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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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A widely accepted unwritten rule in public education is that school superintendents are expected to set the agenda for what gets discussed. While, at first glance, this cultural norm may appear to be insignificant, it is an important symbol of the conventional thinking that is keeping citizens on the sidelines. In some ways, it is eerily reminiscent of the time when we were in school and had to raise our hand and gain permission from our teacher before we could speak. Today, many citizens still think they need to gain permission before they can speak.
Singapore’s schools are reported to be abolishing standardized exams, minimum and maximum marks, class levels, pass/fail, and subject grades over the coming years. In “Why the World’s Best School System Is Getting Rid of Grades,” Singapore Education Minister, Ong Ye Kung, is quoted as saying that “coming in first or second in a class or level has traditionally been a proud recognition of a student achievement but removing these indicators is for a good reason, so that the child understands from a young age that learning is not a competition, but a self-discipline they need to master for life.” Abolishing standardized testing is something that has been successfully implemented in Finland and Wales and many more countries are debating going that route.
In my recent blog on 12-5-18, I reported on a dinner meeting last Tuesday of superintendents and civic leaders from the Austintown, LaBrae, Boardman and Columbiana school districts in northeast Ohio. A major concern that was discussed during the meeting is the teacher shortage facing our nation. This growing crisis is addressed in a recent report in Education Week about two national surveys conducted this year. One of the troubling findings from this research is that only one in four teachers would recommend their profession as a career for a friend or colleague.
Four years ago, Ohio’s public school superintendents launched an initiative to increase their ability to help shape education policy in our state. Currently, the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network includes superintendents from more than 100 school districts. Last evening, four of them took a major step in turning their initiative into a community-based grassroots movement. During a two-hour dinner meeting, the superintendents and civic leaders from the Austintown, LaBrae, Boardman and Columbiana school districts began what will be an on-going conversation about ways in which they can provide the citizens in their communities with an opportunity to discuss educational issues and concerns impacting their schools. During this coming year, citizens from other Ohio school districts will be joining them in this important discussion.
In a recent broadcast of “CBS Sunday Morning,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it has been well documented that the partisan divide in our country followed very closely on the heals of schools stopping to teach civics education. In the same interview, Justice Neil Gorsuch added that only 25 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government and a third can’t name any branch of government. Their concern about the lack of knowledge about how our system works should be the concern of every American who believes that a healthy democracy depends upon an educated citizenry.
The Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout. Rick Rigsby delivers a powerful speech on how his father’s teachings have guided him through the most troubling times of his life.
I just read an insightful article in The New Republic about “Obama’s Lost Army.” This eye-opening expose provides an inside look at how he built a grassroots machine of two million supporters and then let it die. For those involved in leading the transition of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network from a superintendent-led initiative to a grassroots citizen-led movement, this article is must reading.
As I stated in my most recent blog, Rich Harwood has been a source of hope and aspiration for me for the past 25 years. Yesterday, on the eve of our nation’s midterm elections, he did it once again. Here are the highlights of what he had to say: “Everyday we hear that our country is divided and polarized. Of course, when I travel across the country, I can hear these rumblings, too. But I also hear something else. People are in search of ways to come together…This includes all Americans — no matter who they voted for in 2016 and in today’s midterms…So, on Tuesday night, as we watch the TV networks color their election maps red and blue, keep the following question in mind: What will it take to create the conditions for people to tap into their potential and join together to build a common future?” Over the past 30 years, Rich has innovated and developed a new philosophy and practice of how communities can solve shared problems, create a culture of shared responsibility and deepen people’s civic faith.
Rich Harwood is a hero of mine. I met him 25 years through his work with the Kettering Foundation, and after reading his report, “Meaningful Chaos: How People Form Relationships with Public Concerns,” I was never the same. It changed how I viewed my work with our public schools and sent me down a path to where I am today. Currently president and founder of The Hardwood Institute for Public Innovation, Rich discusses in a brief two-minute video how public knowledge differs from professional knowledge and the conventional wisdom that often turns public engagement into public relations.
Superintendents leading the work of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network met recently to discuss the policy implications of their core beliefs about public education and the role of our public schools. One of those core beliefs is that a quality educational experience should address the social, emotional, and intellectual development and well-being of all students. The good news is that this mindset seems to be gaining support from a growing number of state-level policymakers who realize that high stakes student testing, alone, doesn’t address what it takes to provide a well-balanced public education. With this said, I have a concern I’d like to share. Our teachers and students are currently overburdened by an education accountability system that includes way too much student testing and other state mandates. My concern is that, if our local educational leaders and our communities fail to get out front in helping to define how to incorporate a quality educational experience into our accountability system, the long history of education reform will repeat itself and another layer of state mandates will be piled on top of the ones already in place.