By way of review, I retired from public education in 2017, following thirty-five years of service to children, and their families, as a classroom teacher and as a site administrator. Upon my retirement, once all of the emotional dust settled and I began my personal new normal, I asked myself what I had learned during the span of my career. What were the lessons? What did I observe? What were the highlights? Where were the regrets? What was churning like a well oiled machine? What areas of practice needed to be addressed? I reflected on my self-assigned inquiry with a great deal of dedicated energy, believing that, even from outside of the daily requirements of running a school within the complexities of the greater system, I might have some important insights to offer to the profession that I love and the champions that toil within it. I believed then that I did. I still believe that.
For three years, I have been shouting into the wind.
My reflection led me to some rather urgent and compelling conclusions. First is that our public education system, and its approaches and methodologies, is outdated, if not obsolete. I observed that we are clinging to instructional techniques that, while in vogue and probably appropriate 150 years ago, no longer make the grade. I had to acknowledge that the needs of today’s students, 21st century learners, are vastly different from our 19th and 20th century era practices. While this seems obvious, it is not a realization that has made its way into the system’s main stream consciousness. This creates a current experience that is both dysfunctional and lacks relevance for kids.
The second product of my reflection is our severe underutilization of the innate curiosity and creativity that children bring with them to the school house. It seems to me that rather than capitalizing on these magnificent assets, we have built a system that under values these characteristics and may, whether intentionally or inadvertently, squashes them.
I could not deny through my pondering the enormity of the issue of equity in our schools. There has been a historical effort to find equality, such as treating all schools, treating all children, the same. But, that’s not equity. Assuming that what’s good for one must be good for all is our drastic mistake. One size does not fit all. What we should be striving to accomplish is the assurance that every child, each individual kid, receives the resources, services and attention that he or she requires in the moment, regardless of the zip code they live within. It’s a big challenge to develop systems and protocols to achieve a goal of true equity. We cannot continue to overlook this issue. Our time is up.
As I reflected on my experience, I was frustrated by how standardized our system of public education has become. Standardized curriculum. Standardized assessments. Standardization to a degree that we overlook the child. Standards are perfectly appropriate. However, our over standardized approaches make learning and school in general an impersonal experience. Kids suffer under standardization. They crave personalization.
Armed with the strength of my reflections, experience and convictions I concluded that it was time for me to take action. So, my first effort was to write a book. I published The Education Kids Deserve in 2018, and launched a website of the same name (www.theeducationkidsdeserve.com) as a platform or launch site for my message. Further, I undertook writing a weekly blog covering a variety of topics related to my discovery. This article is a continuation of this commitment. It represents the 97th post to hang on my website and to be posted to social media - Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
For three years, I have been shouting into the wind.
Then the pandemic hit. In response to the challenges it represents for our public schools, I have written a series of articles on topics worthy of consideration as we reimagine public education.
I’m still shouting into the wind.
(Maybe I need to turn up the volume of my shouting and incorporate additional approaches to my arsenal of activities to improve and modernize our public education system. To that end, I will soon host a weekly podcast titled, you guessed it, The Education Kids Deserve. Stay tuned.)
This week I read an article published in USA Today that was validating! Titled “Coronavirus Has Changed School Forever, Let’s Make it an Improvement.”, it was co-authored by Arne Duncan and Rey Saldana. Mr. Saldana is president and CEO of Communities In Schools, a national organization that ensures all students are on a path to success. My readers will recognize Arne Duncan as the former U.S. Secretary of Education and Chicago Public Schools CEO. What they had to say made me feel like a million bucks!
Here’s a short excerpt from their article. “Unprecedented times need unprecedented change . . . The only way to adequately respond . . . is to transform K–12 learning for good. Doing so will require a significant federal investment in education. The costs will certainly be high, but the long-term price of inaction will be even higher. . . We must move beyond short-term solutions. . . A solid plan for the future must also deal with the ways the coronavirus has exacerbated longstanding educational inequities experienced by many vulnerable children, including poor students and many students of color.”
Duncan and Saldana offer several “principles for creating a new public education system: evidence-backed principles around which we can reimagine a more just system of public education.” (Here’s where I really got excited!)
The school calendar is an obsolete notion. They advocate a re-thinking of the instructional calendar and our use of time, including the consideration of year-round schools.
Education can be personalized. “Schools need to make an individualized education plan for every student that takes academic and social-emotional needs into account.”
Competency matters, not seat time. “We need to rethink how we expect kids to learn and how we evaluate them. . . Competency-based teaching will be helpful not only to deal with the COVID slide but also the natural differences in learning between children and gaps caused by racial and income disparities.”
Supporting students’ non-academic needs is necessary, not “nice-to-have.” “Critical student services such as physical and mental health services, housing, food, and assistance with other needs enable kids to learn to their full ability and teachers to focus on teaching. These services will be even more critical in the coming months, with high unemployment and economic uncertainty.”
They conclude: “Even in a pandemic, our nation’s leaders have the chance to improve education for today’s children and generations to come. They should seize it.”
Their voices are louder than mine. I lend my voice to theirs. Perhaps a choir of like minded and committed individuals can begin a movement that will change the wind direction.