The inconsistency could not be more glaring. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, speaking at the recent Democratic Convention, sought to rally the troops of teachers to the party cause by stating that the president, “believes teachers must be respected and paid like the professionals they are,” and that, “no teacher should have to teach to the test.” Say what?
Author Archive: Karmi Gross
The more things change the more they stay the same. Over the last few weeks I have seen the truth of that simple phrase. My work as an educational consultant has taken me to three continents in the last three weeks, working with schools within very different cultures, any yet with amazingly similar challenges.
While the scope of those challenges reaches beyond my word allocation, one issue is too strikingly similar to ignore: parents. From Johannesburg to Jacksonville, principals and teachers alike all bemoan the fact that parents seem to be taking over our schools. Whether chairing school boards or organizing grass roots committees, they seem to be everywhere, voicing their opinions with conviction and unyielding determination.
Not to be one to knock Readers Digest, but in general it is not known for its philosophical content. And yet one of the best pieces of advice regarding education was found on one of its pages. (I know, I really should get out more.)
Even though our children’s ears are firmly sealed to the sound of advice, their eyes are wide open to the sight of example.
Dear Mrs. Newteacher,
I hope you had a restful summer and are in a really good mood to teach our class. Whatever Mrs. Oldteacher from last year told you about our class is probably true, but we are willing to let bygones be bygones if you are.
Before we begin the new school year next week I wanted to give you some advice. I know a kid like me shouldn’t be giving advice to my teachers, but the same thing happens every year and it drives me crazy. It’s about the first day of school.
You turn the page on the calendar and you are shocked to see AUGUST show up in bold block letters. And, if the name on the top didn’t quite register, the two words right there on the bottom of the calendar page, scrawled across August 22-26 certainly get your attention: Staff Meetings!!! We all know what the bold block letters on the next page will show. It’s the page with First Day, Back to School Night, Meet the Teacher Picnic, etc.
Earlier this month the National Research Council released a study, Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. The paper poses a new definition for deeper learning, “The process through which a person becomes capable of taking what was learned in one situation and applying it to new situations – in other words, learning for ‘transfer.’”
I know it’s hard to work up sympathy for lawyers, but bear with me. For the news of the past few weeks has Mercedes and BMW dealers across the country worried as well. It seems that a law school degree will not guarantee that purchase of a shiny new luxury car upon graduation. In fact, only half of law school graduates will actually land jobs.
There are times when we finally see the light. When years of old thinking is suddenly and instantly swept away and the truth is there right in front of us. Many of us call this an “Aha” moment.
Usually we just turn over and go back to sleep. The truth seems too inconvenient, it might demand too much change and too much effort. And, hell, I’m on summer vacation! But, deep down inside we know we’ve been exposed to a new way of thinking, a shift in perspective that will simply never let us go back to ‘the good old days’.
The classrooms are empty and the hallways are quiet; finally, a time to think. When educators think, they think of achievement. They look back at the past school year, enjoy the successes and analyze the failures. They all want to achieve more.
Without a doubt opportunities for enhanced achievement can be found in every facet of our educational programs. We can upgrade curriculum, provide teacher enrichment, expand support staff and even offer free coffee in the morning. However, we might also want to take another look at those hallways and classrooms.
Which is your most difficult month? When asked, teachers will usually choose between September and June.
Some find that the transition from summer to school that takes place in September is the most challenging. They point to the fact that students have come off a long break, with little or no organized (or sometimes even unorganized) learning having taken place for more than ten weeks. Requiring students to settle down into a regiment of classes, tests and homework, after the summer hiatus is no small feat.
One thing that I always dreaded, as I enjoyed my summer vacations as a child, was the knowledge that, come September, I would have to write an essay about it. The more cool stuff I did the more I would have to write, so I kept my summer fun to a minimum, usually 50 words or less.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask teachers to write about their summer vacations? As a school principal, I would always begin by back-to-school teacher meetings with exactly that question: What did you do on your summer vacation? I could easily divide the responses into two categories.
“Love: A temporary insanity curable by marriage. Such wisdom of the ages, penned by American wit Ambrose Bierce, can be easily adapted to learning as well. We might say, “Learning is a love affair of the intellect, significantly diminished only by constant exposure to school.”
As the summer months roll in, there is a palatable sense of excitement in the air. Students count the minutes until that final bell rings; quite different from teachers and administrators who count the seconds. I once heard someone say that schools are the only environment in which everyone in attendance would rather be somewhere else; OK, schools and graveyards. Of course there are notable exceptions, but the rule holds fast to such an extent that it behooves us to question if it really has to be this way.
“Innovation never comes from the established institutions.” This statement, coming from Eric Schmidt, who served as the chief executive of Google from 2001 until 2011, makes us sit up and take notice. While Google has certainly impacted the way we interact with the world and with each other, we wonder who will make that impact on the way we teach and the way we learn?
With a focus on the content of their individual mission statements (or charters), charter schools try to become that innovative force acting just outside of ‘established’ educational institutions. The popularity of such schools speaks volumes of the need for such innovation and the belief of many parents that if change is going to happen, it is most likely going to happen outside the public school system. Most, it seems, agree with Mr. Schmidt.
I probably should not touch this subject. But, I’ve always wondered about charter schools. On the one hand they seem to be a great idea. Held accountable to the same standards as public schools and yet allowed to innovate and reform unencumbered by unwieldy bureaucracies. On the other hand they don’t really seem to deliver a superior education.
In the broad resegregation of the nation’s schools that has transpired over recent decades, New York’s public-school system looms as one of the most segregated. While the city’s public-school population looks diverse — 40.3 percent Hispanic, 32 percent black, 14.9 percent white and 13.7 percent Asian — many of its schools are nothing of the sort. About 650 of the nearly 1,700 schools in the system have populations that are 70 percent a single race, a New York Times analysis of schools data for the 2009-10 school year found; more than half the city’s schools are at least 90 percent black and Hispanic.