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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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Lisa Johnson's picture
Lisa Johnson
Educator, Education Consultant and mother of three

There has been a need for education reform for many years. One of the main problems with the reform effort is that there is many splinter areas that need work. When reform actually is in the beginning stages, a group is motivated one area of need like reading. The reform starts off strong. Since the areas of need overlap like reading and second language learners, the reform efforts are slowed by the complication of additional educational needs. The educational system needs to be revamped. One area cannot be addressed in isolation. Therefore, our reform efforts loose steam. We need to address the core problems first.
According to a blog entitled, When Pedagogy and Policy Collide written by Brigitte Knudson, what America is experiencing is called "commodification" of education. We have gone from teaching to following policy. In turn, education has become big business instead of a learning tool. Our children are memorizing puppets not free thinking and critical learners.

Race to Nowhere is a good jumping off place; our children are suffering. No one wants that to happen. We can start with a goal: the purpose of school for our children. Then we can start an action plan of how to implement this goal for all children in all communities.

1. We need to decide the purpose of school? I think school is a place for young people to learn skills to be good citizens, to take care of themselves and be happy, healthy and whole. We have to move away from the policy model.

2. We need to learn how to teach our modern day learner. Our struggling student base continues to grow. The lack of understanding students to their core leads to an increased dropout rate and unhappy children. We really need to know how to help those that have fallen behind. Rote materials and programs are not the answer. Individualized assessments coupled with appropriate intensive interventions are the answer.

3. We need to come together as a community: educators, parents, students and school officials. What I loved about Race to Nowhere is that it asked for a grassroots effort. I have worked many years in education, writing programs and papers, collecting data, presenting to people and trying to change the system to assist struggling students. I have worked vigorously in a system that does not support innovation. The current educational paradigm is broken. A grassroots movement outside of this system will help jumpstart change for a better future in education as a whole.

Jim Brodie Brazell's picture
Jim Brodie Brazell
Radical Platypus
Blogger 2014

STEM: Mainstreaming Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Jim Brazell, CEO and Founder, ventureRAMP, Inc. --Friday, March 12, 2010

Fueled by Washington's focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and U.S. competitiveness, Career and Technical Education (CTE) is emerging as a platform for systemic education reform in Texas, New York, California, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, Kansas, and Arizona. The implication for the educational technology and publishing industry is a wave of change enabling educational technology and textbook budgets to include CTE curricula and infrastructure. The rise of STEM broadens the definition of educational technology to support high-technology "shop" classes and broadens the market for kits, labs, simulations, and software and "hands-on" projects in K-12 schools.

As the U.S. turns its attention to STEM education and education reform in general, transdisciplinary programs that unify CTE, academics and arts are gaining ground as a method of increasing student retention, graduation, performance, and readiness for college. In effect, the definition of a well-rounded student is evolving from a liberal arts education to an integrated education including CTE. Rather than focusing on academics for college-bound students or vocational education for work-bound students, these programs transcend traditional silos and tracking by merging academic and vocational curricula and college pathways. More http://www.ednetnews.com/story-4350-19.html

Patricia Kokinos's picture
Patricia Kokinos
Author, speaker, former teacher/admin., school change activist

Thanks for starting this group, Betty. I have long been a fan of Edutopia and certainly used links to your articles in my newsletters and even feature Edutopia as the best site for educators on my own website. I certainly agree with Lisa about the major points she makes: a new vision for the purpose of school; meeting the needs of the modern learner; uniting in a common purpose. Absolutely!!

Having been a teacher and a school and district-level administrator on both sides of the country for a long time, I also agree that the current paradigm must be exploded, and a new, sleeker, faster, smarter system envisioned for ALL of our kids. We need human-friendly schools, not factories. We need critical and creative thinking, not testing. We need collaboration and synergy, not politics. Those are the talking points for a new Ning I put up very recently, not only to dialogue as we are doing here, but (eventually) to actively campaign for reinventing school for the new millennium. The campaigning is, to me, the critical piece, as soon as we begin to assemble a critical mass of people, since what we really need to do is educate our policymakers about what school means and what it can do. I hope everyone here will join (parents, teachers, whomever) and that you'll pass the word to your networks:


We have posted a wide-ranging agenda for change that encompasses much of what is already being said here, and we welcome your input, blogs, and comments. Thanks so much for taking a look!
Patricia Kokinos, www.ChangeTheSchools.com

Betty Hevia's picture

It is very sad to me when I see the students as in the video so stressed to perform. They are not learning. Is there a chapter in Texas? Does anyone knows? I am going to look at the website that Patricia posted later in more detail.

Thank you so much for your contributions!


Ray Cook's picture
Ray Cook
GEAR UP Parent Involvement Coordinator, Maine Parent Federation

Community conditions that are beyond the control of schools have great effects on attempts to reform education. The vast majority of parents of our students are full-time (often over-time) workers. Their daily schedules are set by the needs of their children and the demands of their employers. Parents and their employers must be involved in assessing existing conditions and designing reform. Attempts to reform the school day should include the development of accommodations from employers to enable more parent participation in the education of their children. Schools, parents and employers must all be partners in reform efforts.

Lisa Johnson's picture
Lisa Johnson
Educator, Education Consultant and mother of three

I have enjoyed the discussions.


"Community conditions that are beyond the control of schools have great effects on attempts to reform education."

I agree social issues within our community are an important concern. This is another reason why we have to look at the entire system including social constructs for families who struggle financially, emotionally and physically in our society. We do need a new paradigm.

Lisa Johnson's picture
Lisa Johnson
Educator, Education Consultant and mother of three

Patricia great comments! I joined your website, thanks.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014


I'm with you: We need more opportunities for parents and families who work full-time and over-time (and there are a lot!) to get involved in our school communities. I like your suggestion of accommodations by employers. When I was teaching, so often a parent or guardian would express great desire in coming to the school for a meeting or open house, or to volunteer, but their long job hours made it impossible.

To the group,

As teachers, administrators, school coordinators and counselors: What might be some ideas for involving parents with long and inflexible job hours more in our school communities?

Bill Vetarbo's picture
Bill Vetarbo
Taught in several countries and several subjects internationally

Having lived and worked as an American teacher overseas for many years I have a different perspective on problem solving in the US. What I see in the US is finger pointing name calling, and personality driven discussion on subjects ranging from presidential politics to America's dietary habits. I fear that this type of debate on education will serve no one, especially the children.

Examples of all listed problems in education can be sited by teachers. We have all seen problems of poor community support, entrenched union teachers, inept administration of schools, and discipline problems in schools. We often try to target the solution to various problems at a national level. We have also witnessed remarkable stories of student achievement, teacher dedication (both union and non-union), positive community support, and effective programs.

Personally, I have worked with many different schools with a variety of student bodies and teaching staff. I cannot honestly say that any one school has the answer for all the rest. Schools are as individual as students and require individual attention.

One generalization I can state is one of attitude on the part of the community of students in any one school. I have noticed that, in general terms, American students are often at a loss as to just why they are in school. I have worked with students from many countries. Many of the students come from poor countries, or countries with major political problems. Generally, their level of interest in learning is much higher. They seem to make the connection between education and quality of life much more readily than students fro the US. I don't know if this is purely a product of pop-culture or an extension of the cynical debate about education. I would like to hear other's opinions.

Lisa Jochum's picture
Lisa Jochum
Pediatric Occupational Therapist

As an Occupational Therapist I too value collaborating with parents and others to assist in helping a child reach their potential.

I think first of all the key people involved need to value this collaboration---see as really important to helping their child.

Then I think the group of people who are working together to help this child ---whether its teachers, parents, OT or whoever------can begin to think outside of their own boxes -------locations, time constraints etc and begin to innovate
In a world that has so many technological options for work and communication---surely a committed group of people can find a way to have a group phone call at a regular interval or email forum or monthly breakfast meeting opportunity etc-----

First believe its important and then
find a way -----be creative-------- stay positive-----keep it simple

If parents with long and inflexible work hours truly want to collaborate----dont you think they can find some way to do it?
Lets not give up on parents or agree that the obstacles are unsurmountable-----Instead lets encourage problem solving
Lunch time conference call or ????

Collaboration in a consistent basis may be unrealistic yet collaborating as much as possible --as we find a way -----has value---and when something is a high priority we tend to find a way------now and again to make it happen----

support/ encouragement
hopeful attitude by parents and professionals that they can find a way
slow and steady simple efforts made by all those who want to collaborate
patience and
keep at it----

also a few small steps in the right direction will fuel future efforts

lets not overwhelm each other---

educational professionals and working parents have a lot on their plates---so when we do start to collaborate-----lets keep it simple and work on just one or two things-------as we have success we will be more likely to keep this going---

These are just a few of my ideas----

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