2020 Medley #10: Thoughts on Reimagining Public Schools

Thoughts on Reimagining Public Schools

GOV. CUOMO CALLS ON BILLIONAIRES

Screen New Deal: Under Cover of Mass Death, Andrew Cuomo Calls in the Billionaires to Build a High-Tech Dystopia

When it’s time to fix society’s problems — with established ideas or innovations — politicians call on billionaires even if they have no training or experience in the area needing help: economics, education, government, whatever.

Andrew Cuomo has handled the coronavirus pandemic in his state of New York with what many people believe to be high-quality governance. He’s helped his state through the toughest parts of the pandemic with poise and confidence. Now it’s time to plan for the future…so what does he do? He calls on billionaires.

One of the billionaires is Bill Gates. Cuomo has asked Gates to help develop a “smarter education system.” This directive assumes that Gates and his foundation have the ability to create such a system. Unfortunately, Gates’s ideas for school reform haven’t worked in the past, and there’s no indication that they will work on the other side of the pandemic. Gates has no experience in public education. He didn’t attend public schools. He has no teaching qualifications and never worked in a public school. His only experience in education is throwing money into his inexperienced and often poorly thought out educational programs. [For some information on the failures of Bill Gates’s education “innovations” see here, here, here, here, and here. See also Anthony Cody’s book, The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation]

Naomi Klein writes…

Just one day earlier, Cuomo had announced a similar partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop “a smarter education system.” Calling Gates a “visionary,” Cuomo said the pandemic has created “a moment in history when we can actually incorporate and advance [Gates’s] ideas … all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why with all the technology you have?” he asked, apparently rhetorically.

It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.

The School Year Really Ended in March

This New York Times “Economic View” calls for investing millions of federal dollars to help those kids who have been left behind by the pandemic to catch up. The idea of helping students learn…and helping students catch up is a good one. The idea of increasing federal funding to help the students is also good. Beyond that, there’s not too much innovation in this other than in paying underqualified and unemployed college graduates to tutor students who fell behind during the pandemic. Teach for America, anyone?

The federal government can tap unused energy and talent by funding a big domestic volunteer effort for our schools, in the style of AmeriCorps. There will be far too many unemployed college students — and graduates — in the coming years, because recessions always hit young workers the hardest.

Young people could be paid a stipend to tutor, troubleshoot technology for online classes, assist teachers (virtually or in person) and disinfect classrooms. High school students who typically work during the summer and after school could be paid to attend classes themselves.

IDEAS FROM ACTUAL STAKEHOLDERS

Instead of billionaires might Governor Cuomo (and the rest of the nation) do better to ask people who actually have a stake in the public schools? Shouldn’t we rely on people who attend, work in, or send their children to the public schools? Why do we insist that so-called “business leaders” make decisions about public education with little or no input from teachers?

Ask Moms How to Reimagine Public Schools!

Nancy Bailey asked moms how they thought schools should be “reimagined.” I don’t know the economic status of the moms who were asked…Cuomo might discount their responses because some might not be billionaires, but these are the people whose kids go to public schools.

Bailey listed 23 ideas. Federal funding would be better directed towards these instead of more screen time and more “test and punish.”

For Mother’s Day, I asked Moms what they wanted from their public schools. I collected their comments and added a few of my own. Feel free to add to the list.

1. The Arts. All schools must provide arts education. Music, painting, dance, acting, students thrive with exposure to a rich arts program.

2. Assessment. Drop the high-stakes standardized testing! Mothers know these tests were never about their children. Moms started the Opt-Out Movement! Have less assessment and more teacher-chosen tests to determine student progress.

3. Cafeterias…

4. Career-Technical Education. Students benefit from classes in Career-Technical Education (CTE).

5. Communication. School officials and teachers must stay in touch. Politeness and positivity in forms and business information go a long way with parents.

6. Community. Schools are the hub of the community. Moms want the community to get behind their public schools.

7. Curriculum. Students deserve a rich variety of classes. Elementary students need social studies and science. Civics must be addressed in high school. Many mothers want to see the return of classes like Home Economics and business education. Their students need to understand personal management and life skills.

8. Diversity. Laura Bowman, who’s on the Board of Directors of Parents Across America, reminded us of the need to recruit more teachers of color. Classes should reflect cultural differences. We will never become a better nation if we don’t bring children together.

10. Individuality…11. Joy!…12. Libraries…13. Play…14. Physical Education…15. Safety…16. School Boards…17. School Buildings…18. Socialization…19. Special Education…20. Teachers…21. Technology…22. Reading…23. Recess…

One More Question…..

When John Merrow graduated from Harvard with an Ed.D he applied for a job as a school superintendent. They asked him…

“Dr. Merrow…If we hire you to be our School Superintendent, what’s the biggest change you would want to make in our schools?”

His answer was to keep all third graders in place until they could all read. A shocking answer…and one I don’t think he meant literally. On the other hand, he has several more ideas to add including some Nancy Bailey’s collection of moms suggested.

1) Suspension of all high stakes machine-scored bubble tests for at least two years. Use the savings for teaching materials and teacher salaries.

2) Frequent measurement of academic progress, led by teachers, guided by an “assess to improve” philosophy. That is, lots of low-stakes assessments.

3) End-of-year testing of a randomized sample of students, which would produce a reliable analysis of how the entire student body is doing. Sampling is done in every other aspect of society (including when your doctor withdraws a sample of your blood!). It’s far less expensive and highly reliable.

4) A rich and varied curriculum that includes at least five short breaks for recess every day in all elementary schools. Play is essential!

5) A strong commitment to project-based learning, preferably involving students from other schools (perhaps in other states and countries).

6) A school environment that celebrates accomplishments of all sorts–and not just athletics!

7) A school environment that promotes inquiry, one in which it is safe to say “I don’t know” and praiseworthy to be curious. It’s not enough for schools to be physically safe for students. They must also be emotionally and intellectually safe.

8) A public rejection of the philosophy of ‘sorting’ because our economy and our democracy need everyone to be educated to their fullest capacity. 

TESTING, TESTING, TOO MUCH TESTING

Why Johnny Can’t Read? It’s Complicated, Ms. Hanford.

As long as we’re reimagining education, let’s take a look at reading…my particular interest.

When I reimagine reading instruction in public education I imagine a system without wasteful and damaging standardized tests. I imagine a school where students have choices in their reading. I imagine a school where students are not punished if they learn to read more slowly than their peers.

It’s past time to end standardized testing. The tests don’t provide much help to teachers and are part of a massive system of misuse. A standardized test shouldn’t be used to punish a child who takes more time to learn, evaluate a teacher, or grade a school system. Using tests in that way invalidates them. On the other hand, standardized tests do a good job of identifying a child’s race and economic status.

Reading is a big issue in the U.S. The “reading wars” have been bouncing back and forth from “whole language” to “intense phonics” for decades. Many states have third-grade reading laws designed to retain children in third grade until they can pass a reading test showing that they can read “at grade level.” As usual, the reading test is one that is standardized. As usual, the test divides children based on their racial and economic status.

Instead of testing we should help children learn to read by taking them from where they are, to where they can be, using all the techniques available…not just phonics.

There are numerous reasons that some children have trouble reading. It’s not just phonics; it’s not just poor instruction; it’s not just poverty. Here is just the first of a series of posts on why some children have trouble learning to read by Russ Walsh — make sure you check out the later entries as well. Not all children have the same needs. Can we reimagine a public education where all children get what they need?

My old history professor, George Turner, used to warn me away from simple explanations in history. He said that historical events were best understood through the concept of the multiplicity of inter-causation: Lots of things conspire to make something happen or not happen. We might remember that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo led to the First World War, but that is an oversimplification. Various alliances, increasing militarization, imperialism, and nationalism were all contributing factors. We may remember the Watergate break-in precipitated Nixon’s downfall, but Nixon’s arrogance, pettiness, racism, mendacity, and paranoia all played a role.

So, it is with reading difficulty. The answer to why some children do not learn to read is complex. And, therefore, the solutions must match that complexity. Until we recognize this fact, we will continue to search for simple solutions that will inevitably fail.

Reimagine Public Education: A place where all children get what they need.
🙋🏻🚌🙋🏽‍♂️

4 Comments

Filed under Article Medleys, Billionaires, Gates, IREAD-3, NancyBailey, Pandemic, Public Ed, Testing, Walsh

4 responses to “2020 Medley #10: Thoughts on Reimagining Public Schools

  1. Carl Rust

    You mention talking to stakeholders, but why is it EVERYONE forgets who the true stakeholders are and the ones who probably have a lot of opinions about what schools need – because they are the ones who attend them. Ask the children what they think school should look like.

    • Stu

      Agreed…that’s why I wrote, “…Shouldn’t we rely on people who attend, work in, or send their children to the public schools?”
      By definition, those who attend public schools are the students.

  2. Cynthia Dunigan

    I am sick and tired of hearing “left behind.” Behind what exactly? Behind who? Basically the entire US is in the same place, schools closed in March/early April. Who or what are these students behind? The implication is that if you didn’t learn the moon phases (or other subject/topic) in April of 4th grade you are behind. Teachers, the good ones, teach children where they are. We may need to adapt what is taught in the next year or two or more, but no one is behind!

    • Stu

      I agree that not everyone must be at the same place at the same time. A school’s curriculum ought to be flexible enough to allow for individual differences. That being said, “left behind” refers to the students who have little or no access to internet technology in order to interact with their teachers. It also means those whose parents are unable, for one reason or another, to help them with their school work during the pandemic. I don’t agree that everyone is in the same place. Those with sufficient resources have an advantage.

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