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The organization Race to Nowhere is taking serious action against the never-ending homework that is crushing students' love of learning. The group will meet with the National PTA, in hopes of gaining traction in a movement to create an acceptable national homework policy.
They will show this amazing video at the converence.
What are your thoughts on a national homework policy, and what should it be?
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/2011/07/jigsaw-juts-and-slots.html
Consider these three pieces to the public education puzzle. How can they fit together?
_I have three children in our local public schools. My oldest is very successful and her teachers all love her. She is our “low maintenance” kid. My youngest is a handful…he is all about his friends and his gaming. We work hard to support him on homework and studying and he earns As, Bs and the occasional C. My Erik has the hardest time. After a very difficult time in elementary school he was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s in middle school. Since then it has been a long hard road fighting for the accommodations for him in the classroom. Especially as he has gotten into high school, the staff has been more and more resistant to supporting him. They say it’s all about him adapting to the real world. I disagree, and I’ve been in there so often fighting for Erik they now cringe seeing me walk in the front door….it’s all over their faces. It’s awkward because I used to be “Parent of the Year” material with all the work I did in the PTA, on advisory councils and as a room mom. But that’s ancient history. Now I’m one of “those parents” and it’s all gotten so adversarial the staff has circled the wagons and I’m handled at the front office instead of welcomed in the classroom. Getting him through the next three years to graduation may be the death of me, but no one is going to stand between me and the best interests of my kids.
The District Administrator:
After teaching for five years I made the move into administration, first as a principal, then as the head of curriculum and now as superintendent. The team I have assembled is a proud collection of savvy public administrators who value the same things I do: implementing legally sound policy and protocol, acting as good stewards of public monies, and promoting all the good things going on in our classrooms…in short…accountability. When we report to our board and our citizens and our state department of education, we need to be able to substantiate everything we do; if it can’t be measured, it didn’t happen. Of course it’s all about the kids, but we can’t offer a world-class education to our students if we are not a strong, sound, well-managed school system. Our town government touts us as a feather in their cap because we work hard to meet their expectations as a municipal agency; strong schools are important in building a strong community. Minimizing complaints and controversy while increasing our rates of academic success makes the best case for new funding…and funding provides new educational opportunities. In all things we try to be student-centered, but in the final analysis we do what is best for the organization as a whole.
The Classroom Teacher:
I always wanted to teach; to make a difference in the lives of my students. Seeing that light-bulb go on...having that major breakthrough for a student…makes it all worthwhile for me. While these are tough times for everyone, what especially makes it tough for me are the demands that have been piled upon me by my administration: testing, record-keeping, and being held accountable for every indicator of progress. The pressure is so intense, I end up feeling on the defensive. Nothing I do seems to be good enough, and anything that doesn’t measure up rolls downhill and lands on me. I love my students and I work hard for all of them. Doesn’t anyone see that? Expectations keep ratcheting up higher and higher while I’m keeping my eye on what’s important: my students…not dollars…not data. But when we try to refocus the discussion, we are accused of being more about our self-interest than student success. I didn’t get into this to spend my time on politics and public relations. I just want to teach and feel like I’m making a difference…but I’m being undermined. Who would sign up for this…and how long would anyone stay in this no-win situation? I am re-examining my career options and fighting for the best working conditions possible while I am still here.
<visually scanning the pieces of the puzzle>
If this were a jigsaw puzzle, we would scan the outer boundaries of each piece looking for possible juts and slots that (at least at first-glance) look like they could interlock with one another to help create the larger composite picture: educating all children to be successful adults contributing to society…
We have one vision for our public education system…but…
So…do you see any juts and slots in the three pieces described above that would allow them to snap together...snugly...correctly...compatibly?
And if not…isn’t that the problem...?
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
OK so you’ve got all the stakeholders at the table: the students, teachers, administrators, unions, lawmakers, state and federal education agencies, professional education associations, teacher preparation programs, education technology experts, visionary gurus….even the deep-pocketed philanthropists who want their say. Let’s throw a few more tables together...it’s getting crowded...and more chairs….we need elbow room...
But wait, there’s still something or someone missing. You would think with this many interests represented at the table we’d have it covered. Let’s see...we have everyone with a self-interest in seeing education move forward...no wait….no we don’t. There are no parents at the table.
What do you MEAN parents have no place at the table? What do you MEAN they are glad just to have childcare covered all day? What do you MEAN they have abrogated most of their child-rearing responsibilities and left you to pick them up piecemeal behind them? In an age of shifting paradigms, why haven’t we accepted the changing role of parents both in their children’s lives and in education?
The major issue? Parents as passive stakeholders. Regardless of how mothers and fathers choose to provide an education for their children, having their children prepared for life is a reality of parenting. Why does it seem like once their children are involved in public education, parents become disengaged? Is it really parental instinct to push their children out of the proverbial nest and not look back? What is the true dynamic that shifts parents from being their child’s primary educator to being a passive participant in their education in public schools? Somewhere, somehow the shift is made…parents receive the message that education is now the primary role of their child's school.
But what if parents didn’t shift in their role and insisted on being a major player in their child’s education? What does that mean? Providing structured homework time in the evenings? Attending PTA meetings? Being the homeroom parent for their child’s class? These are the ways parents are encouraged to be involved…but are these the roles of true stakeholders?
In an age of education transformation, assuming that parents simply want quality home-school communication and good seats at the annual school musical program is not only presumptuous…it is limiting their importance in educating their children, confining them to Industrial Age role stereotypes, and insulting them as education stakeholders. If we truly believe it is time to open the schoolhouse windows and doors to let the fresh air of change blow in, we need to allow everyone to enjoy the cool breeze on their skin, refreshing their perspective and awakening them to the possibilities for a new day in education. Does that mean these reawakened stakeholders will add to the shifts in power and control over how public education is run? Absolutely. But if they haven’t been engaged to do so already…what’s so public about public education? If the only thing that makes "public education" public today is the fact that its run by public agencies using public monies, then perhaps that is the crux of the problem and the reason why public education is in crisis. Stakeholders by birthright have been disenfranchised while keepers of the public law, public policy and public money have built-in incentive not to hand back public education to the constituents for which it is named.
If we really want to transform public education and not let it be co-opted by politicians and private interests…bring in a whole lot of extra chairs…have a few of the other special interest groups push back away from the table to make room…and have parents pull up their seats and take an active role, knowing up-front they’re not going to fit into the traditional role that has marginalized them. So the real question is: are educators ready for a new role for parents, defined by today’s mothers and fathers and the times in which we live? Give them a seat at the table and enough elbow room to provide them some leverage, and they can be great allies in public education transformation.
As a new school year begins, the rally cry seems to be “Raise Student Achievement!” While it makes sense that a superintendent or principal would not encourage educators to “Lower Student Achievement,” the rally cry still poses several potential problems. How do educators define student achievement? Which key skills and concepts should all students know and be able to do as a result of this year’s instruction? How will educators measure student achievement? Does student growth equal achievement or should all students reach the same level of achievement by the end of the school year? While raising student achievement sounds politically correct in the newspaper, makes families feel good at a PTA meeting, and looks good on a school district’s home page, educators must work together to define student achievement.
Annual Student Achievement
Student achievement can be determined by looking at End-of-Grade or End-of-Course assessments. Most states have high-stakes tests which are aligned to the state standards. While this is certainly one measure of achievement, it is an annual assessment and it does not provide educators with timely feedback. Annual student achievement is a good indicator of student growth over time and it can pinpoint a student’s strengths and weaknesses.
Students and families are often misled by educators who claim that student achievement is the school’s number one priority. Saying this to families is akin to saying ‘Our staff cares about all students.’ Caring about students on paper is one thing, but any parent or guardian will quickly discover if a school truly cares about their child. Attempting to increase student achievement without establishing clearly defined learning goals is similar to a college football team attempting to win the National Championship without any plays, a practice schedule, or a specific game plan. If your school claims to value student achievement, but you lack clear learning targets, visit Learning Targets for additional resources. The resources include strategies and templates for writing learning targets for staff and tools for developing learning targets in student friendly language.
Common Formative Assessments
“Formative assessment, done well, represents one of the most powerful instructional tools available to a teacher or a school for promoting student achievement. Teachers and schools can use formative assessment to identify student understanding, clarify what comes next in their learning, trigger and become part of an effective system of intervention for struggling students, inform and improve the instructional practice of individual teachers or teams, help students track their own progress toward attainment of standards, motivate students by building confidence in themselves as learners, fuel continuous improvement process across faculties, and, thus, drive a school's transformation” (Stiggins & DuFour, 2009, p. 640). If student achievement is the goal, then educators must define what students will achieve and then monitor the results of instruction and learning. Common Formative Assessments seem like a common sense approach in education, but many school districts still allow each professional educator to determine achievement based on assessments created by individuals rather than common formative assessments developed by professional learning teams.
In the world of education, most teachers and principals admit that they want to be excellent! School improvement plans are filled with strategies for developing excellent schools, excellent learning communities, excellent curriculum documents, excellent partnerships with families and communities, excellent graduation rates, excellent student achievement results, and the list goes on......
Recently, I asked several principals the following question, "How do you want people to describe your school?" Each principal replied, "Excellent!" One principal commented, "We want to be excellent in all that we do." Following the Good to Great movement, who would want their school to be known as 'good' or 'mediocre’?
Striving for excellence is similar to having a common focus on student achievement. Having a goal without an action plan is foolish. Teams set goals, companies strive to meet sales or production goals, and successful individuals monitor their diet, finances, time management, life-long learning, leadership growth, and other established goals. If school leaders are aiming for student achievement, then they must become crystal clear on how to help each member of their school district meet the goal.
One day while observing a character education lesson at our district’s Alternative School, I learned a powerful quote. I overheard a student speaking to another student and he said, “Don’t just say it, be it.” While I doubt this student ever intended on being quoted in a curriculum article, his quote has several implications for the work of teachers and administrators. If we proclaim that we want to raise student achievement, then we must define it and then develop action steps for helping all students achieve!
Suggested Resources for Creating a District Action Plan
DuFour, R., DuFour, R. & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Maxwell, J.C. (2005). The 360-degree leader: Developing your influence from anywhere in the organization. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Tyler, R.W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Wiles, J. (2009). Leading curriculum development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Collins, J. (2010). Good to great – online videos. Retrieved on August 29, 2010 from http://www.jimcollins.com/media.html.
Stiggins, R., & DuFour, R. (2009). Maximizing the power of formative assessments. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(9), 640-644.
Weber, S. (2010). Learning Targets. ASCD Edge. Retrieved on August 29, 2010 from http://edge.ascd.org/_Learning-Targets/BLOG/2557445/127586.html.