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school reform

Three Main Things that Always Fail in Education

I’ve just finished one more article on what essentially becomes “The Three Main Things” that we need to do to improve our schools. They aren’t bad things. Well, sometimes they are. But, basically they sound essentially reasonable.

And I hate, hate, hate to argue with something that sounds reasonable because it puts you in the position of sounding unreasonable when you question what often seems like pure common sense, so I hate, hate, hate to say this, but…
school vocabulary
Three Main Things will always fail. Three Main Things are doomed. They are doomed when you are trying to fix a system.

It doesn’t matter if you are trying to fix the toughest problems in our toughest schools or the easiest problems in our easiest schools. They are doomed because a system is not like furnishing my living room.

Stay with me. When I was a young, married kid, we couldn’t afford much in the way of furniture unless it consisted of an overturned milk crate that I could pretend was an end table. We were putting ourselves through college. I wasn’t able to go out and buy a perfect Home Beautiful room. So I picked the Three Main Things. (more…)


Other Duties as Assigned: Go to Honduras

As vice president of the National Education Association, it’s hard to explain to someone what I actually do.

Constitutionally I do “others duties as assigned by the President”. Fortunately for me, our NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel, assigned me to learn as much as I could about what was going on in the world outside the NEA.

Inside, we are all experiencing times that try educators’ souls as we struggle to make sense of some expert’s solution to fix education’s problems that were caused by some previous expert’s solution to fix education’s problems.

Some of our schools are able to survive the experts and are succeeding on every measure. Some of our schools are failing. Our kids are counting on us to find real ways to turn these schools around.

So I went to Honduras to learn the process that an amazing group of caring people at Heifer International use to turnaround rural communities in poverty.

You might think a poor village in the mountains of Honduras would have little to do with schools in inner-city Los Angeles or Denver suburbs or Broken Bow, Oklahoma. You’d be wrong.



The End of the Election. The Beginning of the Work

During this latest election and campaign cycle I stopped watching TV, although, I may have missed out on a great diet plan: You lose your appetite watching all the negative campaign attack ads.

So it’s over for the time being. At least the TV part. Now the work. Dozens of people have asked me what the elections mean for our school children. Honestly, I wish I knew.

I only know what needs to be done. We need to fix the testing monster called “No Child Left… To be honest, the ironically re-named Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which was first passed in the 1960s before politicians thought of hiring ad agencies to give laws snappy names) has always had good things in it.

It has reading programs for poor kids and technology training and funding for kids learning English as a second language and for kids with disabilities. Its purpose was to give states and school districts a little extra funding, targeted to our students who come to us with special needs. There’s good, good stuff.

Then came No Child Left. Bad, bad stuff. Layered over the good stuff like geological strata of prehistoric rock is The Test. I don’t know if the testing industry put something in the Congressional Kool-Aid, but public schools are now more about The Test than about teaching human children.

All public schools live with labels by standardized tests, ranking schools by standardized tests, punishing, rewarding, promoting by standardized tests. We’ve got newspapers, for goodness sake, publishing the names of teachers on some phony “Effecto-meter” by how well their kids did on a standardized test. It is all, quite medically, insane.



We’re Not Waiting for a Comic Book Hero

(This post was also featured in La Plaza)

The producer of Waiting for Superman says he didn’t mean to imply that all Charter Schools were better than all Public Schools. He failed. That’s exactly what he seems to be saying.

But public school teachers and support staff are used to politicians and pundits ignoring their voices. Why would a movie director who needed a simple story of good guys and bad guys be any different?

If only he had asked us, “Show me something that works,” we could have shown him a story worth telling. There are so many Clark Kent heroes who are specifically focused on immigrant communities and the success of Latino and other students of color.

I would have loved to have shown him Las Vegas. It would have been a different movie if he had seen how the Clark County Education Association is working with their superintendent and school board on school empowerment projects. They are transforming public schools with the radical notion that when you bring the school community together to discuss what’s working and what has to change, they will be creative problem solvers.