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Archive for the ‘Seniority’ Category

Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.

Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.

What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.

Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.

Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.

Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.

Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.

If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?

And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.

My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.

As always this is just my humble opinion.

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I was fortunate and honored to be asked to speak at a recent conference for The Software Information Industry Association (SIIA). They are all wonderful people in a group that represents a major portion of education software developers and manufacturers. I had some great discussions with some very smart and driven education-minded, business people. As I stated in my last post, many of these people have come from the ranks of educators. My big take away from this conference however, was not about all of the great new products coming from the companies that these folks represented. What was most evident to me was the driving force behind all of the great stuff being developed: DATA. In this world of monetizing education data is King. It is what business understands.

Knowing that makes it easy to understand the point of view of many of our industrial, or business-background, educational leaders, who are leading the way in education today. They are data-driven leaders. They believe that we need Data to analyze, and adjust, so that we may move forward. Of course, if we analyze, adjust and move forward according to the Data, and change doesn’t happen, there must be a reason that requires us to think through that reason in order to adjust. If there is no improvement, someone must be held accountable, because the data is always reliable. All things considered the fingers of the data-readers begin to point to the variable in the equation; the teacher. Of course Business oriented leaders will additionally include the Bane of any business leader’s existence; the unions.

Now before everyone gets their backs up, let us consider another possibility. Let us consider that maybe the merging of the mantras of education and business are not working out together. Maybe “Content is King” merged with “Data is King” does not add up to a learned individual. Maybe the focus on content, so that education can be easily assessed by Data is really the wrong thing that we should be analyzing. Maybe, how we teach, is a much more important element in learning than what we teach. Maybe the data is totally correct about what it is assessing, but what it is assessing is not what we should be looking at.

I always go back to the way technology is assessed by some schools. They test kids out, interject some tech stuff, test the kids again, and check the results. If the results are poor, or if there is no difference, then it is deduced that the tech has failed to make a difference. Hence, Tech does not work.  The questions not asked are important. Was the teacher properly prepared to use the tech? How were the students trained to use the tech? Was the culture of the class supportive of the tech? Was the tech that was selected the best tech to achieve the teachers goals? Was the teacher involved with creating the lessons using the tech, or was it packaged lessons? How much support did the teacher receive during the project? Of course we could go on with even more questions. The point is that the right questions and conclusions need to be applied to the data.

I met many, very smart, and successful people at that conference. I did not ask one of them what the data said about their personal competence as a learned individual. I judged that for myself by their accomplishments, communication skills, social skills, and even appearance. Not one person had a name tag with their test scores evident as a means of introduction. I only hope they were equally impressed with the opinions I expressed as an educator who is more than somewhat opinionated. I am sure my Hawaiian shirts gave them some mixed ideas.

As teachers, we all have our specific content to teach. That has been our goal since public education was introduced. It is what we do with that content that makes the difference. We can put it out there and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in video form and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in a PDF form and have kids commit it to memory. That would all make it easy to do a data analysis. We could probably require specific things be covered by all teachers, so our kids would all get equal educations in every state in the country. We could even develop a single test everyone could take at the same time. That would help standardize education. Then we could compare apples to apples as well as oranges to oranges around the country.

Another way to look at it would be to use that content to teach skills of collaboration, communication, and the ultimate “ation” of all; creation. Memorization of content (although difficult for many) is the thinking skill requiring the least amount of thinking. As a skill it is needed, but not coveted. Having the facts is helpful, knowing what to do with them, and adapting them to any situation is priceless. If teachers focused on teaching learning instead of the more easily assessed content memorization, we would have a population of critical thinking, creative, innovators who continuously learn even after leaving school.

At the final presentation that I attended at this wonderful conference, I gained a little more insight into the direction of Tech in education today. This was a panel of some very impressive, forward thinking presidents of tech in education companies. My first insight was that there are a great many companies developing gaming for education. My second insight into the Edtech direction was not as hopeful, at least to me. The two phrases that really caught my attention  were “classroom instruction” and “BYOD (bring your own device)”. Both of these told me that the tech companies, like many people in general, believe that kids need to go to a specific place to learn, the classroom. If we are to be successful as educators, than how we teach kids better involve a way for them to learn outside the classroom. No student should be limited by the content knowledge of their teacher. If I taught all my students everything I know, it wouldn’t be enough for them to live in their world. What we are teaching will be irrelevant. How we teach kids to learn will serve them for a lifetime.

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Today,  #Edchat’s first Topic was:  Which should we support first for the best result, a reform in student learning (teaching methods), or a reform in teacher learning (PD)? I did have a preference when I made up the question, but I saved my opinion for the chat. There were a few comments about this being a question similar to: which came first, the chicken or the egg? I didn’t see it that way. I was simply looking for the most immediate way to affect needed change in a system that by many accounts is failing to meet goals, as its shortcomings are exacerbated by deepening dependence on data driven decisions based on high stakes testing results.

I have a unique position as an adjunct in the Department of Education in a small private college. I am a supervisor of student teachers in secondary English. My position enables me to visit and observe students totaling 40 to 50 visits a year in middle schools and high schools on Long Island, in New York. In addition to doing observations I often engage with cooperating teachers in discussions about their teaching experiences in their schools. I have observed over a long period of time that each school has its own culture. Some are teacher centered, and some are student centered. Some are tech infused, and some are tech deprived. Some districts are affluent and some have large pockets of poverty within the district. The differences not only vary from district to district, but also from building to building within a district.

It is the combination of the culture of the school combined with the leadership that determines the direction that any new teacher will take. They begin the job with the methods that they have learned, but the application of those methods, and their practice, more often than not, will be influenced, if not determined by the culture and leadership of the schools in which these young teachers have managed to secure jobs.  The career span of an educator goes from 35 to 40 years in the system. The big question is: How do teachers stay relevant in their profession over that span of years? If our society was based on stagnant information that had little change over the years, teaching would be an easy profession. However, over a three, or four decades of teacher’s career in the Twenty-First Century there are huge changes. Changes in methods, technology tools, and even content.  How do teachers stay relevant in this ever-changing world.

Many schools are set up with mentoring programs. Even without official programs the older teachers often take the fledglings under their wing to teach them the way of the school. This all works well as long as there is a healthy culture and a vibrant leadership. If however, there is an unhealthy culture, teachers who are burned out, resistant to change, unwilling to experiment and just putting in the time, that tends to perpetuate itself.

Professional Development is not usually done on school time. The school week is for instruction. There may be workshops offered on a voluntary basis after school hours. Usually there will be some type of Conference day during the year where development is scheduled. Occasionally, a consultant may be provided by the district for a training session on a pet project that an administrator saw at a conference. If there is a technology or IT staff, they may provide occasional workshops, but that is often a bells and whistles presentation of applications. For the most part PD decisions are left up to individual teachers to secure for themselves. This can be done by approved courses or workshops provided by colleges or professional organizations.  Again we are talking about decades of professional development along these lines. This is not true for every school in every district, but I believe it happens in some degree more often than not.

The idea of educators needing to volunteer time and in many cases money to obtain professional development is also a losing battle. As new teachers mature and begin having families, both their time, and money become scarce commodities. There is less available time after school hours. Money is needed for the family before Professional Development. Once an educator falls behind in developments in the profession it is difficult to know what it is he or she does not know. Many view this as a generational gap. I see it as a learning gap, having little to do with age. After not learning new methods, or technology tools of learning for a long period of time, and considering the rate of change with technology, how can educators make informed decisions on what PD they need? This again continues the cycle of poor PD and a resulting lack of reform.

How do we break the cycle? How do we address the needed Professional Development in an ever-changing culture over four decades for each individual educator. The present system does not appear to be meeting the need. There are no simple solutions. What is obvious to me as a connected educator would be to get everyone connected using the internet. Of course for all of the reasons elaborated here most educators are not ready for that solution. Stagnant Professional Development promotes stagnant professionals!

We need to take a fresh approach to Professional Development. We can’t hold people responsible for what they do not know. PD must be included in the work week. We must provide the time and support it with meaningful development. I do believe in giving people choices, but I struggle with the idea that some educators may choose to stay in their comfort zones when we need them to leave those zones behind. The PD must be tailored to specific courses and in some cases to specific teachers or administrators. Education must be addressed and discussed as a profession. Trends should be examined. Experimentation needs to be encouraged. Administrators must lead the PD and not just mandate it. By continuing to educate our educators professionally, we should be able to expect a resulting reform. I don’t see this as a chicken or the egg thing. To be better educators, we need to be better learners.

 

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I just finished reading another post on how educators oppose technology, Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. The headline from the New York Times misleads somewhat from the content of the article, but it does support the seemingly anti-tech-in-education bias of the NYT. The focus of the article is on the resistance that educators and parents in Idaho are showing to legislation being moved forward in regard to mandating technology in education. As an ardent supporter of technology in education, one would think that I would wholeheartedly support this legislation.  The problem with any legislation dealing with education however is the ignorance of the legislators in regard to education and learning.

The fact of the matter seems, in this case, to be that teachers are opposed, not to the technology, but rather, the intent of its use, as well as the lack of support for training and implementation of the technology. I addressed this same issue in my last post, Another Tarnished Silver Bullet. The purchasing of mass quantities of technology to throw at students, while cutting back on teachers and salaries is not a well-lit path of enlightenment. Many or even most legislators may know about technology without knowing technology. They don’t understand how it is used as an effective tool for learning. They see it as a magical phrase that can be used to sound knowledgeable about what education needs in order to be effective. It is a sound-bite that may be THE Answer for education. It sounds very “Reformy”, and legislators are all about reform. They don’t get the fact that putting the boxes in the rooms does not get the job done. You don’t put someone in the cockpit of an airliner and expect him/her to get passengers across the country. When that flight tragically fails, legislators will blame the person for refusing to learn how to fly, and the airplane for not being reliable, while bearing no responsibility for forcing everyone into this position to begin with. Sound familiar?

Teachers look to technology as a tool for learning. Legislators see it as a way to reduce cost. It is a way to deliver more content with fewer personnel. If legislators were serious about really putting tech in education on a large-scale for learning, then they would put the money up for proper professional development and implementation. Teachers cannot be replaced by technology. Exposure to more content through technology does not enable student learning. It is the teacher who sets the stage and guides kids to use, create, collaborate, and learn with the technology. We learned the lesson that the TV screen does not care for and raise children. It is a helpful tool when parents control, monitor and regulate its use. We now have to understand the computer screen is not an educator unless it is combined with a teacher to stimulate guide and provide feedback on its use.

Of course, when this latest attempt in Idaho to legislate education reform fails, there will be plenty of blame: The intransigent, bad teachers who refuse to change, the greedy teachers unions looking to get more money, administrators who are just putting in their time until retirement. There will be no mention of ill-conceived and poorly planned legislation pushed through by overzealous politicians looking to benefit by hyping their participation in education reform legislation. It will be business as usual.

When it comes to our Legislators on the subject of Education, they seem to believe that a little knowledge goes a long way. Unfortunately, for us, and our children the opposite is true. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) an Essay on Criticism, 1709

A little learning is a dangerous thing; 
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

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After the earthquake on the East Coast last week, I guess I had the term “Shake-Up” on my mind. I don’t know which I considered first, the title, or the post.  The beginning of the school year has arrived as many of us do every year, I am wondering what I will do differently this year from those same classes that I had last year. This is something that many teachers consider as they enter a new year. It is also something that many teachers do not ultimately address, but rather settle for many of the same methods and tools of the previous year to get through the new.

If a teacher developed a lesson, worksheets, quizzes, and tests that worked last year, why reinvent the wheel. It takes a great deal of time to develop this stuff, and who has time today?  This year’s students never saw this stuff before, so it is new to them. As a secondary teacher of 34 years, I have been in this very same spot. That is how I know it does go on. I have done this. I also recognized it as a fault as I did it. This practice, unfortunately, just reinforces the status quo, and that is the thing that has been under so much scrutiny lately.

If there is one thing that supports the status quo in the education system, it is the way teachers are assigned classes for their schedule. Some schools have almost a cast system. The youngest most inexperienced teachers get the leftover classes. The”problem classes” no one else wants. The teachers, who have been around awhile, the experienced teachers, get the cream of the crop. The result is that the kids who need the most experienced teachers get the newbies. The kids, who are self-motivated life-long learners and have the ability to search out content on their own, get the teachers who are there because they are recognized as content experts.

Teachers who are interested in starting classes often work very hard initially to develop curriculum and selling their course to their “superiors”. If they are lucky, they are given the opportunity to teach that class and it becomes theirs. They actually take ownership and it is their course and deservedly so. However, ownership of classes continues for many years with one teacher, teaching specific classes possibly over decades.

It stands to reason that a teacher who has taught a course over years is truly a content expert for that course. Up until now content expertise is what was demanded of educators in all the previous years of our system. Content is King. The problem comes in when innovation goes out. The creativity that was used by that teacher to get the course up and running is replaced over the years by habit and complacency. Innovation is hard and things have been going along fine without it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. No, not every teacher falls prey to this attitude, but many do, too many.

Of all the problems in our system, this is not the biggest one. I believe however, that it is more prevalent than schools care to admit. Maybe it is time for a Shake Up. Maybe we should consider rotating teachers around after a few years in one area. There are some licensing areas that are subject-specific, especially in science. Other areas are less specific. A teacher certified in secondary English is expected to be able to teach any English course on the secondary level. Maybe three years is enough time for a teacher to teach a specific subject before getting a new assignment. There will be disappointments, but maybe that can be turned around by the creative juices of innovation. If nothing else it will promote collaboration between colleagues. It might also have teachers seek out best practices by others.

This need not be limited to teachers. There are many administrators in large districts who might benefit by a rotation to another school in the district. It would expose them to the culture and leadership of another school. It would broaden their leadership experiences. This would certainly hold true for department chairs as well as assistant principals.

Of course this Shake Up idea will probably go nowhere for one reason, the comfort zone. That is the ultimate place that we all strive to find. Once we find it, we want to always live there because life in the comfort zone is easy. The sky is always blue and everything is right with the world in the comfort zone. If we are to change the system, we need to change the culture. We need to change the comfort zones of educators. They need to be comfortable with, innovation and change. In order to make that happen, they need support. Support from Administrators, parents, colleagues, and kids. If we really want to support change, we need to all support teachers. Since we expect a great deal from teachers, our full and unwavering support is the least they should expect from us. The Shake-Up applies to all.

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I am growing tired of the number of posts and stories I read about everyone’s plan on “teacher accountability”. I see too many holes in too many plans to deal with what is being categorized as “THE PROBLEM” with education; bad teachers. Unfortunately, when the outcome of many of these ill-conceived plans like Merit Pay result in failure, that too will be blamed on the teachers for its failure to work and not the fact that the plan itself was flawed. Teachers are in a no-win situation with targets painted on their backs. Nowhere was it more evident than in the reporter’s attack on Matt Damon for his support of teachers at the Save Our Schools March in D.C.. I guess we should be grateful for, if it wasn’t for the press coverage of Matt Damon, the entire March might have gone on with absolutely no press coverage. Why cover a bunch of protesting teachers when we all know that they are the problem with education? They cost too much and do too little. The newest added dimension, thanks to enlightened Missouri Legislators, is that all teachers are suspected to be potential child molesters.

I am not saying that teachers should not be held accountable. I am saying that there is no one factor that is creating the perceived failure of our education system. I recently read a post suggesting that the professional thing for teachers to do was to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and fix themselves through self-evaluation. Of course that was my take on it, and I did comment to the blogger. You may assess it differently. Teacher Accountability & PLCs.

The one big question that keeps nagging at my brain is: Where is our leadership in all of this?  Other questions: Who is standing up for teachers? Besides Diane Ravitch whose voices are we hearing nationally in support of teachers? But the most important question of all is: Where are our local, educational leaders in this? What responsibility are the superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors, principals, and assistant principals taking for the “demise” of our education system?

I do not want to enter the realm of Admin bashing, but there are some observations that can be made that might be helpful in leadership evaluation. After a career in secondary education, I have a longstanding awareness of the capabilities of teachers. Additionally, my recent experience with educators involved in Social Media is also very positive, and finding that most educators are involved to improve their craft and be relevant as educators. Most educators entered the profession for reasons more noble than to bilk the system with an easy ride for high pay and healthcare. The leadership of education comes from these very ranks. What happens to the educator who transitions to an administrator? Are all administrators leaders? How much of our administrators are still educators?

The industrial model of education requires a hierarchy of supervision. Unfortunately, for some Admins, this creates an adversarial relationship with an Us/Them mentality and teachers become the problem. Those admins may no longer be comfortable with teachers and tend to lead from their office. You won’t find them in professional development workshops. Some will never enter the student cafeteria at lunchtime. Walking the halls is the lowest priority on a long list of important administrative duties.

A stable school culture is developed over time. To affect that culture in a positive way, any admin needs to spend time working on  needed change. The system however, often requires that admins move on, to move up. Aspiring admins are too often not around long enough to affect needed change leaving that to the next admin to come along. This also creates a void in teacher evaluations. Any continuing guidance an admin may be offering  a teacher in need of such structure, leaves with the admin. The new admin generally does not want to rock the boat or create enemies, so follow-through is usually tabled for the time being. That usually means, until there is a problem that is visible. Some refer to this as falling through the cracks. administrator mobility causes many, many cracks.

Leadership works best when there is a mutual respect between teachers and admins. It has been my observation that this works best when admins view themselves more as educators than supervisors. An educator who supports other educators in the goal of developing learners is a much more respectful way to lead than the Boss and Worker model. Support of teachers requires trusting teachers. That requires giving teachers power. The Power and control issue in any school creates that adversarial thing that always gets in the way.

The whole educational philosophy idea can really muck things up as well. At the extremes we have conservatives and progressives. The conservative approach to education much as in politics, harkens back to the tried and true methods of olde. The progressive philosophy calls on teaching the 21st Century skills and employing tech tools for learning. Of course the bulk of educators fall somewhere in the middle, again, much like politics. This is where professional Development and life-long learning come into play. Better learners make better teachers. Better learners also make better leaders. This can’t happen with once or twice a year workshop day for teachers. We need Leaders to offer constant PD and to lead the way by modeling their involvement.

There is an Irony here that I feel the need to point out. I do not expect too many comments from administrators objecting to my opinions here. Most of the administrators who would even be exposed to this post are the administrators looking to learn and reflect for a better way to lead. The unfortunate part about that is that, they represent only a small, but hopefully growing number. So, the people who I need to have read this post for the most benefit, will never see it. Maybe they would, if someone printed it out and walked it into their office.

To be better students, we need better teachers. To be better teachers, we need better leaders. To be better leaders, we need better methods. To get better methods, we need more involvement. To get more involvement, we need to be better learners. Ta Da! To be better Educators, we ALL need to be better learners.

In addition to all of this, we need to be better marketers of education. Marketing is the key to success. I once took a marketing course for educators at, of all places, Disneyworld, the Mecca of marketing. That was a valuable course for me. I learned the four important points for marketing education.

  1. Do a good job. 2. Do a good job. 3. Do a good job. 4. Tell everyone about it!

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I am very frustrated after attending a huge professional development conference for educators this past weekend in New York City. The conference was sponsored by WNET and The National Education Association among others. It was called the Celebration of Teaching and Learning. The event was held at the New York Hilton Hotel, and was a sprawling extravaganza of technological sights and sounds covering three floors. There were signs, banners, booths, and even a live alligator amongst the beeps, blips and colors of computer driven screens everywhere.

There were Vendors galore on the exhibitors’ floors. The booths numbered over a thousand and represented most of the players in the field of Educational Technology. In full disclosure, I was a guest of my wife’s company Vizzle, a visual learning and networking application for teachers of children with Autism. There were thousands of attendees walking through the exhibitor’s halls, as well as attending the many workshops being offered throughout the day. I have been involved with planning educational conferences for years. I know what it takes to plan a successful conference. This was a well planned and wonderful conference.

Yes, there is a big “BUT” coming up, but not yet. I am quite involved with educators through Social Media on a daily basis. I own or participate in many educational groups online. I manage #Edchat and The Educator’s PLN. I have been a teacher from the elementary level to Higher Ed since 1971.I was also an active participant and leader in a teacher’s union for over 30 years. All of this gives me a somewhat unique perspective when I attend educational conferences.

In today’s climate teachers, and what they do, are under attack from many fronts. Many educators I come in contact with are reflecting on what they do. The reform movement which is paid lip service by most is being taken seriously by many educators. They are reflecting on what they do and how they do it in order to make it better. Educators are struggling, as are many others, to understand what is important in education. The only thing we can all agree on is that Education, as it is today, is not meeting the needs of the people paying for it. Since everybody pays for it, everyone wants a say in how to fix it. With all that is involved, it seems the people with the most power (money) have the biggest say. That limits the ability of educators to affect a change in the area in which they have the most expertise. They certainly have more expertise than those who are now the loudest voices for change.

Now, back to the Conference! I did not attend the workshops, but I have no doubt about the superior quality of the content or the presenters.  I do have a problem with the lack of topics dealing with issues educators talk about through Social Media. I looked for Social Media specific presentations, banning, filtering, blogging, Social networking, or PLNs. I was more than disappointed. There were many teacher union topics which addressed the effects of reform from a labor point of view. These were much needed. Teachers need more preparation on how to stand up and protect themselves against attacks without merit.

As an aside, I saw very little, if any, Back Channeling from the workshops or keynote speeches. The attendees at this conference were not social media savvy. There was very little tweeting for a conference of this size. Most of the tweets coming from the conference were from Vendors. They get it!

My one big objection was the majority of Keynote Speakers. I know that WNET was a sponsor of the conference, and it is understandable that they would want media personalities on the program. However, they had to have been chosen for glitz and glamour or popularity, but certainly not for educational expertise. My problem is that the media is greatly responsible for the myths and misconceptions that are sidetracking a needed education reform movement. Media personalities are not educators. I don’t understand why their opinions would be given more weight than the voices of educators. Why do we, as educators, give the power for education reform to so many non educators?  Where are the educators, who will stand up and address what should be focused on for meaningful Education Reform? Congressmen are the only people allowed to reform Congress. Senators can only reform the Senate.  Any changes to the medical profession would not come from anyone without an MD in their title. Even the restrictions placed on wall Street come from Wall-Streeters. Of course Lawyers need no reform, but if they did…

Diane Ravitch was also a speaker at this conference. The planners failed to recognize how important her voice is to educators. The room she spoke in was too small for the audience. There were not enough chairs to sit in or space to stand on. Dr. Ravitch spoke for about an hour addressing many of the myths about education that are side tracking real Education Reform. The audience affirmed her speech with applause and cheers. I supported her by standing for the full hour in the back of the room (poor me). The planners videotaped the speech, but never streamed it over the internet, or even said if it would be available in some archive. That says a great deal about their commitment to “Celebrating Technology in Education”.

I sometimes think that educators are their own worst enemy. Many educators are doubting themselves and their worth because of the throngs of detractors. Teachers turning on teachers is a strategy to reform labor not education. Playing fast and loose with numbers of charter school results is a strategy to promote privatization. Many want to push public education to the private sector for reasons of profit and not learning. Bill Gate is entitled to his beliefs, but his misguided beliefs are being sold to the public and educators by using huge amounts of money. Influence is being bought. We need not help him in those efforts. We need real educators to step up and stop giving away our power to lead for education reform, a reform for learning and not labor.

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The term Life Long Learning has been bandied about by educators for years. It is a term that has worked its way into Mission Statements of schools across our nation. It is a term that teachers use with their students. It has become a goal that every teacher strives to put in place for students. It is also a goal that many (not all) teachers, for the most part, do not apply to themselves.

I sometimes think that our culture, demanding that teachers be content experts, is a hindrance to education reform. There is an implication that an expert is supposed to know it all. That position may limit a willingness to learn. How can a teacher be the expert, if he/she has more to learn? Even if one was an expert in some content area and at one point knew all that there was to know about a given subject, there is still always more information being developed. With the advancement of technology this is happening faster, and in more volume than ever before. Content experts remained experts longer in the 1800’s. It took years to question their expertise. Change was slow.

A teacher’s response to this might be one of disbelief. Teachers may not admit to this in public. However, if we consider teachers’ responses to suggestions of Professional Development, their actions belie their rhetoric. Many are resistant to Professional Development. In fairness, not all PD is worthy of consideration. It is not always well thought out or well presented. However that is not an excuse to resist all PD. The fact of the matter is that it is a big point of contention among many educators.

Colleges are being blamed for not producing enough great teachers. Not enough content experts. That is simply ridiculous. Colleges need to educate students in their content area as well as philosophy and methods in education. They are required to make students content experts in their content area and in education in four years. Teachers are born in the college classrooms, but they develop, mature and become great teachers in the schools in which they teach. This only occurs with support and leadership from their educational leaders. It requires continuous learning over the lifetime of a career. It requires teachers and their leaders to be Life Long Learners.

This all adds to a predicament in which teachers have placed themselves. Senior teachers are being vilified more than any other group of teachers being vilified by the critics of education. They are being portrayed as unwilling to learn or change. They are being pitted against the younger more energetic teachers who appear willing to learn and change. The senior teachers are victims of the culture of education. They are the experts as they were expected to be. They believe this themselves. They have attained their lifelong goal, therefore, they believe that there is no need to learn any more, or to change the “tried and true”. They have achieved expertise status as required by the system.

The culture cultivated this attitude, but now finds it unproductive and in need of change. It is the perfect excuse for educational leaders and politicians to use to eliminate what they see as an easy way to cut the budget. The most experienced teachers are the most expensive. Eliminating senior teachers is about money and budgets, and not better education. It requires eliminating fewer senior teachers to get the most Bang for the Buck. It doesn’t consider experience and stability of the school. It doesn’t consider loyalty and the very expertise it demanded. It’s all about the money

If we are to have better education system we need teachers to be better learners. For that to happen we need better leaders, who also need to be better learners. Life Long Learning is essential for all involved in education not just the kids. If we were serious about education reform we need to work on educating the educators in earnest. We can get very, very few great teachers from college classrooms. We can get teachers with great potential, but that potential must be nurtured and taught on an ongoing basis. It is the school’s leadership and culture that will enable a teacher to be great. It will be the commitment and support of the school leadership to professional development and Life Long Learning that will move us to where we need to be in education reform. That may only happen one school at a time. It might happen sooner if the idea of social learning ever takes hold in education. The Irony obvious to me is that Educators are for everyone being Life Long Learners as long as it doesn’t affect them. (No, that does not mean you, but many of the other educators.)

 

Comments welcomed!

 

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I am growing tired of the call for the ouster of older teachers and the elevation of the younger. I am of the older generation (some might say very older) after a career in education spanning four decades. I was also a victim of budget cuts during that career losing my job at the end of every year for my first nine years in three school districts. After 34 years, I am no longer in Public education, but I am involved with Higher Education. My assignment is to train and observe Pre-service teachers, student teachers. In that role I get to travel from school to school and observe educators on all levels.

I teach and observe student teachers for a living. I know that my students have observed over 100 hours of lessons by teachers in the field prior to their becoming student teachers. Additionally, they must show mastery in a program of courses in both philosophy and methods in Education. This is all in addition to the courses required in their content area. By the time these students have an opportunity to stand as teachers in a classroom they will literally have hundreds of thousands of pieces of information floating through their heads, being arranged and rearranged depending on the situation in the classroom at any given point.

I remember reading an article in Time Magazine in the 60’s that rated the most stressful jobs in America based solely on the number of decisions that had to be made in the course of a day. I expected Air Traffic Controller, or Brain Surgeon to be at the top. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own occupation at the top of the list. It was very specific; an Eighth Grade English teacher was listed. That was me, and it was true.

Experience is the best teacher in life. When observing student teachers, I often note that the mistakes being made will be eliminated with teaching experience. So often these student teachers are pumping and processing so much information through their brains that it is amazing to me that they don’t crash at the end of every class. I guess that can be attributed to the energy of youth. As experience mounts up, the brain begins to file away and store those thousands of pieces of information which are repeated over and over each day, so that the teacher no longer needs to bounce that around in the brain. many things become an automatic response. This frees up the experienced teacher to focus more on more important decisions for motivating kids to learn. As a general rule, my personal measure is about ten years in teaching before I consider a teacher truly experienced. Of course any teacher with less than ten years experience will loudly disagree.

These experienced teachers are the foundation of each school’s culture. They become the mentors of the younger teachers. They are advisors to the administrators who often come and go in a never-ending cycle. They are connections to parents whose families have moved through the school over the years. They are the keepers of the keys. This is not how they are being portrayed by politicians and people with agendas for education. These experienced teachers are becoming targets. They are being demonized as the bad teachers, the burn-outs. The only hope, we are told, is the new youthful teachers entering the system. We are told that if cuts must be made, and they must, we need to base it on merit and cut the old, bad teachers, and keep the good, young teachers. We cannot consider any loyalty or obligation to any employee, even if they were loyal to the school district for years.

This has nothing to do with good or bad, young or old. It has everything to do with a political agenda. Older teachers are more experienced and better educated, making them more expensive. Younger teachers are eager to volunteer, less experienced, less credentialed and ultimately less expensive. You have to see where this is going. It is about the MONEY. Politicians want the ability to cut the least number of people with the most impact on the budget. There is little thought given to the educational impact. Having the ability to cut the older teachers is also the best way to push through other needed reforms like: Larger classes, elimination of collective bargaining, reduction of the arts, increasing the impact of high stakes testing, and fewer extracurricular activities. These may all be good for the budget, but not great for kids needing to be educated.

We should all be for maintaining good teachers and removing those who may not be making the mark. We have procedures in place to do this. (Please refer to an earlier post, Tenure’s Tenure ) What needs to be worked on is a program for Professional Development that enables every teacher the ability to stay relevant and knowledgeable about the tools and methods of their profession. It cannot be a voluntary or incentivized program, but an ongoing required program scheduled for all educators to participate. It must be a priority, if we are to improve the quality of education. This requires an investment in Education and not budget cuts and reductions in staff and services. We need an explanation as to why we give $40 billion in incentives to an Oil Industry that shows $100’s of Billions in profits every year while we are cutting back teachers and programs to educate the very people who we will need to call upon to lead us out of this mess.

 

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If you are not familiar with #Edchat, it is a Twitter discussion on specific topics held every Tuesday at Noon and 7 PM EST. A full explanation may be found at this Link: http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/edchat-revisited/. I am revealing in this post that I am the one who makes up a bulk of the #Edchat Topic choices. We do get some outside contributions, but each week I try to lift relevant topics from the Twitterstream and current Educational Blogs to explore further in an #Edchat discussion. It has been a successful formula thus far. My dilemma however, is always when is it a good time to revisit a topic. I recently received a comment from an educator that stated he always found the topic choices very interesting, but eventually we would need to discuss Standardized Testing or High Stakes Testing as a topic. Actually, #Edchat has discussed this topic in the past. The problem I have however is that in trying to keep the pulse of education concerns, Standardized Testing is the one topic that has an overwhelming majority of educators mentioning their opposition on a daily basis. Educators seem to be in agreement that Standardized Testing is a major roadblock to Education Reform. One growing opinion seems to be that the emphasis has become the tests and not the education.

Assessment has been and always will be part of education. A simple explanation: As educators we use Formative assessment to make sure we are succeeding with our students as we go. Do they get it? This allows for adjustments along the way. The Summative assessment tells educators how successful the complete endeavor was. After all is said and done, have the students gotten it?  Educators do this to determine the next step, so they may continue to build on this education. This is the teacher’s assessment of learning for the purpose of the determining of what comes next. The curriculum is the roadmap of where to go. The assessments tell the teacher if the students are there yet. Teachers can always take students beyond the original destination.

Now we should look at High stakes testing. Its purpose is to accumulate data on education. Data requires simple, objective answers that are easily converted to numbers for analysis. As a former English teacher, I often envied Math teachers whose test answers were either right or wrong. As an English teacher I was always trying to figure out shades of right or wrong with essays. That oversimplification of math testing is less true of Math today with the changes that have been made requiring more of an explanation of reasoning. I hope no math teachers were offended.

The purpose of High Stakes testing seems to be changing. If it was originally intended to assess where we were with student learning in order to offer directions for places to improve, we may have strayed from that goal. It is now used to: determine funding, determine remediation, determine school closings, determine careers, and as a stretch, determine elections. These reasons have little to do with what educators use testing for.

Of course there is a simple solution; Teach to the test. That would give everyone what was needed. A problem with this however is that it will not work. It will not work because it does not consider all of the other factors involved in a student’s education; poverty, environment, culture, and even family relationships. How do we ask questions for the purpose of converting these factors into data in order to take all of this into account? Of course a more obvious reason teaching to the test won’t work is that it is not educating any one. Teaching to the test is preparing kids for a Jeopardy round, not life.

Now here is where I begin to sound like a conspiracy theorist. I, along with almost everyone in America, recognize that we are in a dire economic period. I understand we need to cut costs and increase revenue, and we will all need to sacrifice. One of our greatest expenses is education. Education has been highlighted as a political concern. It is apparent to some of us that the call for education Reform is code for cut taxes. The high stakes tests are not being used to examine and address changes in methods and curriculum as much as to vilify teachers. This call for reform by some is not a call for education reform, but rather a call for labor reform. It is a call to do away with Unions and due process for teachers. These tests are not being used to free teachers to innovate, but rather to begin to dismantle public education for the purpose of privatization for profit.

How can so many educators on every level be so opposed to high stakes testing and still it thrives?  How can the mixed to dismal results of a Charter School movement still allow politicians to call for more Charter Schools? How can the influence on education by Poverty, Race, Environment, and Family go unrecognized as factors in need of reform?

We do need to reform education, but we need a better understanding of what changes will have a meaningful effect. There are many things that unions and teachers can do to affect change, but the greater changes however need to be made in methods and focus of curriculum. The emphasis of needed skills for a growing technology-driven society will be another game changer.

Assessment is needed and has a purpose in education. We need to focus assessments on the learning and not the Labor. The vast majority of educators are intelligent, dedicated, people-oriented, sharers. They may need to be given guidance and professional development in the latest methods and technologies, but they are the best source we have to support our education system. Firing teachers, closing schools, busting unions, and dismantling Public Education may be Reform to some, but to many others this is a destructive path. We need educational leaders to stand up and be heard on this. Voices of education need to be heard over those voices of business and politics and vocal disgruntled taxpayers. ( We are probably all disgruntled about taxes.)

Now I have to put up an #Edchat Topic dealing with High Stakes Testing. Your comments are welcomed here.

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