Saturday, February 22, 2014

Effect Changes in Education that Matter

This week I've had the chance to meet with multiple educators from different states and schools. I've thought a lot about changes in education that matter. Simply put, I feel that some of the work in education has moved too far away from the children's best interests, and I believe that it's a critical time for systems to re-look at educational roles, efforts, and dollars spent to make sure that most of the time, money, and effort are streamlined towards student teaching, support, and benefit. Below I've listed three critical areas that I believe need attention, and will result in better service to children.  Do you agree?
  • Class size.  No matter how many consultants, coaches, leaders, and outside interventionists you have, when class size exceeds 25, it's too many children. Even 25 is too big. The year I had 19 students was the year I had the greatest success, and I remember thinking, "Wow, I can get to everyone!" When I talk to teachers who have more than 25 students in their classes, their biggest concern is that they simply don't have the time to respond with care to those students--someone is always losing out.  Citizens and parents throughout the country need to be vocal about this--good learning requires thoughtful coaching, feedback, and response and that happens best with classes of 20 or less. Some schools are moving away from the classroom model, and in these cases a larger class could result in good teaching--but in these cases, roles have to be re-looked at since in these larger than 25 classes, it's still one teacher who has the greatest responsibility for all the student work while others come and go with little accountability, and that's not effective. 
  • Skilled Time on Task with Students is Critical.  The Common Core has brought a thick layer of professionals to education that rarely to never work with students.  All educators know that daily work with students awakens you to the critical needs, interests, and priorities in education--the further removed you are from this work, the greater the chance is that your work will not be inline with students' needs.  Yes, we need some who are removed from the every day time-on-task work, but the current movement towards a bottom layer of professionals with time-on-task with children, and a heavy mid-layer of decision makers who lead the bottom layer is not effective (in fact, it's oppressive). What is best is to make sure that the layer of educators who serve children is a layer with time, training, and respect--a layer that makes decisions and teaches children.  Audits of money spent and current roles, I believe, will result in the opportunity to put more experienced, well-educated professionals into classrooms with children on a daily basis rather than a stream of qualified professionals moving to positions outside of the realm of day-to-day work with children.
  • Rethink the Day. In days of old when worksheets and "sage-on-the-stage" teaching was acceptable, perhaps it was possible for a teacher to teach five hours a day with a daily 45-minute prep period to plan all lessons and respond to all student work and initiatives.  But today, with the depth and breadth of education and service to children possible, the school day schedule for typical teachers is ridiculous and uneven.  Some teachers have to prep five, differentiated, personalized learning experiences with specific attention to new standards a day (2-3 hours) for multiple children, and respond to multiple student requests, efforts, and needs at night (2-3 hours of work), and then get scored on their work with standardized tests. To do this job well adds an additional 5-6 hours a day which brings teachers well into the evening or well before dawn for prep and response.  Yet other professionals with similar pay have far less responsibility for at-home planning and response, and no connection to standardized test results--thus an uneven work world--a world that encourages professionals to move away from the needed academic work with children to areas where there is little homework and less accountability to standardized scores. If we begin to rethink the day and roles in schools, I think we can rearrange the time and responsibilities with little additional funding to make sure we are meeting the most important needs with the staffing and time available--making the most important jobs/tasks in schools doable and reasonable.  When job expectations are over the top, there's no way that educators can meet the requirements, and when educators can't meet the requirements, it's the students who lose out. 
Many changes in education are moving the important work, dollars, and time away from children and into the realm of positions that have little direct effect on student learning and care--this is a major issue in education today, and issue that local, State, National, and World decision making bodies have to think carefully about--this is not a private vs. public issue, but an issue of priority and effective systems.  

What do you think of these points?  How are you standing up to promote what's best for students in schools today?  How can you help to rearrange systems so that most of the time, effort, and dollars are supporting work that matters for children?  Streamlining all systems that support education, and putting more dollars, time, and effort into direct work with children will make the difference.  Don't you agree?