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America’s schools are at a turning point.  Our children are being over-tested, our teachers are physically exhausted and emotionally demoralized, and our tax dollars are being diverted to replace our public schools with a privately managed, free-market system of education.

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Corky O'Callaghan

Insight from a 10-year-old Student

Virtually every school superintendent and teacher I know strongly supports the idea of having high academic standards.  However, the concern many of them share is the high stakes testing associated with these standards.  A case in point is a test being used to measure student performance against the Common Core Standards.  While one presentation from a 10-year-old fourth grader to the board of education of the Montclair Public Schools in New Jersey may not indicate how everyone feels about the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test, it does provide valuable insight into why there is growing opposition to it.  I encourage you to take a couple of minutes and view this powerful video.

Help Spread the Word

At the outset, my goal in writing America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future, creating my website and becoming a blogger has been to expose how our students are being over tested, our teachers are being overwhelmed and our tax dollars are being diverted by our nation’s education reform movement.  Unfortunately, however, nothing is going to change until the American people realize that our public schools are facing a serious crisis.  The basic challenge, then, is getting the truth about this crisis into the hands of concerned citizens who have little or no connection to our public schools.  With that said, I am asking you to help me expose the plight of our public schools to your personal network of friends, neighbors, business associates and relatives.  All you need to do is simply suggest to your email contacts that they go to my website at CorkyOCallaghan.com and sign up to follow my blogs.  If everyone does this, the impact will be significant.  Thank you for your support.

Making Your Voice Heard

Having a voice in determining education policy ultimately means having the ear of our elected representatives.  In today’s toxic political environment, however, the conventional wisdom is that only the loudest and most confrontational voices get heard.  I disagree.  I believe that the American people are sick and tired of the political infighting, grandstanding and gridlock.  I also believe that many, if not, most of our elected officials feel the same way.  With this said, I’d like to share a common sense approach for how our citizens can make their voices heard:  Simply create a personal letter of introduction and send it to your state representative, state senator, governor, U.S. representative and two U.S. senators.  In your letter, politely put them on notice that you are concerned about how the education reform movement (using your tax dollars for privately owned charter schools, the overuse of high stakes standardized testing, the overwhelming pressure being placed upon your teachers, etc.) is impacting you, your schools and your community.  Explain that you intend to be a strong and constructive voice in helping them shape future education policy.  Once your elected representatives perceive you to be… Continue reading

Excluded and Unaware

A recent article in U.S. News & World Report about the growing push back against high stakes standardized testing and the need for a new system of accountability reinforces a major concern I have regarding our national discussion about education reform.  My concern is that not only are the American people excluded from this discussion but most are unaware that it is even taking place.  So, with this in mind, I’m turning to you who have signed up for my blog for your thoughts about the following the question:  What are the implications of not involving the American people in helping shape the future of our education system?  Please reply below at “Leave a comment.”  Thank you for your help.

Loss of Funds to Charter Schools

This morning, I road tested a new website designed to help citizens in Ohio better understand how the 400 publicly-funded charter schools in their state compare to their traditional public schools.  The website is called KnowYourCharter.com.  For my road test, I selected my alma mater, the Milton-Union Exempted Village Schools.  A 1,500-student district located 12 miles north of Dayton, Milton-Union not only lost $252,223 this year in state funding to publicly-funded charter schools but received less in state funding than all of its charter school counterparts.  While Milton-Union received $4,115 per student, state funding per student for eight area charter schools was as follows:  Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow ($6,440), Virtual Community School of Ohio ($6,131), Ohio Connections Academy, Inc. ($6,142), Pathway School of Discovery ($6,435), Life Skills Center of Dayton ($8,046), Greater Ohio Virtual School ($6,484), Mound Street Health Careers Academy ($8,076) and Summit Academy Transition High School of Dayton ($16,745).  Statewide, Ohio’s public schools are losing more than $900 million a year in state funding to publicly-funded charter schools.

Students Influence Education Policy

Passerby in downtown Providence jumped, startled, as a ghoulish-looking crowd of young people turned the corner of Kennedy Plaza.  Green skin shined, sunken eyes stared, and torn, blood-spattered clothes dragged as they shuffled down Westminster Street.  These dreadful-looking young men and women gathered at the entrance to the Rhode Island Department of Education, where, instead of battering down the door in search of brains, these zombies showed they had plenty already.  One demonstrator stepped forward, megaphone in hand.  “We are here to protest the use of high-stakes standardized testing, and the zombifying effects it is having on our state’s young people,” he proclaimed.  This passage, which appears on page 135 of  More Than a Score:  The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, is one of many examples of the growing push back against high-stakes testing occurring throughout our nation.  As a postscript to the story of this student protest, in June 2014, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation placing a three-year moratorium on the use of standardized testing as a graduation requirement. During the debate prior to the voting, many legislators explained that the student activism had changed their thinking on the issue.

The Real Power of a Teacher

Mrs. Ortman had earned the reputation of being one of the strictest and most imposing teachers in our elementary school.  When I learned that she would be my teacher, I began my fourth year of school with great trepidation.  Fortunately, she became one of my most influential teachers and changed my life.  Her high expectations for me set the tone for my entire educational career and continue to influence me to this day.  Of course, I am not alone in telling my story.  Most of us can point to one or more teachers who had a positive influence on our lives.  According to a survey conducted by the global financial institution ING in conjunction with the National Teacher of the Year Award, 98 percent of adults believe that a good teacher can change the course of a student’s life and 80 percent can identify at least one teacher who had a significant, positive impact in their own lives.  In fact, teachers are second only to immediate family as the  group having the greatest, positive impact on their lives.  Unfortunately, the current hyper focus by our nation’s education reformers on teacher accountability… Continue reading

An Important Initiative in Ohio

This past Friday, something really important happened in Ohio.  On November 21, sixty superintendents met in Columbus to discuss an initiative that I believe will prove to be historically significant for the children who attend Ohio’s public schools.  The initiative is to provide citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy, and it is being led by a coalition of superintendents from 29 school districts in the Buckeye State.  While I will be contacting all of the meeting participants to gain additional insight into the impact of what was discussed, this is my initial takeaway from what occurred.  First, I think that Friday’s discussion is ultimately going to make a significant difference for our children.  By giving citizens a stronger voice in determining education policy, they will be able to address with Ohio’s education policymakers the fact that our children are being over tested, our teachers are physically exhausted and emotionally demoralized, and our tax dollars are being diverted to the corporate sector to replace our public schools with a privately managed, free-market system of education.  Second, the meeting validated the hard work of this superintendent-led coalition and has given the initiative… Continue reading

A Great Irony

A great irony is now taking place in education.  While leaders of the education reform movement in our country are trying to model our education system after countries whose students have historically outperformed America’s students on high-stakes tests, some of those very same countries are trying to make their education system more like ours.  Take, for example, China.  Dr. Yong Zhao is an internationally known scholar who studies the impact of globalization and technology on education. He is also author of the book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the World’s Best and Worst Education.  Dr. Zhao explains that China has an effective system to prepare students to pass exams.  It is a system that includes devoted parents and diligent students who are convinced that the only path to a worthy life is passing the exam and who are punished or rewarded according to their exam results.  However, unless the Chinese only want obedient, compliant, and homogeneous workers, they know they have to shift the emphasis of their educational system.  The West, according to Dr. Zhao, is where China is working to find the inspiration it desperately… Continue reading

It Matters A Lot

If we tell the American people how the education reform movement is impacting them and their public schools, will it matter to them?  This is a big unanswered question on the minds of many of our educational leaders.  This past Sunday, I learned, once again, that it matters a lot.  The setting was the meeting room of the public library in Green Valley, Arizona.  Green Valley is a retirement community located 25 miles south of Tucson.  The audience included about 30 senior citizens and the discussion which focused on the state of education in Arizona was led by a panel of educators that included two area school superintendents and an elementary building principal.  Following overviews of the positive things that are happening in their school systems, the three educational leaders responded to the question: What major challenges are you and your schools facing?  Since Arizona is at or near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to financial support of its public schools, initial responses not surprisingly centered around funding-related issues and concerns such as the difficulty of filling open teaching positions due to the state’s low teacher salaries.  Then, the… Continue reading

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