure of our education system. When I first started teaching, I was in the Republic of the Marshall Islands teaching English as a second language in a native school on the island of Majuro. We had a ditto machine. We had 23, fifteen-year-old textbooks. Half the year we didn’t have plumbing. A lot of the time we didn’t have electricity. You know I what I did? I taught. I learned to teach by teaching. Myself and a colleague (my dear friend, Vasemaca Savu) started a national speech competition. We started a handwritten school newspaper. And the students learned. We had little money. As teachers, we were creative. We were thoughtful.
I am a proponent of letting teachers teach. Let administrators be educational leaders, not bookkeepers. Let counselors counsel and not administer tests. Education should be about critical and creative thinking. But, it should also be about critical and creating teaching.
Addendum: I would like to stand corrected about some of the assumptions that I made based on charter schools being funded by districts. If the state sets the charter, the state pays. Thank you, Michael Berg.
Our educational system is rooted in tradition. The prototypical classroom setup, with the teacher at the front, and rows of students in the room can be traced back to the Jesuit classrooms of the 1500s. As a collector of antique grammar and literature books, you would be surprised how similar textbooks are from the early 1800s (with the exception of new writers). In fact, much of what we teach on school is based on tradition. I am not saying that these traditions are important, but there is so much more to the world.
Because of this, I am a staunch believer in experiential and place-based education. Experiential education is an educational theory that the best learning comes from doing things. Along the same lines, place-based education is a theory that stems from the belief that you should learn based on where you live. Combined, this teaches students to not only learn the skills that are intended, but learn the skills in the context of the community, life, and practicality.
As a professor at Augusta University, I teach two classes on place-based education. In one of these classes I always make the following argument. It seems that in every elementary school there is a unit on the tropical rain forest. In this unit, students learn about animals, the layers of the forest, and the ecosystem.
My point? Why not go outside? We have forests. There are layers. There are animals. And we have ecosystems. Instead of learning about the forest in as an idea, let students touch trees, feel the dirt, see the sun shining through the layers of forest. Things can be measured, counted, and surveyed. Students can write about it. Students can learn the history of the area or create environmental art.
Too often we limit our classroom to the classroom. Our classroom should be the world.
So, I have been trying to think of criticisms of me running for the school board. First, I think the idea of a school board being made up of members of the community is important. Schools are a reflection of the community in many ways. In turn, members of a school board should reflect the socio-economic, cultural, and social diversity of an area. However, too often, schools boards to not contain educators. In fact, according to the National School Board Association, 73% of school board members are not educators. In addition, 69% describe themselves and moderate or conservative.
Back to my original point. I am an educator (11 year classroom teacher, M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from South Dakota State University and Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Central Florida, and current professor of education and Augusta University), and although an independent, a liberal. I think that both of these are important to the schools of Columbia County. First, I think that my background in education will serve the district well, Second, I won't let my politics interfere with what is best for the students of Columbia County. The school board is made up of five people that vote on issues. Therefore, one voice will only enhance the conversation.
If you look across the professions, doctors are on medical boards. Lawyers are in the Bar Association. Perhaps it is time that professional educators are on the school board.
My name is Andrew Kemp. I am running for the School Board of Columbia County.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe that testing is destroying the very nature of public education. While in my previous post I noted standardized testing, other tests, quizzes, test review, and the use of study guides is creating an education of assessment and not an education of ideas. Each year, less and less new information is offered to students. In fact, school are basically the same as they ever have been, but with less new content.
In addition, many of the changes and mandates in our educational system don’t make sense. We are asking students that are younger and younger to do things they are not ready to do. We want them to read younger. We want them to do more advanced math at a younger age. Things that used to be the norm for the 5th grade are now done in 2nd grade. And what suffers? The children.
To make sure everyone is reading younger, doing more advanced math, and ‘being on grade level’ we have cut art programs, music programs, and recess. What happened to the days when kindergarten was about learning to get along? Socialization? Now the day is pack with 70 minutes blocks of reading instruction. Stations with math manipulatives.
Don’t get me wrong. These things are important. But at the expense of art? Coloring? Clay? Music? Dance? Recess? Physical Education?
If we want future generations to be critical and creative thinkers, we must not just focus on academics. We must focus on the mind and body. Knowledge and culture. Math and Music. Academics and art.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.