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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How can an "outsider" help improve public schools?

How can an "outsider" help improve public schools?

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42 Replies 860 Views
I am frustrated with public schools. I want to help make a difference, but I feel unwelcome to assist. How can I help make a difference with education at its core? I feel like I am helping apply bandages when broken bones go unattended. As a "non-teacher", I feel like an unwelcome outsider who "doesn't know" and "should let experts do their job". I've tutored, been a guest speaker, built software tools, helped develop compacts, and assisted teachers in different capacities. (These were on my own initiative; the most I ever received going through official channels was an automated "thank you for signing up".) The core of public schools is going in the wrong direction. They are too focused on tests and curriculum rather than inspiring innovation. They blame the government for these burdens. They blame lack of resources. They blame lack of… It does not take the latest technology or the most expensive classrooms or highest paid teachers. It takes looking at the system differently. Focus on teaching the kids the skills to innovate and tap into their desire to learn; then they will learn the curriculum. There are approaches that have made a difference. Many do not require additional costs per se, but they do require shifts that bureaucracy is not likely to make (e.g. starting school days a little later, longer school days, exercise programs, concerted efforts by all the teachers). I can no longer afford to be patient on the sidelines. I witnessed many district initiatives go no where over the past decade. My daughter enters the education system in the next few years. How can I help make a difference with education at its core?

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Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

That's wonderful, we all know that the testing is killing us right now. My school chooses to use a standardized test for all students who are developmentally ready to take one. We give it one week once a year so that we can introduce students to the process and help them learn the tricks of the testing trade.

Other than that, my students only take spelling tests and math facts tests. We use a portfolio assessment system which gives parents much more information than they would get from a standard report card based on quantitative measures.

You're right, we have greater flexibility. I can't imagine teaching any other way. Those of you who are willing to fight on the frontlines, maintaining a balance between the needs of the children and the rules of engagement at your schools, have my admiration.

MK

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

So how does a school get around not taking the test? For the schools that do have to take the test, what are the consequences of not taking the test? In other words, what if you skip two years, take the test (and excel) then skip two years? (I'm actually being serious.)

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

Not a bad plan, db, though I think testing is proabably not going away anytime soon.

Our enrollment would probably drop if we did that. Many parents like the "security blanket" of knowing that their kids can perform in that way when needed.

MK

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Interesting point. But would some form of testing (though not necessarily state testing) suffice?

Warren Stuart's picture

You asked what can you do to have the greatest impact on the System. For me that is an easy question. Almost 50% of students fail to complete High School. Most will agree that the biggest reason is their inability to "read-to-learn." During the first four grades (K-3)children are taught to read. In the 4th they must begin "reading-to-learn." Studies show that almost half are unprepared for this task and will continually fall behind until they are forced to drop out. --- If you want a windmill, then force your district to address this problem where it can be fixed, Kindergarten. Again, research suggests that those who are going to have difficulty reading can be easily identified upon entry into Kindergarten. To remediate these children, the system must begin special training (as apposed to special education) by the second week of school. With luck, (and continued training) they will catch their peers (who find learning to read easy) before the end of the third grade. I can be reached at wcs@wcsn.net if you are interested.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger 2014

At our school the test is just one aspect of a unit that builds test-taking skills. We don't focus a lot on content during the unit, but instead we teach "how to take tests." We talk about the tricks we know (good guessing, narrowing the choices, etc.)and try to build confidence with the format little by little. We discuss the idea that the results of the test help us to know which lessons are working to help learning and which ones need to be different.

We also use a test that is nationally normed instead of the one used in our state. We think it's a better test.

MK

Paula Prentis's picture
Paula Prentis
Author of SEL, self skills, PBL program for teens.

Dear dbixby001,
I hear your passion to help. I can relate. One thing that struck me (and maybe it's me) is that you feel like an outsider. I have felt that way while I watch other parents, who are on 'equal ground' with me, become very involved, on boards, fundraising, bringing in speakers, etc. So, I actually ended up writing a series of books that i feel really passionate about.
I really like your idea of starting some kind of organization where parents, even from other districts, can help districts where parent involvement is next to nothing. Many inner city schools struggle with this. I wonder if there is such an organization. If not, you sound like the right person to dig around and find out if it's possible to provide help or at least the template for help.
Best of luck to you!! Paula

Cate's picture

This surprised me when I found it out. While Public Schools have to "toe the line", private schools are outside of all the tests and rules.

Legislators should have to sit in on one class a week, especially K-2. Then they may have their eyes opened.

Liz Krug Howell's picture
Liz Krug Howell
Parent of a First Grader, NTES Hampstead, NC, PTA Board Member

I encourage you to join your school's PTA if you have not already. You can make a big impact on your school. I have been a board member for 2 years and in those 2 years our PTA has raised enough money to purchase a mobile media cart and laptops to fill it, a covered walkway in the drop off area, and a 200 meeter paved track with the help of local business donations. We also help the teachers with purchases that were in the past paid for by the county and have been cut. One example is a license for United Streaming, an online resource for teachers lessons plans, worksheets for the kids and videos.

The PTA or PTO organizations are extremely committed to helping and can make an impact in your child's education today!

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Liz, thank you for your suggestion about the PTA. I don't mean to undermine the value of PTAs, but if education was going along the right path, PTAs would not need to raise money for media carts and laptops. I want to help education so that it does not need PTAs to fill in these gaps. Think of what more PTAs could accomplish if they did not have to focus on these basics.

The problems I want to help address are at a more fundamental level. How do I help make changes at that more fundamental level?

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