Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How can the Feds enrich public education?

I'm delighted to be attending a White House briefing on public education.  I know there will be a lot of people in the room and if I have an opportunity to make some suggestions, I'll have to be brief and focused.

Below are three recommendations for what I think we need to do on a federal level.  Of course the details matter, yet I thought it would be helpful to set some worthwhile aims.
  • Effective school systems should align federal, state and local policy that supports teacher leadership. 
  • Federal policy should ensure that all teachers have effective working conditions. 
  • Most importantly, the federal government should do everything it can to ensure that all children are "school ready." That means that all children should be well-rested, well-fed and healthy.  All children should come from safe homes and neighborhoods in which caregivers have time to spend with their children. "School ready" children are curious and eager to learn.
If you had a few moments to talk about education with White House officials, what would you like to say?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Building a Better Economy

Once again, the print edition of The New York Times (NYT) included the "Building a Better Teacher" theme for the Schools For Tomorrow conference (Jun 25 & Jul 2, 2012; p. A18 & p. A16, respectively).  The NYT should consider modifying the "Building a Better Teacher" theme.

"Building a Better Teacher" is an ideologically-loaded theme that 1) advances the notion that schools are failing because of bad teachers and 2) alienates over 3 million teachers in the US. And not one of the 14 featured guest speakers is a teacher.

Of course teachers can get better at their craft; we are life-long learners.  Yet Secretary Duncan estimates that 10% of California's teachers don't belong in the classroom. Dan Goldhaber, a research professor with the Center on Reinventing Public Education, estimates that nationally, the number of unqualified teachers is closer to 7%.  So what are we doing for the other 90-93%?

If we want teachers to be better at their jobs, we can first cultivate effective working conditions.  Yet the idea of "Building a Better Teacher" is aligned with the notion of human capital; "If we only had good teachers, then education would improve."  A more worthwhile approach to supporting education is to consider teachers' working conditions and their social capital; "If teachers have the support to collaborate and then influence curriculum, instruction, assessment and policy, then education will improve." Better working conditions translates into deeper teacher and student engagement.

We can also consider the importance of children's "school readiness."  Children will learn better if they are well-rested and well-fed, feel safe and are curious.  Children's proximity to poverty diminishes their school readiness.  Families in or near poverty are less able to provide the stability necessary for children's healthy development. This suggests that we might consider "Building a Better Economy" as one means to better engage students in their own learning.

The idea that print media are failing because of weak journalists is as preposterous as the idea that public education is failing because we have weak teachers. What if teachers decided to hold a conference called "Newspapers for Tomorrow" with "Building a Better Journalist" as a theme? The Guest Speakers would feature everyone BUT journalists.