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That Surprising Thing Bill Gates Said

To paraphrase the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when Bill Gates talks, education reformers listen.  As most people know, Bill Gates is one of the richest and most philanthropic individuals in the world.  But what many people may not know is that he has his fingers on the pulse of the key players in the education reform movement.  Most recently, he has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into helping develop and promote the Common Core State Standards, as well as hundreds of millions more in creating and implementing educator assessment systems that incorporate student standardized test scores into individual teacher’s evaluations.  On January 3, education reporter Valerie Strauss wrote an excellent piece for the Washington Post about the surprising thing that Bill Gates said regarding the failures of some of his education reform initiatives.  In her article, she questions how smart is is for a country to allow private philanthropists to drive public policy:  “Time after time, Gates has acknowledged that his approach wasn’t quite right.  There’s nothing wrong in admitting mistakes, of course, but there are dangers when philanthropists adopt pet projects they think will work and influence… Continue reading

Happy New Year!

To kick off 2015, I’ve made some enhancements to my website.  They include a personal message to the American people on my Home page, a separate Blog page, another item for the Making a Difference page, deletion of the Superintendent Forum page which was confusing and cumbersome  and a What You Can Do page which includes a detailed list of suggestions for what citizens can do if they’d like to make a difference in shaping the future of America’s public schools.  Happy New Year!

A New Sense of Hope and Possibility

In 1991, “Citizens and Politics:  A View from Main Street” was released by author Rich Harwood and the Kettering Foundation.  This groundbreaking study found that Americans were not apathetic about politics and public life, but instead felt pushed out, disconnected, and impotent.  Back then, they complained bitterly about a system made up of politicians, news media, and special interests that had overtaken the public square and operated with little regard for the people who lived and worked within it.  More than two decades later, the conversation has radically changed.  In new discussions with Americans across the country, Rich reports in his recent book, The Work of Hope, that politics and people’s disgust with it is no longer the central, dominant narrative in America.  Now the endless, often mind-numbing churn of politics lives outside people’s everyday world — operating as if in an entirely separate universe, with its own set of rules, winners and losers, and purpose.  Today, people are exhausted by the public recriminations and acrimony that hold our discourse hostage and they condemn our individual and collective inability to come together to get things done.  … Continue reading

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.

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

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



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