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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Beyond Superman: A Guest Blog by George Lucas

George Lucas

Filmmaker and Founder, George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Twenty years ago when we started The George Lucas Educational Foundation, we thought it would be 10 years before the general public would understand that the education system was in serious need of fixing. Today, in the wake of new energy in Washington D.C., new focus in the educational and philanthropic communities, and with the recent release of the film "Waiting for Superman," the nation is getting a better picture of what is wrong with public education in America. And people are finally talking about it.

It's time to have a conversation about what's right in our schools, what's working. And as we debate what to do to fix the problems, let's remember that there are successes in education everyday we can emulate. In districts of every stripe and demographic make-up, educators are dedicating themselves to providing their students with a high quality 21st century education, and using new technologies to make it happen. They are showing kids how to find and analyze information and how to creatively deploy their analyses to solve problems. These educators are beginning to re-invent the learning process, guiding students through rigorous, real-life projects that integrate core academic topics and personalize the learning experience based on a child's strengths and weaknesses. They are building confidence and ambition in children, by supporting them emotionally and providing a safe, engaging environment to learn. Most importantly, these innovative educators are creating a next generation of citizens with academic knowledge and problem solving abilities that will serve our country for years to come.

Are there enough of these teachers and principals? No. Will the work of fixing our schools and re-inventing the learning process be long and arduous? Of course. But as we move on from the debate and get busy building a better way, let's remember that the solutions--and the people who are implementing them--are not far away. In fact, they are nearer than you think. Check out our video library for hundreds of examples.

--George Lucas, Filmmaker and Founder of the George Lucas Educational Foundation

This blog also appeared in the Huffington Post.

George Lucas

Filmmaker and Founder, George Lucas Educational Foundation

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Kate Shannon's picture

Thank you for entering the teaching field! It may seem that today has many controversies, however, education has always been controversial.Through education the society is changed; the world is changed. Changes have occurred for centuries;in my lifetime children with disabilities have been included in classrooms, integration has occurred, and Dyslexia has been addressed. Famous people such as Ansel Adams, Henry Winkler and even Albert Einstein were not successful in school.

Teaching today requires continual reflection and participation so that all children can be reached. We must all remember that in America - everyone! is entitled to a free public education. With this promise our country does something most countries in this world do not do. Data from other countries does not include all children.

We must look beyond scores to learning, innovation, thought, and creating leaders in all fields. Where would we be if Prof. Einstein had believed what his "teachers" had told him?

Kate Shannon's picture

I agree that we need to have all stakeholders included. Education has become a "political" mantra; the pendulum is swinging again - one swing to free play - one swing to testing; I feel we need to create life-long learners.

Norma Sonson's picture

Becky Sherman - Regarding Reading
Becky I agree that reading to some students are not natural anymore and it should be modeled to them like good behavior. Some of them come to school without any idea what is "real reading" means. Reading is a process for them to learn. Technology could be one aspect that disinterest some students to read. Instead of reading, it's just one click of a finger.
My school use a program called 100 Book Challenge where the students read half hour everyday at school without stopping and encourage them to read at home where students take home basket of books. Books that they can read without any assistance from adult. In this time, students are building their reading stamina and eventually will develop the love of reading in different genres.

Cindy Ambrosius's picture

I teach a successful (public) charter school (K - 8) in Alaska. This is my tenth year there and previously taught at other schools in my district. We meet our AYP every year, even though we have many students with disabilities. Several years ago, our state gave out merit bonuses to various schools around the state for having exceptional test scores. Many of us felt guilty in receiving this because we know other excellent teachers in our district who work just as hard or harder in teaching their students. Merit pay does not work and is not fair!
So why is our school at the top of the list every year?
1. Smaller class sizes, for one. Our middle school classes have no more than 28 students. Kindergarten has 24 students between a teacher and an aide.
2. Ability grouping in math and language arts to best meet the needs of the students and which lowers the teacher/pupil ratio.
3. Mandated parent involvement, so we have great parent participation and most do it willingly because they love the education their children are receiving at our school.
4. Great technology, we have smart boards in almost all the classrooms plus a computer lab and computer classes. Middle school students all have access to laptop computers.
5. We offer great classes besides the core classes such as art, music, Taekwondo, and Spanish, as well as many other special school wide activities throughout the year.
6. We offer mini-classes in reading and math to individuals who need extra help at the end of each day, plus a study hall for students who want individual help or have a hard time getting work done at home.
7. Great leadership.
It alarms me to hear that there are school districts getting rid of science, social studies and the arts just to focus on reading, writing and math. I agree with Mr. Lucas in looking at what is working in our schools. I also agree Perry Kacik in that there needs to be dialogue between many groups of people. Mainly educational leaders should listen to the teachers. We are in the classrooms and we know what works and what does not. How many educational leaders actually spend time in the classroom? We also must have people who think education is a good investment, we need decent teacher contracts, and better teacher/student ratio. We tend cut corners to save money but in the long run, everyone loses out.
By the way, my school happens to be the most run-down one in the district. It consists of portables and a hodge-podge of other buildings. However, thanks to the state of Alaska, we do have a beautiful gymnasium in our main office area. Facilities do not make a school. People do.

Becky Sherman's picture
Becky Sherman
Graduate Student - MSEd with Specialization in Mathematics

Norma, I had a master teacher while I was earning my teaching credential who made a chart and blocked off achievement marks for each student. Some students had 7 sections, some had 15, one had 40, etc. The number of achievement marks the student had to color in to reach their expected reading amount was based upon at which grade level the child was reading and their reading speed after individual assessment. All children had the opportunity to fill in 100% of their reading achievement bar because the expectations were tailored toward student ability. This system worked in this 3rd grade where we had students reading from 0.5 to 4.9 grade levels. Expecting a child at 0.5 to read the same number of books as the 4.9 level child was not in the best interest of keeping student unity. The point was to encourage all the kids to keep reading and make their workload reachable. If we could keep the kids reading, they made steady progress.

So many kids just do not get any encouragement at home. When I worked in Kindergarten, we sent home an 8 page book and asked parents to read it to their child. The whole process would take about 5 minutes on a slow day. We actually got notes written back to us telling us that the parent did not have the time to read to their child. It probably took longer to write the note than it would have taken to read the book to the child. I am so glad I taught my children to love books. My favorite picture of my daughter is of her sitting in the back yard on her tricycle reading a book. Someone once told me I should have told her to put the book down and play. No, she wanted to finish her book. When she was done, her squeaky little tricycle was all over the back yard again.....and the grin on her face was amazing.

Kate Gilleran's picture

Technology is playing a large role in my classroom these days. I have a sound system installed that allows my students to hear me clearly, I have a Smartboard on the wall, an Elmo, projector, and two computers in my room. I also have a combo DVD and video cassette player and t.v. We also visit the computer lab at least once each week. On my teacher website I have links to various learning websites that I allow my students to visit and use in class. I also encourage them to log on at home. I combine the old with the new. We do some of our traditional work (editing sentences) on the Smartboard which makes it fun for the students. It helps them to get acquainted with the technology in second grade so that in third grade they will be better prepared for class at our school.

Kate Gilleran's picture

I am fortunate enough to have a great deal of technology in my public school second grade classroom this year. I have a t.v. with a combo DVD and VCR player, a Smartboard, a projector, an Elmo, and two computers. I also have a sound system installed that allows my students to hear me clearly. We use the Smartboard for various activities including editing sentences on our Daily Oral Language sheet. I type them in before hand and the students take turns correcting the sentences with proofreading marks at the Smartboard. We use the Smartboard for every subject area. I also use it as my screen for projecting videos from PBS that I use in my lessons. I think my students are receiving full immersion into technology. We also go to the computer lab at least once a week to do a lesson on writing, math, reading, or social studies. My teacher website has links to various websites that I approve for use by my students in school and at home. This year is the first year for many of my students to use the Smartboard so I have them hold the pen in one hand and write with the index finger of their writing hand. A few of them have experience with it at home and in school last year so they have achieved the delicate touch in using the Smartboard already. I love to use it for reading test practice. The students read the passage and then touch the bubble of the correct answer. This practice sharpens their skills of locating details in reading passages and it's lots of fun for them.

Donald Johnson's picture
Donald Johnson
Fired ex-Geography/Journalism/English teacher, Houston, Texas

Your illuminating post should be published in every school in the country. While teachers, parents, and administrators give lip service to the need to read, you give it a means and a goal. That a person can't find the time to read to their child is testament to a crime worse than actual physical abuse--benign neglect--in this case symptomatic not of poverty but of an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Reading can help break this cycle of non-parenting by showing how others function as caring, loving families.
When my daughter was attending an exclusive Houston-area elementary, she always carried around books, reading wherever she went. What astounded me was that in this exclusive West University neighborhood was that she became known as "the kid who read all the time" as if she was the only one who did. None of her books, by the way, had been purchased full price from the fancy bookstores in the Village; we comb thrift stores and garage sales so that she had many books to choose from (most of which remain unread--so what?). The Boxcar Children were her faves, but she had no problem progressing into required material later.

Holy Cross School's picture

I am looking forward to seeing the movie and think that it is about time we do something about our education system. I feel as if we as teachers are "dumbing down" America and as for those who think there aren't any great teachers, well there are many. Great teachers get frustrated with what we deal with on a daily basis. Adminstration, paper work, state testing and parents. All I want to do is TEACH!!!!

Donald Johnson's picture
Donald Johnson
Fired ex-Geography/Journalism/English teacher, Houston, Texas

Though she overstates her case a bit, Charlotte Iserbyt presents her view that Education has been under the direction of "socialists" (she defines her connotation quite well) since John Dewey who have a pernicious agenda that tends toward lowering the bar rather than raising it. She even allows you to download the entire book here:

"Most people in the world understand that education [is crucially important], whether it's how to hunt monkeys in the canopy, or how to speak English to guide jungle tours. It's only in relatively wealthy countries with enough infrastructure and social programs that people can afford to stay stupid." -- lawpoop @ Slashdot (2008-05-24)

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