Archive for the ‘Public Education Reform’ Category

Waiting

The school board will have a special session next Thursday, October 6th to decide on the new member.  There are six candidates, including me.  The interview seemed to go well and I was impressed with the collegiality of the group.   These days too many school boards seem dysfunctional and divisive.  This group seems to really like each other and most important have a district that performs well above state scores across all metrics.

I would love to be a part of this but, of course, so would five other people.  I’m on pins and needles.

Song of the Day: 

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Today Is The Day

Today I am being interviewed by the Mukilteo School Board.  I am one of six candidates to fill an opening on the board due to a board member resignation.   This is an appointive position to complete the term for the next two years.

I have always been interested in public education and public education reform.  Now I have a chance to be a part of the system and help a great district get even better.  Our two boys have gone through this system and they are both better for it.  It’s my turn to give back.  And these days with budget cutbacks everywhere it will be challenging to keep providing a quality education while dealing with fewer resources.

I’m nervous as this is my first (job) interview in at least 30 years.  Shoes are shined.  Shirt ironed.  I’ve read the board meeting notes going back 12 months.  I have brushed my teeth and removed the nose and ear hairs.

Here we go.

Song of the Day:

The Race to Nowhere

The Race to Nowhere is a compelling documentary about the growing national problem of over-scheduled and over-worked kids and their parents.   The desire to get into the “best” colleges has led to a near-frenzy of making sure kids are getting great grades, doing lots of homework, playing a sport, doing community service, curing a disease, working in a third world village and speaking three languages; that kids are becoming depressed and incredibly tired.  And parents are frustrated.

We all want the best for our kids.  We want them to be successful, happy and healthy.  Mostly we want them to be kids.   This documentary is a good place to start.

It’s A Wonderful Country

If you sometimes wonder about what our voters are thinking, wonder no more.   Not only do some of these people vote they are also proof that our education system is just fine.

Students First

For the thousands of you who have been reading PS you know that I’m a big public education reform advocate.  In the words of Michelle Rhee it is the civil rights issue of our time.  She has started a revolution called Students First  to transform our public education system. 

If you think public education is just fine then you need to look at these stats.  It is sobering to see how much we are failing our children and ultimately ourselves.  The reality is that public education is really not free when it doesn’t work.  It becomes very expensive to care for an increasingly less educated population.  We are now among the bottom third of industrialized nations when it comes to Math and English test performance among 15 year olds.  That’s pathetic. 

For those who don’t know Michelle Rhee is the recent Superintendent of Public Schools of Washington D.C.  Among other things she fired a bunch of bad teachers and closed schools that were broken.  She also proposed the end of tenure.  Instead she proposed merit pay for great teachers in which they could make six figure incomes, if they gave up tenure.  Imagine that, if you do a great job you can make a lot of money.  If you do a lousy job you get fired.  I don’t know about you, but that’s how my career worked.  And that’s how most careers work.  But today public school teachers get to keep their jobs forever after two years…regardless of performance.  Wow.

This is one of the goals of Students First…reward great teachers and get rid of the bad ones.  And ultimately the kids win.  Isn’t that really what we all want?  Imagine if all our children were not only graduating from high school but also going onto college.   Right now less than one-third of high school graduates go on to college.  And if I’m not mistaken our society has pretty much shipped all the high school graduate type jobs overseas.

Anyway, I could go on and on.  I joined, sent money and volunteered for everything.  I’m way in.  How about you?

Teach Me, Part 2

For the hundreds of thousands of you who are regular readers of PS you know that I am a proponent of public education reform.  If you look at the Categories drop down menu, you can find previous postage.   In case you’ve been living under a rock you know that there is a national movement underway to improve public education.  From Race to the Top to Charter Schools to changing how teachers are evaluated to paying teacher more money; there is a lot of significant change happening.

One area that is in its infancy is online education.  The Internet has made it possible for literally anyone to learn more online.  If going somewhere and sitting in a classroom is a barrier then learning online might be the answer.   That leads me to a profound discovery I made recently:  Khan Academy.  Sal Khan teaches mostly math from arithmetic to algebra to Calculus and beyond…online.

He has developed over 1,600 tutorial videos that simply and brilliantly and most important, effectively provide viewers with digestible learning about all things math.  He also has some story problems, history, biology and a few others.  His background is a bunch of advanced degrees in math and engineering.  But his style is conversational and inviting.  Bill Gates recently said:  “This guy is amazing.  It is awesome how much he has done with very little resources.”

If you or your kids need a leg up in getting on the math train, you should go to http://www.khanacademy.org right now.  70,000 viewers daily can’t be wrong. Another powerful reminder of how much difference a great teacher can make.  Bravo.

Here is a video clip about Sal and the academy: 

Teach Me

Okay, let me understand.  The Seattle School Teachers’ Union just approved their contract.  But they opted to take the tiniest possible step when it came to authorizing teacher evaluation based on student test scores.  The approved version is limited in that test scores will merely trigger a closer look at teachers.   They will now be rated as innovative, proficient, basic or unsatisfactory — rather than satisfactory or unsatisfactory.  But a “basic” score only means a closer look — not termination or even probation.

And a few months ago,  Washington state was eliminated from the federal Race to the Top (RTT) competition.  In fact Washington finished 32nd out of 36 states.  That means our state will not get $250 million in new education money, which would have helped a lot at a time when schools are struggling to make ends meet.  If you don’t know, RTT is a federal program encouraging innovation in public education.  In short, the program rewards states for proposing significant changes to their public education systems in order to improve education.  Imagine that.

I am embarrassed.  I cannot understand why any teacher would not want student achievement as part of their evaluation.  I certainly agree that it should not be the only criteria.  But c’mon,  to resist including student test scores is absurd.  Trust me when I tell you that my children have had their share of bad teachers.  (To be fair, they’ve had way more good ones.)  I’m talking about teachers who prohibit questions from students, teachers who merely read from the text, teachers who are robotic, teachers who are burned out and going through the motions, teachers who keep returning after 15, 20 and 25 years who clearly don’t enjoy what they do.

In the private sector if you don’t do a good job you get fired.  In the private sector, a score of “proficient” or “basic”  is grounds for termination, especially if it continues.  Why would any teacher be proud of a score of proficient or basic?  Why would teachers not want their students to shine on tests?  Why wouldn’t teachers push their kids to be as good as they can be?  Why wouldn’t teachers want their salaries to — at least in part — be based on how well their students do?  Why wouldn’t teachers demand more of themselves?  Why wouldn’t their union demand it as well?

I understand there are lots of factors like home life, crowded classes, and not enough resources that contribute to the teaching and learning environment.  But in my view there is nothing more important than an engaged, passionate, creative and inspiring teacher.  Those are the teachers whose students tend to do better than their peers, regardless of their socio-economic situation.

I love great teachers.  They are noble and deserve to be recognized as heroes.  Yet, we lump good and “proficient” teachers together and basically let tenure dictate employment.  We have opted not to participate in public school reform — at least in any significant way.  We have chosen mediocrity, at best.

In the Race to the Top we are among the very worst in the country.  But the good news is that we beat Mississippi and Alabama… barely.