Sunday, August 31, 2014

Public Schools' Lemmings?

TO:        Edunationredux Learning Community

DATE:   31 August 2014

SUBJ:    Education Lemmings?

Good morning.

Schools are opening.   And like the urban legend of suicidal lemmings rushing to the sea, the images pop up; of our public systems indiscriminately following a testing and VAM Federal regimen, and politicized state education bureaucracies, to public K-12 educational sterility — while overdosing on sports, bureaucracy, phony inspirational mantra and preparing for more standardized testing.  The suicidal lemming behavior is pure myth; our public schools’ emulation, not so much.  

A wondrous season?

Clearly the US has many good public K-12 schools, even great ones.  There is no composite scorecard because we know little comprehensively and in depth about our public schools short of stilted US Department of Education data, and episodic press reporting with uneven educational provenance.  State grades based on standardized test scores are not a credible substitute.

But the reform dam is experiencing some cracks.  Over the last few months widespread grass roots resistance has blossomed:  To elimination of teacher tenure; to destroying teachers’ unions; to even more standardized testing; and to the “Common Core” even if for the wrong reasons.  But lastly and finally, there is nascent recognition that real US public school reform can’t be limited to the classroom and teachers, but needs to target marginal BOE and regular incompetent and unethical school leadership.  Duncan shrugged.

But back to those lemmings, some systems too close for comfort have executed a pretty good imitation of that myth, almost simultaneously illustrating that learning needs to start beyond the classroom.  Three systems regularly tracked are doing a coincidentally coordinated dance resembling Aristophanes’ famous lament.  What make one system’s bureaucratic excesses and educational deficits particularly egregious is that it is contiguous to a Big Ten research university, where the presumption is greater awareness of the nation’s future K-12 needs.

All three systems are a microcosm of why “A Nation at Risk,” “corporate reform,” charters, NCLB, and the “Common Core” initially materialized and persist, with BOE questionable to dysfunctional, with challenged public school leadership, technology late adopters or laggards, and slavishly following a testing pied piper.  Just three unfortunate opportunistic examples, but how many times across the US are these systems replicated because of reform misdirection plus broken or warped local control?

Prophetically, this week several prominent instances of educational sanity surfaced in media challenging reform strategies.  A state has called out Duncan and alleged reform as dysfunctional; a school system politely did the same.  A national organization credibly blasted the strategies.  And a prominent educator called out the myths to be dispelled and needed change to put US public education back on track.

The messages in the above links are hardly new.  Reality is that human behavior is increasingly revealed as subject to delusion, defensive psychological tactics, even our neural processes creating their own reality.  Traversing that minefield, if it is applicable to any of our society, should be a focal point of those charged with our society’s local educational missions.  The tools: listening, self-study, conversation, creative forays, design of contemporary learning and assessment rubrics, and practicing Theory Y and Z — not blocking transparency, plotting the next levy, or waging school propaganda campaigns.  

Those proactive goals, too frequently not at the core of public school responsibility or even awareness, and the incorrect values and misplaced zealousness of “corporate reform,” are precisely what are jointly depressing American public K-12 education; not the capacities of kindergarteners to now pass standardized tests.

Were our ‘Duncanian pied piper’ to be followed, where would he ultimately lead our public K-12 systems?  The suspicion is he doesn’t have a clue.  Likely it is on a par with awareness of how to, by 2015, validly and reliably segment and rank 4,500 complex and highly diverse US degree-granting institutions of higher education; where Edunationredux will segue to explore the issues next time out.

In the upcoming Fall elections and beyond, the representative refrain from public school parents and a taxpaying public usually is, but what can we do to put our public schools back on course?  The answer, surprisingly, is not complex but pragmatic:  As a start, quit voting the unprepared, the stupid, and the unethical onto your local school BOE.


      Ron Willett

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