School Supplies

I hate school supplies. What happened to, ‘bring pencils, folders, and notebooks for each class’? Sure a trapper keeper or 5 subject notebooks might be nice for some kids, but is it required? Is it required that every single student in your class get exactly the same thing?

What about student choice?

I get the idea we want all students ready for school with the supplies necessary to succeed. And there are definitely better and worse ways to get organized. Do we have to do it for the kids?

 

There might also be some inequity as Bobby shows off the gold-plated trapper keeper thingie, and Carl has nothing. Do we fix it by making everyone buy the exact same thing?

At the school my sons go to there is an exact list and we definitely felt some pressure to fill it all out before the start of school. With parents encouraged to visit school for the “Drop and Run”. I thought it was a great way to meet teachers informally, but my wife felt the shame of not having bought all the right things as we went from class to class. And why does everyone have to bring in two boxes of plastic bags?

Then at the school I work at, there is a school supply list somewhere, that I had no input on. So far one student brought in three boxes of Kleenex and the nonprofit that works with our school gave me a bag with a scrub brush, a box of Kleenex, some staples, and a roll of paper towels. What message did that send to me?

Setting Goals

One of the big keys to success to this year is to teach students how to set their own goals. If they can set a strong specific daily goal then they should be able to direct their own learning.

Yesterday I did an overview of the class and the student and teacher roles. I tried to emphasize that basically our roles are now reversed. They will set a goal each day and I will conference with students at least once a week. So traditionally the student role (which they wrote down) is to listen and learn from the teacher. while the teacher determine what is being taught. However, in this class the student tell me what they are learning and I listen carefully so that I can give them the support they need to be successful.

Each day my students will have to come in the classroom and write a goal on a post it. then at the end of class what they did to reach that goal.

We practiced today. The goals were very broad. Things like learn something new, or be a better student. Not bad goals in themselves, but the lack of specificity will make the goals meaningless.

We practices by setting a goal for the year. At first it was still, be a better student, listen to the teacher, but as I went around the room and spoke to each student or table we started to get more specific.

Now we have goals like: straight A’s or come to school with a positive attitude. Further we have specific actions we can take to reach those goals. Do homework everyday for 30 minutes. Read one book a week, smile at 10 people.

I think we are almost ready to set daily goals. For now here is my goal.

Personal Education Dedication Statement

This Year in Teaching

I can stand in front of a classroom all day long and teach. I’m actually pretty good at that. I explain well, I have a deep understanding of my subject so when half formed questions come up I can usually see where they are coming from, but this is not the way I teach. This method of teaching meets the needs of students like me, but I don’t teach students like me. Most people at the age of 13 don’t want to sit and take notes from a teacher. they want to talk, move, text, snap, whatever, anything except sit and take notes.

I won’t try to incorporate all that into my teaching. That would be forced. What I will do is to allow students to take more responsibility for learning. For me this means projects. I’m calling what I am doing this year project based learning, but it isn’t quite fully that. We have one project for each unit, but they are not always natural teachers of the content.

For example the first project will be rewriting a song so that the lyrics teach operations on rational numbers. The project, could be more natural if we asked the student to explore sound frequencies, but I am not going for pure project based learning, I’m going for standards based learning.

I know studying song lyrics won’t teach anything about operations on rational numbers, but writing the lyrics correctly will. Maybe it isn’t project based learning right away, maybe call it project based assessment except that the project will be given first and students can choose to learn from me or through other resources until they feel confident enough to finish the project (or test if they prefer that sort of assessment).

The organization of each unit is pretty simple. (and I use the word unit loosely as we mostly group units by strand of mathematics) Introduce the CCSS standards, walk students through how I make standards into objectives, have students break the objectives into learning targets through the questions they have. (a KWL chart) Next introduce the project and show how it meets the objectives. Show students resources we have that will allow them to learn the target skills  necessary to meet the objectives and allow them to choose how and when to learn those skills. (Still individualized learning and not personalized (or vice versa I always get those confused), but giving a lot of voice to the students).

The important thing is the student choice. They don’t actually have to do the project. They can learn all the skills from me and then take a test, they can learn all the skills, from another resource such as Khan Academy or CK12 and take a test. They can learn on their own and then do the project. They can learn on their own and then do a project of their own choosing. It doesn’t matter as long as they check in with me at least weekly and are working towards the goal as measured by mastering learning targets.

We will see how this shift in learning goes. Oh and did I mention we are also going 1 to 1 and shifting towards Standards Based Grading? I actually don’t think I could do this without those two elements, but first things first changing the culture of the classroom. No more work turned in for a grade, instead steady feedback on a long-term project.

Dear White People

Yes I did watch the movie. Good, but not great in my opinion.

I know I’m white so this may seem a bit strange, but I’m going to try to explain people of color. I’m not the expert, but I hope that my being white helps people to understand.

I’m not claiming I am or ever have been a victim, or profiled, or anything like that. I don’t even have a lot of friends who are people of color, some co-workers, and Facebook friends, but not people I hang out with. Of course being an introvert I don’t really hang out with anyone, but my own kids.

What I do have is a desire to listen and learn. I listen as my friends speak at work, I read, a lot, Facebook posts, articles, books, etc…. I don’t blame, I don’t make excuses. So this is what I see.

Yes, racism is alive and well in America, thanks for asking. I’m a little racist. It’s true, I took that Harvard test and was disappointed in my results. But not really surprised. I grew up in a white middle class suburb and for the most part I have lived in one my entire life.

I also travel a lot, or at least I did when I was younger. I stayed up all night with strangers from foreign countries. I once even had coffee with 5 guys and we had to translate everything said not once but twice because 3 guys spoke Czech, 1 spoke only German, and I spoke only English.  I learned my white middle class American culture was not the only one, not the best, and not always the default.

Don’t get me wrong. I like my culture. I’m proud of it. It is just important for me to realize that when we talk about American culture I am the default. I am the guy people assume we are talking about in movies, newspapers, nightly news, on the Internet. When anyone speaks of Americans without any specification, they are talking about a guy like me. Though perhaps I am aged out of the default population now.

Being the default you might assume that I would get offended when people of color tell me there is systematic racism in America. Or basically I’m the problem. Except that while I am the typical American, I know I am not America. Not all black people are thugs, not all cops are murderers, not all white people are racist. I may be the average white, middle class, Christian American, but I am also an individual.

My responsibility, when someone of color says there is systematic racism, is to accept that fact. Sure if some fictional black guy, says the world is against me because I’m black, that doesn’t mean anything. When he says, “my dad had the talk with me about looking non-threatening when pulled over by the police.” I have to realize that his life is different than mine. I cannot discount his words because my experiences are different.

I think that is the hurdle most people seem to trip on. Their experiences are different. When I get pulled over I pull out my license and insurance then hold them in my hands on top of my steering wheel. In plain view. Three out of the last four times I was pulled over I received a warning. The timeline for this was a span of over 12 years. Not 52 times in just a few years. My responsibility is to accept that life and my experience are different. I will have to judge others by their words and experiences not my own.

My responsibility is to accept the fact that I sometimes have an unconscious bias and to stop denying it, especially when someone points it out. I need to take a critical look at myself and my actions and probably make some changes.

My responsibility is to stop holding my tongue when friends say or do something with bias. Not just racist memes, but unconscious attitudes and behaviors.

My responsibility is to find that area of my life where I can support change and do it. Real actions, not just write a congressman or share a #blacklivesmatter meme. As a teachers I give my students of color a voice in my room. I try to listen and implement their ideas while at the same time asking them to think critically and be accountable for following up. This is high standards, not that crap with tests.

My responsibility is to grow as a person.

My responsibility is to allow everyone their equality, and not complain that it is infringing on mine, because it isn’t.

My responsibility is to support not fight.

ISTE2016 Reflection

We, as tech ed folks, have been saying for years that it isn’t about the technology. This is why I love ISTE. Even before arriving my friend, and former classmate, Michael Walker, was asking if if I was there. I was late for ISTE Unplugged. The folks at my new district didn’t even know it existed. They went on a tour of the convention center instead. It isn’t about just being at the convention and going to all kinds of great sessions, it’s about connecting, or reconnecting with people whom I have probably never met.

Anyway, for an introvert like me technology is about the way I can connect with people I probably never would have or could have before. As per usual I stifled my fanboy impulses. I did not go up to many folks and say hi randomly, but I did stretch a bit.

I waved to Alec Couros before his session.

Debbie Fucoloro, former #ETMOOC buddies, and I met and talked for a good half hour.

I sat up front and made my usually irreverent comments, its a defense mechanism, while Chris Lehmann was talking.
I actually took a selfie with Vicki Davis and tweeted to Peggy George, who could not be there. That may have been the weirdest thing. I overhear behind me someone asking to take selfies for Peggy because she couldn’t make it, so I take one without looking and tweet. Only to turn around to find out that the I actually know the person sitting behind me. Really, the whole thing is weird. I’m sitting in one of hundreds of sessions in a conference with 14,000 people and I actually know the person sitting behind me. ISTE is crazy like that. Of the ten of so sessions I went to, I recognized at least one person in about half.

That doesn’t even include the random people I met in hallways and after parties.
I stopped and said hi to Adam Bellow and nodded to Tom Whitby both of whom I had met in DC for edcampusa, which is trending as I write this, a few years ago.

Said hello in passing to Ben Grey

I met and chatted with Noah Geisel, because he liked my t-shirt. Turns out we follow each other on twitter already. Twitter is like that though for some people. I follow about 1,500 people, but many of them just because they follow me and are educators. Now though I notice Noah’s tweets more often because we did make that connection.

Without social media I would not have known about any of these people.

I guess what I’m trying to say is these folks aren’t all high powered CEO’s that are consistently written about in fancy magazines. They aren’t all national policy leaders. They aren’t even necessarily household names, but they are leaders who have developed their own voices and for the most part did their own publishing and marketing to ultimately reach an international audience.

While I’m sure most of them would love to bend the ear (or arm) of John King, our education secretary, their true goals are to teach those in front of them. Whether that be graduate students, teachers, students, or whatever, and use that experience as the basis of their own learning. Or to put it another way exactly what I try to do here on this blog.

With that out of the way here are my notes on the sessions I attended at #ISTE2016

“3d printing lessons plans You can use in your classroom right now”
Torrey Trust and Trevor Takayama
bit.ly/ISTE3D2016
bit.ly/mass3d

I didn’t stay for all of this session because I also wanted to go to another session at the same time. My big take away was that it helps a lot to actually build a prototype by hand first then design in 3d. I think I’m going to have students design and build mechanical calculators of something. Something like this only with positive and negative signs or maybe an abacus.

“Problem Based Learning extravaganza”
A panel with Adam Bellow, Shaelynn Farnsworth, Katrina Keene, and Nicholas Provenzano

My main take away: Start with a good general rubric, Rubistar was suggested, Then have students tell you what the various levels of understanding are. What I was doing last year was basically giving students step by step instructions. For example, if you put this this and this in then on this part you get 4 points, If you only put in three of those things you get 3 points. Etc… Then I was wondering why students weren’t actually doing any of the work. But if we set out a general rubric and then ask students to define as a class or as individuals what it means to show understanding then they are more likely to focus on the work.

Growing strong digital writers: Micro-writing for Macro-thinking”
Christopher Lehman, Maggie Roberts, and Kristin Ziemke.

Honestly I went to this one because I saw a tweet. I teach math to 7th graders so I don’t usually go to these obviously language arts based sessions. Then of course I found lots of stuff I could use.

One of the plans for next year is to give students a lot of scratch paper to work on during the day and then have them write a journal entry at the end of the period. Short quick writing with a point. There were a lot of good suggestions, but I think I might implement right away the idea that the journal prompt doesn’t have to be a paragraph on google docs. It can be a vine or snap or tweet as long as it is designed to not only impart the knowledge, but also to draw the reader’s interest.

“Use Technology to Enhance Assessment of Student Learning”
with Andrew Miller. http://andrewmiller.com/

He has a million tools, but I liked the philosophy. Assessment has to tell a story.
And His 5 pillars of assessment.

Andrew Miller 5 pillars

My favorite quote was, “An assessment is not summative or formative until you decide. Oh everyone failed well that is formative and i will reteach.”

He also recommends
Themespark by educourage
Makes rubrics from standards.

From this point on it seemed my theme would be digital citizenship.

First a keynote by George Couros
“From Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership, Empowering Learners Through social Media”

A very moving talk on some of the best and worst of digital citizenship.

The gist of the talk. Instead of teaching students to be afraid of the Internet maybe it would be better if we taught them to harness its power.

Some of my favorite quotes.

If you are not literate in social media today’s tech you are illiterate
Students are learning the fears of adults not the possibility of the future.
Rules for internet behaviors: Anything you can say to students you can say online.
Went to library as a kid and looked at national geographic when i got caught no one canceled the subscription or, kicked me out of the library they had a talk with me.

This photo I saw on facebook kind of sums it up

Internet 1998 don't meet people from the internet dont get into cars with strangers. 2016 literally use the internet to call strangers and get into their car

1998: Don’t get in strangers’ cars Don’t meet people from the internet. 2016 Literally summon strangers from the internet to get in their car. 

 

 

Rethinking Digital Citizenship with Dean Shareski

The world is changing. Digital citizenship s more than just not doing bad things. he had us draw a 4 pane window with Personal at the top, Professional at the bottom, Visitor on the left, and Resident on the right. Then add the tools you use on the internet left right, up down, based on how you use them. For example for many people LinkedIn would be near the bottom left because they create a resume online mostly for folks who aren’t really digital natives, but perhaps want to be hip. I don’t have a good picture of his slide, though I’m sure it is online.

Chris Lehmann and
“Building School 2.0 How to Create the Schools We need”
It’s also a book.
I liked the participation. Most interactive sessions these days include some sort of shoulder or partner talk, but Chris also asked us to summarize the answer in a tweet. It’s probably not new, but the first time I’ve seen it, so I thought it was particularly engaging. The tag was #school20iste but that seems to have been hijacked by marketers. You can find my tweets here.  and the top tweets.

“Empower every teacher Districtwide with Action Research Personalized PD” Jarod Bormann and Jill Kelly.

I was impressed with this approach to personalizing PD for all teachers. The basic step for personalization for teachers is:

  1. Teacher researches topic – Not just a tool, but concept driven
  2. Teacher integrates new concept into classroom – With help and support of coach
  3. Teacher reflects on integration – again with help of coach
  4. Teacher presents findings to district and world

Kind of an action research model with support of coaches. A couple of caveats in their system. Each level should be marked with a ceremony and a token that is substantial enough that teachers would like to display it. they use nice flags in their district. The timeline is open, six months, a year, two years, whatever the teacher needs. Monthly two hour meetings with reflection and flag ceremonies, but those are limited to 20 minutes or so, most of the time is spent doing personalized PD in a central area so the coaches can visit. Those who have chosen not to do research can attend tech tool sessions.

“Developing Student Upstanders: Empowering Youth as Leaders of Digital Citizenship Initiatives” Alec Couros.

Bit.ly/courosdigcit

We live in a participatory culture. The old rules of digital citizenship 1.0, when we were seldom connected, don’t apply. Tools like Snapchat are popular because they give the illusion of transience.

We can probably use more sites like https://vsco.co a sharing site without likes.

As we share more parents ask for more. the fear of predators goes down, but the risk of catfishers goes up. For some reason Alec, Dean Shareski, Adam Levine and I’m sure many others have their many photos online taken and used by catfishers. That is people who try to romantically lure people into some sort of scam.

The world of the romance scammer is full of interesting tools from simple photoshopping to innovative ways of splicing live video feeds. Something I’m afraid is going to be a big concern in the future.

It used to be everyone knew the old adage, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” today people forget that because they can see a few pictures.

by Peter Steiner and published by The New Yorker on July 5, 1993

And that is it for #ISTE2016. I suppose I could write a good post on each session, but well I’m lazy. You should look up these presenters on your own and learn from the source.

Murder

The other day I saw an ant hill outside my front door, so I made a pot of coffee and poured all over that hill. Today they are all dead.

Mass murder of ants. I have no regrets, I had easy access to a weapon and of course who cares about ants.

Last night a violent man with easy access to a weapon and who was told over and over that gay people are less than human went and murdered a lot of people.

Access to an AR 15 didn’t cause this, it just made it easier. Religion didn’t cause this, it just made it easier. A history of violence didn’t cause this, it just made it easier.

There isn’t one cause for any of this. In the end a complicated juxtaposition of issues that came together in one man who choose murder as an outlet.

If he had a better childhood, or counseling, or restrictions on guns, or a better understanding of God maybe things would have been better. But, he didn’t have those things.

Do you want to prevent this from happening again? Choose one or more of the above and make it better.

Follow Your Passion

This video from Mike Rowe

 

has been going around. It suggests that the advice you may have received to “follow your passion” may be ill advised. I get what they’re saying a passion is not a livelihood. Some people are lucky and maybe they love writing and make a living out of it, or they love acting in to make a living out of it, but for many people their passions are not monetizable or worse they just aren’t good enough at what they are passionate about to be successful. (And by successful he implies great which is a pretty high bar to cross)

For many people following their passion means making sacrifices. If your passion is going to be your full-time job sure you made love going to work every day but you may not make a lot of money. Some people are okay with that, and some people aren’t. If my passion is crocheting socks maybe I shouldn’t think about doing that for a living. Sure or I could probably sell a couple on Etsy. If I get lucky they become some sort of hipster value item, but it’s not very likely.flickr-3824584187-medium

And that’s the same for most people. I don’t think the average person depends on their passion to become their livelihood. I don’t think the average person even has a great passion. Much less a passion that they would consider the defining element of their life.

I mean my wife is passionate about decorating. She even started a business as a decorator, but it didn’t last. That had nothing to do with her skill or passion for the job of decorating. It had everything to do with the other responsibilities of being a small business owner. For a small business to run and make money you have to put as much or more time into the business side of things as you do the passion side of things. 

If you want to start a business in your passion, whether  it be music, decorating, or painting, or whatever what happens is after a full day or working your day job, then you put in a full day on your passion, but not necessarily doing your passion. It might be calling dozens of people asking for a gig, or looking for business, updating the web page, writing a blog post, practicing, making flyers, or a million other things. Most of them boring work. Suddenly, making a living in your passion isn’t fun, it’s work. you might even hate the one thing you used to love.

For many people working a regular job and indulging in passion during free time is a much more sensible way to live life and I haven’t even gotten into those of use who don’t really have a passion.

I didn’t have any passions in high school. I was pretty good at math so when I went to college I started as a high school math teacher. Then I dropped out because I had no passion to get over the obstacles in my way. Eight years and a series of jobs later I finished a liberal arts degree and took stock of my life.

All I really knew was that I wanted to do something that was of service to people. Education was the right answer, just not high school math. Even then it was several years later before I became passionate about education.

Don’t follow your passion is not bad advice, but I think it’s only scratching the surface of the problem. Just like follow your passions and you’ll be happy is kind of good advice that’s that’s only surface level.

The real key is to find that mix of life and passion and work that makes you happy.lego steve

I know plenty of happy people who go to work at a job that is just a job, but it makes money and pays the bills. They come home and have fun and enjoy life. I also know people who are passionate about their jobs and pour all kinds of energy into it their work. They take work home and it defines who they are, and that is ok with them.  Both are happy with their work life balance. (Note this should not be confused with people who pour their whole life into work because they are afraid to lose their jobs. They aren’t happy. It should also not be confused with people whose jobs require them to put all of their waking hours into work. They may or may not be happy)

Passion does not make you happy, neither working in your passion or just working. What really makes you happy is being conscious of the choice we all have to make and then choosing what will be best for us.

Student Review

The school year is over time for me to give my first ever student survey of my teaching. I basically took my questions from http://ukiahcoachbrown.blogspot.com/

Questions Was I well organized? Did you understand what was going on? Did you learn how to learn independently? Do you think I improved since September? Did you feel safe? Were you, as a student, treated with respect?
Average 7 7 7 8 8 8
Overall 8

I think the students were much nicer to me than I would have been, or am I just too critical?

I’m not surprised the organization is low. I think I am pretty good at setting up a system, but not very good at sticking to it. That and 7th graders tend to pull me off task. It’s something I will always need to work on.

I’m also not surprised students were confused a lot. First that can be related to the organization, but I think more importantly it comes from the way I teach. We tried to do a lot of problem based learning and the students didn’t like that very much, especially at the end. Near the end of the year I had students beg me for worksheets and tests.

Even though the rubric we created was more like step by step guides many students still struggled with what and how to create a project. For example the second page of our last rubric had a list of components. Still students struggled with what to do. My mantra for the last week of the project was, “If you are not figuring out probability you are not doing your project right.” Still I had students spending hours on their game boards that didn’t include any form of probability at all. Sometimes teaching is like banging your head against the wall.

At least we learned something. Next year our projects will start with these very detailed rubrics, but I will actually shorten the work-time. What happens is students still work, work, work up until the final due date then turn in a project that doesn’t meet the criteria for success. No matter what feedback I give to them during the project, they only listen when I put a grade into the grade book.  (Not everyone, but quite a few anyway).

After the grade goes in and they see that low grade about half the students ask how they can make it up. So the plan is to allow everyone who wants to reopen their project and make improvements. It was my experience that after the grade is in and isn’t acceptable to the student that they begin to care.

It is still too focused on grades, but this is the first step. If I can teach students to see the relationship between the rubric and the grade maybe we can start getting students to pay attention to feedback before the grade goes in the book. It’s a thought anyway. My next post will have more detail on the changes we are going to make for next year.

This does lead me to the next rating, “did you learn how to learn”? I’m surprised that rating is so high, but maybe because most of my class time seems to be spent dealing with students who struggle with rubrics and only look at grades.

I’m glad I improved in the eyes of the students, they felt safe, and respected. This is the most important part of course. Students feel safe and respected, but perhaps not safe enough because many still don’t take risks in their work. I’ll try better next year.

Building Robots Underwater

Greeting the base commanderI love teaching on days like this. The culmination of months of hard work. At first the kids were little nervous and asked for help, I gave a suggestion or two, and then they ignored me and went did their own thing. It was amazing to watch.

Problem Solving

They were building underwater submarines. A competition among20160319_122356 schools around the state. It was our first time. We had no idea what we were doing. We even missed a critical aspect of our design and had to scramble to make up for it.

 

Dads Helping

It was a day of adapting and overcoming and I got to watch. After that first freak out in the morning the students just started trying failing, trying again, failing again, and trying again. There were moments of utter dejection as they failed and then there were moments of sheer exhilaration as an attempt succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

20160319_130259

At the end of the day we did not win a single award. That was truly a bummer, especially because the group right in front of us won 7 awards, including best overall. True they were high school students, true they had practiced in a pool, true they probably have attempted this competition more than once before, but it still didn’t take away the sting and hurt of losing.

20160319_113931

Every time a child complained we said the win was just getting here. It sounded a little hollow, but it was true and we know it. On the way there even the lead teacher was ready to give up and said, “I’m not doing this next year”.

On the way home we were planning on how to do it better. Today was a great day to be a teacher.
#nmsafamily not just a hashtag
20160319_125125

Education and Politics

I usually like to stick to education on this blog, but I thought I’d take a little foray into politics. This 2016 election year has been interesting to say the least. I’m generally a Democrat but I have spent a lot of time with Republicans and I believe I understand the lure of the Republican platform. Who would not be excited about lower taxes, a smaller more efficient government, and people with values?

There are of course differences between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans want government to do as little as possible and private enterprise to do as much as possible. This whole social conservative movement that has erupted over the last 20 or 30 years is not part of the original Republican Party. It’s something that I think some politicians have used energize the base, but is not really part of the real conservatism.

Democrats on the other hand see as government as a tool of the people. Democrats don’t necessarily see government is evil, but they know that government can do evil. What they do want government to do, what they believe government does best, are those things that individuals can’t necessarily do. The government should protect people from the powerful, protect people from being exploited, force the powerful to do what’s right, fund and share large project that help the country as a whole, but aren’t necessarily direct money makers

The differences are pretty basic as far as I can see. Republicans see a problem and they try to shine a light on it and create incentives for the free market or private enterprise to fix the problem. Democrats see a problem and they want the best solution to be found and implemented.

Now if the problem is building an infrastructure, such as roads, or water systems, or even delivery of education, I think the government is the right entity to provide that solution. These are huge projects that benefit everyone, even those people who don’t use them on a regular basis (this in my mind makes me a Democrat). So yes, our collective will, the government, should be the person who leads the development and financing of these projects. On the other hand the national government shouldn’t be making small detailed decisions like where should the stop sign go, or how much fluoride should I put in the water, or exactly what should be taught during March of the school year in a local elementary school. These decisions are best left to the local people.

Take for example the Department of Education. It was created by the Carter Administration. only a Democrat would think of elevating the Department of Education to a cabinet level position. On the other hand only a Republican would think of pushing the limits of those powers. In 2000 Bush decided to use the Department of Education to help underprivileged schools. It is no surprise that for many years students in underprivileged neighborhoods had schools that are failing; they often have buildings that are falling down, they have less equipment, many have less effective teachers, and students generally don’t do as well or learn as much as their more privileged peers.

With the Republican mindset of a government that doesn’t do things, but encourages businesses or people to do things it makes sense to Start No Child Left Behind. If you start with just the general idea of schools are bad, let’s tell people and require the people make them better that doesn’t sound like a bad thing does it? And really it isn’t, it’s not bad to shine light on the truth. And the truth is that schools and students in underprivileged neighborhoods get the short end of the shaft.

The problem is the execution of the policy. Politicians are more often than not lawyers, not educators, they don’t understand how education works. Like most people they went through school where the teacher taught, they took the test, if they passed the test then they must have learned something. So NCLB is set up that way, give kids a test and if they pass they learned if they fail they must not have learned. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the teachers didn’t teach and the schools aren’t working.

After Bush came Obama and Democrats. Democrats see government as needing to fix what is wrong. Since Republicans were so nice to shine a light on the problem Democrats decided to institute a fix.

The Obama administration followed No Child Left Behind with Race To The Top. Race To The Top took the idea that these schools were failing and we need to institute researched based policies to fix them. This sounds good to me except for the part where research says basically anything you want it to say and so politicians / lawyers devised the solutions that would somehow fix education.

There are a lot of problems with schools in our poorest neighborhoods. the best teachers often leave as soon as they can, resources are woefully inadequate, buildings are falling down, often community support is lacking, and the culture can be counterproductive (If you don’t see education as a ticket to a better life you don’t value education). Unfortunately not every school faces the exact same set of problems so a solution has to be created for each school and each district separately. There can’t be one set of instructions for everybody. And the policies that were picked sounded good, but rarely worked.

The real fix for education is a simple compromise between the Republican and Democratic approaches to the problem. There needs to be a light shined on the issues facing schools, but it has to shine on all of these issues, lack of support, lack of money, lack of community, all of that stuff has to be brought to light. We can’t depend on the goodwill of businesses or nonprofits or community volunteers to fix these problems, we have to as a people, as a government entity, decide that we value education and provide the necessary support. Those supports include wraparound services, building the support structure necessary to make education possible.

Then we need to step back and let local districts decide what that means. If this sounds like education in the 1990s before Bush instituted No Child Left Behind, then you’re half right. It is except before No Child Left Behind there was no spot light being shined on these districts. Have you ever been to a school board meeting? Nobody shows up. The school board is there, the principles are there, the superintendent is there, and usually the union president is there. The only time the public shows up to a school board meeting is when somebody is winning an award, or somebody’s in trouble.

Obviously locally elected school boards are not really being monitored. So some sort of monitoring or justification for implementing policies and follow up on whether they’re actually working or not is necessary. And it might actually be good or better if it’s being monitored by somebody higher up, the state or the national level. It could provide more stability, often schools will go in one direction while a superintendent is running the school district and then that person moves on, somebody new is hired and the direction changes. Schools and education don’t work when you change direction every 2 or 3 years.

Schools and the people in our poorest neighborhoods need more than just edicts from a government power. They need the time and support to develop and implement their own solutions to their own problems. The Republican solution which seems to be telling people to doing stuff wrong and either fix it or get in trouble doesn’t work. The Democratic solution of implementing a fix designed in the White House or on Capitol Hill will not work. Each solution needs to be developed and implemented in each neighborhood, custom solutions for each individual problem. The government needs to hire good people and let them do what they are good at doing.