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The Importance of Collaboration

A year ago, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act which is designed to limit the federal government’s purview on PK-12 education by shifting the balance of power to the state and local level. This November, the Coalition of Rural & Appalachian Schools issued key recommendations for critical aspects of ESSA.  In the final section of the CORAS report, the authors affirm their belief that at the heart of ESSA is the need for sensible and rigorous collaboration between state and local agencies in the education of our children:  “A state-dominant enterprise is unable to foster the learning experiences that are appropriate and applicable to students of the local community; a “purely decentralized locally-driven arrangement does not have the necessary resources to ensure that education prepares each student to become active participants in our a greater democractic society.”

Sit Down Together and Work Things Out

Today, I was digging through the archives of the School Administrator which is published by the School Superintendents Association and revisited an article co-authored by my friend, Harry Eastridge (who is now deceased), and me.  The gist of the article entitled “Getting Caught in Your Underwear,” is that in the rush to get through the school day, important decisions routinely are made without consulting the people who will be affected by them.  Even when we take the time to establish special committees and other representatives of the people to help connect us with the broader community, most residents still feel left out of the process and do not clearly understand the problem school leaders are trying to fix.  As a result, school districts often get drawn into what are called “solution wars” where residents battle over the right thing to do and then end up trading one set of problems for another.  To avoid getting caught up in our underwear (one of the favorite expressions of my mentor, Jerry Bell, whose Oklahoma roots equipped him with an abundance of horse sense) and complicating matters, all we often need to do is simply… Continue reading

Addressing One of My Few Frustrations in Life

For the past 25 years, I’ve relied upon the seminal research generated by the Kettering Foundation to help guide my thinking in my work with our public schools and the communities they serve.  One of the Foundation’s most important findings is not only people’s sense that they don’t own their schools but that their lack of ownership is a major problem for American democracy.  In his book, Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy, Kettering Foundation President David Mathews asserts that “ironically, those with the greatest opportunity to shape the lives of the next generation are at the end of a long chain of authority stretching from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue through state capitals to districts to local schools and finally into classrooms.”  He adds:  “I believe there are ways for them to enrich our schools and, at the same time, reinvigorate our democracy, which is inseparable from education.” With that said, one of my few frustrations in life is that the Foundation’s valuable work is not reaching the leaders of our nation’s public schools.  To rectify this situation, the Santa Rita Collaborative and the Kettering Foundation have initiated a study to begin to learn… Continue reading

Exposing the Truth about Education Reform

Will the Donald Trump mania currently grabbing all of the media attention endure through the Republican primaries?  I don’t think so.  But that is beside the point.  Whether it is the growing public support for political outsiders such as Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson on the right or Bernie Sanders on the left, the American people are making a very strong statement that they have had it with all of the spin, deception and political correctness coming at them each day.  All they want is to be told the unvarnished truth.  And that means the good, the bad and the ugly.  For the leaders of our nation’s public schools, the desire for straight talk serves as a golden opportunity to expose the truth about how the education reform movement is impacting our teachers, students and communities.  Without question, along with that straight talk will come increased public support for our schools and increased political clout for our local school leaders.

Book Review

In a recent book review for the OH ASCD Journal, Moira Erwine encourages members of her Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development to read America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future and to have community discussions about how the education reform movement is impacting our public schools.  Moira, who is Director of Professional Development and Curriculum Instruction for the Educational Service Center of Lorain County, Ohio, writes:

“Can we shape the future of America’s Schools?  Author Corky O’Callaghan urges Americans who believe in our country and want to make a difference to read his book—America’s Schools at a Turning Point—and have courageous conversations with the public.  The increasing burdens put on public schools have hit all of us hard this year as we all struggled to prepare for next generation assessments.  Many of us were also hit with parents who were opting out.  The impact of education reform illustrated in Chapter Two realistically addresses over-testing and the division we are feeling in our communities.  Who is missing from the… Continue reading

Parent Involvement Being Taken to a New Level

In stark contrast to the conventional parent involvement strategies utilized in most school districts, local school officials in New York City are being encouraged to go door to door and engage school parents where they live in meaningful conversations about their children’s education.  “Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said.  “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.”  There is evidence showing that unlike what is taking place in New York City most types of parent involvement have at best a minimal impact on a child’s education.  Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a professor at Duke, analyzed surveys of American families in conjunction with children’s academic records.  They found that most types of parental involvement, like fund-raising or sitting on the parent teacher association, had little or no effect on children’s academic performance.  Dr. Robinson said it was emotionally appealing to think that parents going to school events or helping with homework would lead to better academic results, but his research did… Continue reading


In my blog on September 6, I mentioned that the meeting between school, township and city officials in the Vandalia-Butler City School District occurred on September 30.  The actual date was August 30.

Challenging the Myths about Our Public Schools

In 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools:  The Real Crisis in Education, the authors challenge many of the assumptions about the quality of our educational system being espoused by the leaders our nation’s education reform movement:  “We cannot count the number of even our close acquaintances who recite warped opinions about our nation’s public schools … Many citizens’ conception of K–12 public education in the United States is more myth than reality.  It is essential that the truth replace the fiction (Berliner and Glass 2014, 3).”  One of these myths is that international test scores show that the United States has a second-rate education system.  The facts are that international test scores are poor indicators to use in ranking the quality of national education systems and are even worse in predicting future national prosperity. Historically, the United States has never fared well on international test comparisons of student achievement in math or science.  In 1964, we took eleventh place among twelve countries participating in the first major international study of student achievement in math.  One of the major reasons why we rank so low on international test scores is… Continue reading

An Update on the New Jersey Story

In Chapter 12 of America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future, I chronicled the story of why a good-faith attempt by New Jersey’s most popular and powerful political leaders to impose an education reform initiative upon Newark’s underperforming public schools ultimately failed.  The lesson to be learned from what occurred there is a lesson that I’ve learned over and over again throughout my career.  And it is that the voice of the American people needs to be included when making major decisions that impact our public schools and the communities they serve.  This weekend, an update on the New Jersey story appeared in the book review section of the New York Times.  It is worth reading.  

The Stage Is Set

Four major societal trends have set the stage for the American people to get involved in helping shape the future of our public schools.  These trends include the loss of confidence in our political leaders, growing concern about the growth of government, latent opposition to the education reform agenda and our innate need to make a difference.  I believe that the synergy being created by these trends is moving our nation toward a tipping point in which our citizens will say enough is enough.  We want our schools back.  All that remains is for them to become aware of the extent to which our children are being over-tested, our teachers are physically exhausted and emotionally demoralized and our tax dollars are being diverted by our elected representatives to replace our public schools with a privately managed, free-market system of education.

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