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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reform Starts Here: The Goals of this Group

Reform Starts Here: The Goals of this Group

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Almost everyone agrees that we need to reform education in America. But where to start? There are so many issues at play, including (but not limited to) budget crises, standardized tests, people with no education background in key leadership roles, and an onslaught of new technologies that change so quickly they're obsolete before you even unpack them. To add to the confusion, there will soon be a greater public spotlight on education with the release of a few documentaries, including "Race to Nowhere," "The Lottery, and "Waiting for Superman," which was made by the same folks who made "An Inconvenient Truth." All three of these films are very critical of our existing educational system. "Race to Nowhere" shows the "dark side of America's achievement culture" by highlighting the health and social problems that arise when schools are so focused on test scores. "The Lottery" and "Waiting for Superman" share a pro-charter, anti-union message that is sure to stir up all manner of rancor among teachers, parents, administrators, union officials and anyone else who cares about education. So, we expect there to be a loud public outcry, and one that doesn't necessarily understand the nuances and realities on the ground in education. We created this group to focus a discussion about reform that's realistic, constructive and proactive. What, in your opinion, are some of the factors that need to be addressed? If you want to add a topic, please feel free to start a new discussion if there isn't one here yet. Let's take this opportunity to get ahead of the impending public spotlight to understand the issues that are preventing ed reform, and educate the broader public about how to best move forward.

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Diane's picture

Found this site by following movie link. As a dedicated (20+) teacher in Urban Schools, I have seen many changes. Parents do want to help their children, but it seems schools have failed to communicate how we have changed our academic ballgame. Parents are always overwhelmed by what is expected of their child and I am educating a family when I send homework suggestions for them. In the push for academic/social advancement, they have forgotten the importance/value of their own childhood songs, rhymes,stories and imaginative play/games. I concur with all comments regarding busy parents and a need to readjust the schools, but we do need a stronger collaboration between all parties-school, business and parents- that have a vested interest in the success of the children. We also need forums like these to encourage the creative thinking that will help to move us in the right direction for solutions.

Rusha Sams's picture
Rusha Sams
Program Specialist with ARCC at Edvantia

Thanks for bringing these issues to the forefront! I was not familiar with the last two films, so I appreciate the references.
One issue we must consider is why is everyone so opposed to any and all initiatives aimed at transforming schools? Of course, we're not sure what the answers are, but we have to try something. There are many who resist even the slightest hint of change or structure aimed at school improvement.

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

I happen to believe that dialogue involving all involved viewpoints must be the starting point for any change to happen. As Stephen Covey argues, the dialogue must not be defending existing viewpoints but finding that newly developed alternative accepted by all as even better. The goal of the group needs to be better learning and skill development for all students - period. I was informed long ago that goals and objectives should never include possible solutions.

Daniel Bassill's picture

I am in this discussion because I became a volunteer tutor working with an inner city 4th grade student...37 years ago. I became the leader of that volunteer-based program in 1975, while holding a full time advertising job, and for the past 35 years I've spent time recruiting and connecting non-family adults with inner city kids.

Over the years I've built my own first hand perspective on the challenges inner city kids face, and seen how others have become more personally involved as a result. Thus, my comments come from this experience.

a) we need to better understand where the problem is most severe. I saw Waiting for Superman in a preview held in Chicago, and it uses maps to show where the drop out rate is highest. However, it did this from a long-range perspective. We need to be able to zoom in to the zip code level. I've been using maps to show where poverty and poorly performing schools are located for many years. You can see these at http://www.tutormentorprogramlocator.net. With the map, we can see a correlation of poverty and poor schools. With this, we can divide the education conversation into two, maybe three discussions. First would be education of kids in urban poverty; second education of kid in rural poverty; third, all other kids. In each group, another division would be English as second language; and learning disabilities.

Until we break into these sub categories, we're all using the same terms, but with different meanings and different understanding.

Understanding the issues of kids in urban poverty, then building a commitment to school and community solutions, that reach kids in every location, might be one result.

b) we need to be creating learning circles, drawing from the same pool of resources. For 12 years I've been building a library of links to education research, poverty research, and to blogs where people write about these issues. You can access this at http://www.tutormentorconnection.org . Most of the people who are needed to support policy change that might truly impact education, don't really have much depth of understanding the issues because they have not been studying this for many years. By aggregating information in web libraries, we create the ability for many more people to be much more informed.

c) we need to create diagrams to illustrate all the things we think needs to be happening, just like architects and engineers diagram plans for buildings and computers. This helps us think through the steps that need to take place in many locations, and be repeated for many years. It can also help us build a stronger commitment to what needs to be done, and helps us build logically rather than randomly. Kids could be learning to use concept maps to show solutions to problems, even the problem of their own education. At http://www.tutormentorexchange.net you can see how we use concept maps and other visualizations to illustrate our ideas.

kyla ryman's picture

HI all!
I am very interested in looking more deeply at what "being educated" is and what we want for people as they grow from infancy to adulthood. I think we have a very limited vision of what learning can look like and where and how it takes place. I would love to see more exploration of really alternative learning and education- in and out of schools. I've been very interested in a group called IDEA. Their website is www.democraticeducation.org We need adults who are passionate learners and creative thinkers and ready to participate in a democracy. Where can we talk about that?

Sharon Voida's picture

When we speak of education reform, let us not forget about the importance of the arts. Milton Chen's book, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation includes an arts integration program Opening Minds through the Arts (OMA). Opening Minds Through the Arts (OMA) is a student-achievement program that uses music, opera, dance, and visual arts to teach skills used in reading, writing, math, science, and other subjects. The curriculum, based on brain-development research, is designed to engage specific skills targeted to each grade level. Independent research demonstrates that OMA has dramatically improved test scores and teacher effectiveness. Launched as a pilot program in 2000, OMA now thrives in more than 40 Tucson, Arizona, public elementary schools.

If you'd like to learn more, see our video at: http://www.edutopia.org/arts-opening-minds-integration-video

The classroom teachers, administrators, professional artists, arts-integration specialists, and community leaders who are champions of the program are eager to see it replicated in schools and school districts elsewhere. OMA's Web site offers more detailed information and consulting services. OMA has been accepted as an Arizona school improvement program. Creativity, innovation, problem solving, and critical thinking skills are developed naturally through experiencing the arts.

There is a movement to add 'A' to STEM; making it STEAM which includes the arts!

Barb Klein's picture
Barb Klein
Director of Parent Training & Information, The Advocacy Center in Roch. NY

Hi, I would like to weigh in on the importance of family engagement and how it directly correlates to student achievement. For more information, you can connect with the local Parent Training and Information Center or Community Parent Resource Center in your area - www.taalliance.org lists all of these Federally-funded resources which provide workshops and information and support to families of students with disabilities and the professionals who work with them. Also, I would recommend "School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action" by Joyce L. Epstein & Associates as a resource for those who are looking for ways to engage families. Also, "Beyond the Bake Sale": The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships" by Anne T. Henderson, Karen L. Mapp, Vivian R. Johnson, and Don Davies would be a good resource.

Clare Garrick's picture
Clare Garrick
former teacher of music and English as a foreign language

Especially in this time of texting and improvised abbreviations, we need spelling that's more phonetic - not perfect but at least reasonable.

RIGHTING WRITTEN WRONGS

Why should we shoulder burdens that bolder nations refuse or choose not to bear?
Land of the free? Where?
Surely we won in one tough fight yet we're left enslaved by the English we write.
Does nobody care?

Our literacy record is horribly checkered with spelling not signaling sounds as they're heard.
Crazy like King George the Third!
A stiff price is paid if reading's delayed when logic's subverted and sense disobeyed.
Is that not absurd?

Linguistic history may unlock the mystery but consider the wider rewards to be won.
Hordes of kids having fun?
If folks could just focus on rational rules they might not need coaxing to stay in our schools.
Revolution? Done!

Let's have our teachers decide on the features that reason dictates in the writing of words.
Early readers: all nerds?
More kids might excel if they knew how to spell, or even aspire to the higher flyer.
Is that just for the birds?

Leave it to Britain to write as they've written for ever their
servile-to-source lexicon.
We'll write American!
Can't we find spelling that's simple and true so immigrants know how to read and write too?
Yes, for sure we can.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger

If Kyla's comment resonated with any in the group, First Amendment Schools
is a wonderful site that an Edutopia colleague just introduced me to. It contains curriculum ideas and profiles several schools. It's mission is "to help schools teach and practice the civic principles and virtues vital to democracy, freedom and the common good."

Best,
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia

[quote]HI all!

I am very interested in looking more deeply at what "being educated" is and what we want for people as they grow from infancy to adulthood. I think we have a very limited vision of what learning can look like and where and how it takes place. I would love to see more exploration of really alternative learning and education- in and out of schools. I've been very interested in a group called IDEA. Their website is www.democraticeducation.org We need adults who are passionate learners and creative thinkers and ready to participate in a democracy. Where can we talk about that?[/quote]

Bob Charles's picture
Bob Charles
I am in search of definitions for "Quality Eduction" and "Great School".

Lisa Johnson said "We need to decide the purpose of school?"

I think Lisa's purpose for schools should be developed. A purpose is the foundation for any human action. It has to be extremely well defined. I have been searching 15 years for one. Well performing organizations of any kind work best when they have a well defined purpose. For a purpose we develope objectives and finally actions to achieve them. Then we can test the effectivness of the actions on how well they achieve the purpose. Then make changes.

The burden of what to teach falls on policy makers. The burden of how to teach it falls on teachers. The burden of how to implement it falls on administators. The burden of evaluating performance falls on business analysts, organizational behavioralists and economists.

Patricia Kokinos said "ALL of our kids"

Equity should be achomplished at the State level. The State needs to define exactly what is required to fullfil their purpose for education. Then they need to fully fund everything needed to achieve that. Every school should have the same resources; the same facuilities; the same supplies; the same teacher quality; the same opportunities. Every kid must have equal opportunity.

You can not have equal opportunity when the rich communities have everything including a swimming pool and the poor communities have a mud puddle.

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