Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017: 9 Wishes

It is easy when you're in the pro-public education camp, trying to call out and push back against the many and varied attacks on public education-- it's easy in that place to get wrapped up in No and forget to articulate what you want to see. So as a sort of New Year's palate cleanser, let me lay out what things I do want to see happen in the world of public education in the year ahead.

I should note that this is an ideal wish list, and I recognize that it's a really long journey to get from where we are to these goals. But even if we can't get there, these are the stars we should steer by, the harbor we should navigate toward. I'll be happy to talk details and specifics another day. This is strictly New Year's Eve wish-mongering.

1) The end of the Big Standardized Testing.

We are achieving literally nothing by these tests, other than wasting huge amounts of time and money and twisting the entire sense of public education's purpose. If I could only achieve one wish on this list with a wave of my magic wand, it would be this one. Test-centric education is a poisonous acid, eating education from the inside out.

I'd settle for some sort of initiative to find systems of accountability that would give taxpayers the assurance that their money is being well-spent, to replace the test-centric system that does not actually deliver anything that it promises. Other goals for the test, like comparing students across state boundaries or informing teacher instruction-- those are either a waste of time or unachievable through broad standardized testing.

2) Fair and equitable funding

Reformsters are often correct in pointing out that some school districts are failing to educate all their students. They then leap to an incorrect solution for the issue, when in fact we know exactly what we need to do (in fact, charter fans propose to do exactly those things, but only for a handful of students)-- make sure that every single school in the country has the resources, support, fiunding, staffing, and leadership necessary for success.

We know how to do that, because we already do it for many schools in this country. We just have to decide that we want to do it for Other Peoples' Children, too. We do not need to come up with clever ways to provide public education on the cheap for just a few children. We just need to do what it takes as easily as we decide to drop a few trillion on endless wars.

3) Democratic control of school governance.

Every school district should be run by an elected board of local taxpayers. Period. I know this gets tricky in some places-- I strongly suspect that several of our largest urban districts need to be broken into smaller districts. But every school in this country should be transparently owned and operated by the local community through board members-- elected stewards of local resources.

There is some place for some oversight by state and federal authorities, to make sure that certain lines are not crossed and that funding is handled reasonably fairly (I have limited faith in the federal ability to identify fairness, but perhaps with clear guidelines...).

But local democratic control with total transparency. Period.

4) Teachers installed as authorities in the education field.

Much of the damage done in education has been done by self-appointed amateurs, while the voices of actual experts and practitioners have been ignored. Done with that. You can't serve as a teacher without proper training (I'll spend a whole other day on what that means, but it sure doesn't mean five weeks of summer camp or a weekend training session), and you can't serve in major positions of oversight without teaching background. You can't do teacher preparation on the college level without ongoing renewal of your classroom experience, and you can't set up a college teacher prep program without approval by a board of working teachers (not some bunch of state-level bureaucrats).

Did I notice that in #3 I demanded that local elected amateurs run the local school district? I did. There has to be a place for the voice of the public in education.

5) Any standards that exist are generated and spread from the bottom up.

Yes, I have plenty of friends who disagree with me on this, but I do not see any practical, useful way that national standards can be established-- and certainly not enforced. The only useful way to spread pedagogical ideas and standards for learning is for teachers who have developed and tested their craft in the field to share what works. You may find it messy and inconsistent, but I will argue that nothing else works better, and that national uniformity is not a desirable goal anyway.

6) Technology serves teachers and students, not vice versa.

It is still still still the same old refrain. "If you just change the whole way you do your job, this technotool will be really useful for you (and profitable for us)."

Thank you, no. I love my technology. I use it all the time-- when it helps me accomplish my job or opens up new opportunities for me to get things done in a new and interesting way. Happy to check around and see what's out there; heck, we even have a technology coach who does a lot of the looking around for us. But don't call us-- we'll call you. I want ready and easy access to new tools, new software, new approaches. I can't do that when you're trying to shove your sad junk down my throat.

7) No secrets. Total transparency.

I just interrupted writing this post to get in a twitter discussion about the interests of parents, and I'll get into that in depth in a future post, but the short answer is that the education system should be absolutely transparent so that parents can get whatever information they believe is important, and not what someone else is telling them is important.

Transparency also addresses a world of reform issues. School boards and administrations and teachers, too, should be free to pursue whatever they think will be positive and effective, but they should also feel the need to make a case for what they want to do. There may have to be some practical limits to this; I don't want to see a superintendent's six-year-old being stalked at T-ball practice. But in matters of policy and procedure and results, school districts should be fishbowls. Individual humans in the district, however, should enjoy perfect privacy. Yes, I know that's hard. Stars to steer by, people.

8) Schools are safe places that address the needs of the whole child while protecting and valuing that individual human being. 

I think that explains itself. No child should fear school for any reason. Every child should feel safe and loved and supported at her school. Schools have to have the support, flexibility and breathing room to do it.

9) Schools should be all about learning, and helping all students become their best selves.

Everything else is just the how. This is the what. Students should walk out of graduation, not like toasters rolling off an assembly line or like sneaks who slipped through the system, but as strong, confident men and women who know who they are, know what they want, and feel equipped to at least start the process of achieving their dreams. They should be taught the full depth and breadth of learning across all disciplines; they should get a taste of what it means to be fully human, fully themselves.

Every student in America should get this. Actually get this-- not get the "opportunity" for this. Will some students refuse or reject this education? Probably. But we should do everything in our power to make it happen for every single student in America, and if some student walks away without it, that should be their choice, not ours.

Every student. Not the chosen few, the wealthy few, the privileged few, the profitable few. Every student.

That's my wish list. Granted, it may take more than just a year to get there (probably more than four, given the current political situation), but this the constellation that I want to steer by.


  1. We have long had your first wish--long before standards and testing came along. It's called accreditation. Perhaps the problem with accreditation is that it is a yes or no decision. We could change the process for accreditation committees to issue a ranking along a numerical scale. Accreditation is a much better means of accountability as it involves a group of experts in education visiting schools and finding out what really takes place.

    1. I am not as confident in accreditation. The Normandy School district, for example, was given probationary accreditation for 15 consecutive years before it finally lost accreditation in 2013. That did allow students to leave the district to attend an accredited district, but when a quarter of the district left, the state legislature changed the Normand School District's status from unaccredited to non-accreditation and tried to stuff the students back into the Normandy School District again.

      Here is a link describing the situation there:

  2. I wrote this in 2015: School Accountability (Exposing the Lie)
    One of the biggest arguments made for the regime of standardized assessment by the States, for the State, of the State’s people, is that we must have school accountability. Without the BS test (Big Standardized test, credit to Peter Greene, Curmudgucation, for coining the term), how will we know whether schools are any good?

    We must have school accountability.

    Without the test, there is no accountability.

    Which must come as a great surprise to the accreditation agencies that have been reviewing schools since the mid-20th century and longer. Even the federal government keeps track and gives its “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” to the agencies that meet its demands. (

    Unlike the school grading process inaugurated in Florida under then-Governor Jeb Bush, which relies mostly upon one standardized test result and a few other criteria constantly under revision, the purpose of which is to maintain whatever narrative the Florida Department of Education wants to trumpet to the media, the accreditation process takes place over months. At its culmination, a team of professional educators (unlike the amateurs consisting of politicians, do-gooder philanthropist businesspersons, and anyone else who thinks that having gone to school as a student makes them more of an expert than people who have actual experience teaching) visits each school to observe classes, meet with the administration, talk to teachers and students, review work, and assess the learning environment. Afterward, they review the evidence they acquired and determine whether to continue to give the school accreditation.

    It is a serious process. Teams of stakeholders (admins, teachers, parents, and more) meet for months in advance of the visit to make sure everything is up to scratch. If not, corrections are made.

    Accreditation is not automatic. In a decision that is still remembered today, Duval County Public Schools lost its accreditation in the 1960s:

    It was a galvanizing action. City leaders reacted, the loss was a major motivation behind the city/county consolidation, and after that became a reality, the schools received the necessary support and gained back the accreditation they needed.

    Accreditation is a rigorous process.

    We have school accountability through the accreditation process. We do not need a flawed, invalid, unreliable test manipulated by bureaucrats, politicians, and profiteers. We do not need a school report card like the one Florida inflicted upon the nation.

  3. I think I'd add to your number 8 and include teachers in the mix. We need to be treated better.

  4. I disagree with how you are defining "standards" in number 5. You seem to be suggesting that education standards are how to teach something. My definition of a standard is something to teach. The how of teaching it is left open to the teacher. I'm not sure what standards you are referring to that dictate how to teach content and concepts.

  5. I especially like he suggestion that standards should be developed from the bottom up. Whether hey are,as was suggested in a comment, something to teach, or anything else, bottom up,always works better than top down.