They’re listening…are you speaking up?

December 30, 2008

Looking for ways to make your voice heard as we move into the era of Obama/Biden?  Lots of folks in the eduverse want to give you a chance to do just that!  Look at all the bloggy-goodness that we have this morning!

The Forum for Education and Democracy wants you to chime in via Learning Matters.

They also have three questions they’d love to hear you answer here or by e-mail at info@forumforeducation.org:

1. What are the best examples of high-quality teaching and learning you’ve had the privilege to experience? What are the key attributes of these experiences, and how can policies help support more of these experiences across the country?
2. Does the approach to whole-school governance in your school help or hinder the learning needs of children? If it helps, why and how does it help? If it hinders, why and how does it hinder?
3. In what ways is your school’s commitment to equity and access made more difficult by federal and state policies? How do those policies need to change so your school can more effectively meet the needs of all children?

There’s always the Obama/Biden transition team’s own web site.  Nothing like going straight to the source.

And to finish, NPR is asking people to share as well.  At least, some people.  Don’t miss what Eduwonk’s Andrew J. Rotherham  has to say.

Come on folks! The water’s finally just right- time to jump in and make your voice heard. It’s really the only way this democracy thing works, you know?

Laura

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NCLB – No Culture Left Behind, Jason Finley, ExEd/Principal Certification Program

June 2, 2008

Vermont’s cultural base and sources of heritage are rapidly vanishing. With them vanishes a sense of place for our communities, a sense of identity for our children—a knowing of their local heritage and their place in the global community.

No longer is the iconic image of the small town in the valley a bastion of deep community roots. No longer is the dairy farm a cornerstone of Vermont’s economy. No longer are sugaring, mowing hay, and deer camp focal points of conversations at the general store or post office. No longer are there stark distinctions between individuals from the Mettowee Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Vermont is changing. That is inevitable. But, this does not inherently imply the loss of our distinct and unique culture.

Our distinctive heritage, both the tangible and the intangible, is undergoing assimilation into the more prevalent cultures of southern New England, the East Coast, and America as a whole. Vermont is being homogenized—and, we are not talking about our milk. It is becoming nearly impossible to tell the difference between a woodchuck and a flatlander. This might sound trivial and humorous but, if you consider the potential loss of the myriad of unique American subcultures on a national scale it becomes frightening.

Admittedly, there are efforts to ensure that we are preserving the tangible aspects of Vermont’s culture. There are many groups dedicated to the conservation of structures and the filling of historical museums. But, who are the stewards of the intangibles—the traditional practices, skills, pastimes, oral histories, methods of self-sustainability, and entertainment that created the basis of our culture? Where have they gone?

They are still here. They are the teachers in our local schools. But, they are being asked to teach to a new standard in No Child Left Behind. Some people with very good intentions are bringing a “oneness” and a “sameness” to the educational system.

No Child Left Behind was created to “eliminate the achievement gap”. This act is decent and good in its intent. But, it is wrongly forcing educators into a standardization of education. By standardizing education it is eliminating an untold number of avenues for children to truly connect to their education through familiar and relevant means.

Our natural surroundings and local communities in Vermont are essential elements of who we are as individuals. These common possessions are the things that help us to form our individual identities and to understand our place in the greater world. It is these things we relate to and gives importance and meaning to our education. Does anyone question that it is easier for a student to understand the peril of our entire planet if they appreciate and understand concepts of sustainability in local ecosystems that they have played in, that their food comes from, and that their parents rely on either directly or indirectly for an income?

As we lose the opportunities to exert local control over how and what our children learn in our local schools the opportunities to teach the intangibles of our local heritage will disappear. When cultural heritage is no longer relevant in a child’s most influential years what is the chance that that culture will survive?

What cultural connections does NCLB make? From where does it draw its sense of place and relationships with communities? To come to my point, I believe that in order to eliminate the achievement gap in education the first and most important thing that needs to be done is to make education relevant to those being educated. And, a nice byproduct may be the preserving what remains of a unique cultural heritage.


The Presidential Radar, John Harmer, Experienced Educators

May 31, 2008

Education appears to be a blip rather than a focused coordinate on the radar screen of presidential hopeful candidates for any political party. None of the candidates have put forth a real plan. The war and economy are crucial issues that are in the forefront of many American’s minds. With the gas prices rising, the real-estate market declining, the economy will surely be a growing concern for us all. However, in a recent USA TODAY/Gallup poll, education ranked third in order of importance for voters. Each leading candidate has given their stance on education but with no firm proposal. One wonders if they are playing a political game of chess, each one waiting for the opponent to make a move, and then counter with a response. So I question if any candidate’s plan would be based on a sound educational plan or simply a rebuttal to an opponent’s viewpoint in order to win votes.

Healthy and heated debates, media interviews and reports about candidates who will be running our country serve a useful purpose for voters. However, when one hones in on the few words spoken on the issue of education by candidates, one can’t help to question as to whether they are competent in formulating an effective plan for improving our schools.

Senator McCain favors NCLB, particularly in holding schools accountable for student achievement. The punitive approach to schools needing improvement is counterproductive. The one-size-fits all approach to standardized testing is detrimental to our schools. I feel these one-dimensional tests do not accurately assess students, nor do they prove that a student (even a child that scores with distinction) is prepared for the next stage of life. NCLB has been scrutinized by many, many credible sources and stands little chance of being reauthorized without major restructuring. My point here is that Senator McCain supports holding schools accountable for student achievement; fine, there should be accountability, but in a way that authentically assesses each child and accurately measures schools and teachers for all that they do for today’s students. I think it is a contradiction that Republicans want less federal involvement (and spending) in education, yet want every school and every student to perform according to their standards.

Both candidates in the Democratic Party oppose vouchers that send students to a private school. Yet Barack Obama sends his daughters to a private school (another contradiction in my opinion). My point is not to necessarily trip-up candidates on their every word, but when words such as vouchers are used, I don’t feel confident that they know the implications on our public schools. School choice offered within the public schools seems to have many pitfalls and is simply not available to many children and their families. Candidates are using words such as accountability, choice, merit pay, local control and community involvement, some of which sound encouraging for the future of American schools. However, “sound” is the operative word. As of now the plan, or lack there of, for education reform in this country seems to be just political rhetoric. The American public needs a plan that has some substance, that is based on sound educational advice and truly benefits children. I feel we are in desperate need of a proposal that steers us clear of the NCLB wake and instills real confidence in our educational system. I believe that the invention of the next national education movement is imperative to our future. The next president needs to convey an educational plan which ultimately may lead to a future without war and struggling economies.


Celebrating the Gray, Christina Tutsch, Experienced Educators

May 31, 2008

In education, as in life, it is always difficult to find clarity in answers. We try our best, but the world exists in shades of gray. As I looked into the issue of freedom of speech, the opaque waters of learning became muddier.

My colleague and I decided to approach our exploration of freedom of speech in education through the role of religion, specifically the views of Young Earth Creationists. Young Earth Creationists believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old and was literally created as it is told in the Bible. We studied the controversy between Young Earth Creationists and scientists regarding dinosaurs.

According to scientists, the world is over 4 billion years old. Dinosaurs began to exist over 200 million years ago, reigned over the earth, and went extinct 65 million years ago due to a catastrophic event. After the dinosaurs went extinct, there were small mammals, amphibians and birds that survived; all which evolved into life as we now know it. Humans first appeared 10,000 years ago. Scientists measure the age of fossils, rocks, ice, and vegetation in a variety of ways, such as radioactive dating. All these different methods of measuring age show the earth to be billions of years old.

The Young Earth Creationist perspective is that the dinosaurs were created by God on the 6th day along with the other animals. They were brought onto Noah’s Ark during the Flood. After the Flood, dinosaurs went extinct because they were unable to adapt to the new climate. Young Earth Creationists believe that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, arguing that dinosaurs existed less than 10,000 years ago.

These two perspectives both interpret the past differently according to different foundations. What is the truth? Is one view right and the other wrong? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle? While a great deal of science shows the age of the earth, science is continually evolving. At one point, scientists thought the world to be flat. We are continually learning new things about life. The past will always remain something of a mystery (as will the present, I suppose.)

There are other ways in which this search led me to thinking about the blurred lines. The First Amendment of the United States provides for separation of church and state. Is that the reality we live in currently? Is it possible to separate the beliefs of citizens and elected officials, or the choices leaders make for the people from their own personal beliefs? Decisions and culture are dictated by our foundational beliefs; for many people these are based in a religion. Where do we draw the line? At what point are church and state too connected?

As a result of the First Amendment and many people who fight for what they believe is right, many schools have abolished celebrating holidays such as Christmas and Halloween to protect the rights of those who do not take part in those events. I do not believe that people should be forced to celebrate a religious holiday. However, I do feel that it is important to expose children to a diversity of beliefs. To not celebrate any traditions is a loss for our children. As a result of this sterilization of celebrations, they are no longer based in religion. The religion has now become commercialism; we celebrate the acquisition of material goods. Presents are what all children celebrate whether they have a menorah above their fireplace or a Christmas tree in their living room. I do not know where to draw the line as to what we can celebrate and what might be considered overly religious. But, I do not think the solution is to abolish it all, as this may lead to the celebration of capitalism above all else.

It is my hope that we can celebrate the grayness between extremes, and that we can learn to understand many different perspectives, be open to new ideas and not feel threatened by them.


Our Presidential Candidates…..Who Should We Trust? by Melissa Connor, ExEd/Critical Skills

May 31, 2008

As the November Presidential Election looms around the corner I have begun to contemplate who I want to be my President, both personally and professionally. The biggest question that pops into my mind with each candidate is can I trust them? Can I trust them to deliver on the promises that they are making on the campaign trail? Can I trust them to not make decisions based solely on flawed political polls? Can I trust them to turn our country around so that our children are not facing the same economic, environmental and educational crises that we are facing today?

I remember being home on maternity leave when NCLB was finalized. It appeared to be such a day of promise for our educational system as both Republicans and Democrats came together to do what was best for our schools, students and teachers. I was so hopeful that NCLB would create a superb educational environment for my first born. Now, let it be known, I had been out of the educational arena for a few years and was working in the private sector so I was not aware of the “uproar” NCLB was causing for our schools, particularly our teachers. From the outside I could not understand why anyone would be opposed to having only the best teachers in the classroom and to having our schools be held accountable in making certain our children were learning. Little did I know that it would loom like a toxic cloud over our educational system with disastrous implications.

Every Presidential candidate today supported NCLB when it was created. Every Presidential candidate has a plan to tweak, overhaul or eliminate NCLB – should we believe that this new and improved strategy will be better? Will they allow local districts more control over how their children are assessed? Will they financially support the latest and greatest federal mandates so that states can provide the best education possible?

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could have a mixed ticket…..a combination of the Republicans view that the federal government should stay out of local decisions with the Democratic view that more money needs to be spend on education. Imagine the idea of less federal involvement with more financial support…just imagine what we could do!! Local districts would be able to create quality assessments that would assess their students for individual progress. Local districts would be able to identify where they needed to spend money for improvements and have the time needed to make improvements without the fear of being “taken over”, and teachers would be able to develop creative lessons and creative assessments that would engage students and encourage them to want to learn and to develop, both academically and socially. Just imagine the possibilities……….

Unfortunately my dream ticket will probably never happen so I ask myself – what is the next best thing? I have yet to make my final decision and probably won’t make it for quite some time. I just hope that when our next President takes office he or she will remember the promises they made on the campaign trail that got them elected as this is the only way I will ever have trust in our political system again.


Creating Viable Charter Schools in New Hampshire

January 24, 2008

A reflection on a panel discussion, by Beatrice Perron

When I went to the panel discussion moderated by Tom Juius, “Creating Viable Charter Schools in New Hampshire,” part of the ANE speaker series, I didn’t hold any expectations. I wasn’t even sure what a charter school was, but soon learned that charter schools are essentially public schools that are formed around a mission or philosophy. It seemed strange to me that having a mission was what made them special; shouldn’t all schools be built on a mission? The idea of a school with a team of teachers who all share in the same educational philosophies seems idyllic. I thought, “This is great, why aren’t there more schools like this?” I soon found out how charter schools in New Hampshire are struggling to thrive with little funding and support.

Panelist John Hunt, state legislator representing Jaffrey, Rindge and Dublin, described his vision of a state where all schools are charter schools and parents are able to seek out schools that perfectly meet their child’s individual needs. When the initial charter school legislation passed, Hunt’s vision didn’t exactly play out as he had envisioned. Because schools are funded by local property taxes in NH, the control to pass and fund charter schools was put into the hands of the local government. The state can’t approve a charter school and require the local government to fund it. Getting a local school board to approve and fund a charter school turned out to be almost impossible.

In 2003, Hunt and colleagues put in legislation for a pilot program. Under the proposed bill, schools could apply directly to the state for approval, and receive state funding to the tune of $3,700 per student; not nearly enough to start and maintain a school. While charter schools began to apply and get approved, they were responsible for funding the additional $6408.08 per student to reach the average $10,108.08 per student that public elementary schools typically spend in a year. Some charter schools applied for seed grants, which helped them with start up costs, but are only available in the first few years of a school’s existence. The remainder of funding has to be found in the form of private donors, grants and school fundraising. As panelist Matora Fiorey, founder of the Surrey Village Charter School, pointed out, with so much attention on fundraising, the school can be distracted from their main purpose; education. There is currently a bill sitting in the Finance committee that would raise existing charter school funds to $7,500 per pupil, but put a freeze on new charter schools for a period. John Hunt doesn’t expect it to be introduced anytime soon.

Aside from finding the funds to run the school, an even greater problem is finding additional funding for special education in charter schools. Panelist Roberta Tenney, Administrator of School Approval with the NHDOE, pointed to the problem of special education as one of charter schools biggest hurdles. While some charter schools are able to work with the existing special education framework of a district, some don’t have as much luck. The Laurent Clerc Charter Academy, a bilingual school which used both English and American Sign Language, had to close because of a lack of special needs funding.

With all the hurdles charter schools have to deal with, there are over 10 in New Hampshire that are doing great things for students. Whether arts-based, place-based or equestrian focused, some are in danger of not opening in following years because of funding issues. Though it is sad that we may lose such wonderful assets to our educational system, it was refreshing to see a group of educators and politicians so committed to bringing these types of schools to New Hampshire .

For more information on this subject, listen to New Hampshire Public Radio’s, The Exchange, aired on October 31st at http://www.nhpr.org/node/13972.