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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 10/29/2010

Waiting for sanity in education reform

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is George Wood, principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio, and executive director of the non-profit Forum for Education and Democracy, a collaboration of educators from around the country.

By George Wood
This fall brought not only the start of another school year but plenty of noise about schools as well. A movie, a manifesto, and a mayoral election in Washington D.C. all amplified the ongoing debate about who the real education reformers are. Noise and more noise.

Thank goodness for the sane voices that arose in the midst of all this. There is Diane Ravitch with her continued campaign that brings us back to what is really at stake when filmmakers try to bend public opinion. And Mike Rose, always close to the ground, reminding us of what school reform really involves.

Now comes the news that, in light of whatever is going to happen on Nov. 2nd, the Obama administration is looking for ways to work with the next Congress and has targeted, among other things, No Child Left Behind.

Yikes.

With the level of animosity and acrimony currently filling the airways it is hard to imagine that Congress and the president will do anything together, let alone the long overdue overhaul of NCLB. I worry about the common ground they might actually reach: grading teachers by student tests scores, breaking unions, putting every kid in a charter school. None of these strategies has been proven as a recipe for the schools our children need and our communities deserve, but lack of evidence has never stopped us before.

With all of this in mind I have decided to trek off to Washington this weekend and join Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Why? Because I want to talk to some folks and see if they might accept a few basic principles around what it would take to shore up our public school system. I want to see if they are willing to take seriously the Jeffersonian ideal that public education is vital to a healthy democracy, and the notion that now, as much as any time in our history, we need such a system of public schools.

I haven’t been invited to speak at the rally, but if Stewart calls, here is what I might say:

“America’s public schools are a national treasure and it is past time that we started treating them as such. Every one of you here today probably has a schoolteacher to thank for the fact that you can read, add, and think rationally. A teacher who opened your mind to new ideas, who helped you speak that mind and listen when others spoke theirs. It’s a great system, and it opens its doors to every kid no matter their race or nationality, no matter what language they speak or if they can speak at all, no matter rich or poor, motivated or not, whole or impaired.

“We have spent too much time the blaming our schools for all that ails us. Sure schools could do better—but so could the banks, big business, and Congress. Schools, our teachers, and our kids, are not responsible for the economic strains our nation feels; or for the loosening bonds that threaten the civil discourse our republic requires. They are, however, part of the solution to these threats to our social security. But only if we come together on a few things in the name of a saner approach to making sure every kid has a good public school to attend.

“First, we have to admit that as much as schools can do, they can’t do it alone. It is hard for a child who is homeless, hungry, or in pain to heed the lessons of her teacher. America should, as part of education policy, work to see that every child is safe and secure, has good medical care, a roof over her head, and food in her stomach.

“Second, we must all admit that there is no doing a good school system on the cheap. America is 14th among the 16 industrialized nations in how much we spend on our kids’ education. But it is not just how much we spend, it is where we spend it. In the Harlem Children’s Zone, a project that considers all of what it takes to raise a child, the charter schools are spending one-third more than the public schools in the city, and they still are struggling.

"This is not a condemnation of that important work—it just means we should admit that we are going to have to invest heavily and in a targeted way if we want our schools to work for all our kids.

“Third, over 90% of our schools are good old regular public schools—not a charter or a choice, just where kids go to school. If we are serious about every child having a good school, it won’t be by creating a few fancy alternative schools. It will be by improving all of our schools.

“Fourth, we already know what works. All our schools--charters, magnets, public--have had successes, but we don’t seem to learn from them. Successful schools are places filled with good teachers who are well supported, where strong connections are built with students and families, where kids do real work not just read textbooks or listen to lectures, and where kids are evaluated by what they can do not by what test question they can answer. They also are places not segregated by social class.

“So what would a sane person, perchance a sane Congress, do to help and support our kids and schools? Hate to be simplistic, but here you go—We have to shore up our safety net for all kids to have access to health care, food, and shelter; use federal resources to get dollars to kid in the most need; and focus on all schools using the lessons learned from our most innovative and successful schools and getting the regulations and rules that prevent this change out of the way.

“This is what I wish for my school, your school, all schools. We don’t need Superman. We just need some sanity.”

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 29, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  George Wood, Guest Bloggers, School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  diane ravitch, george wood, jon stewart, jon stewart rally, mike rose, no child left behind, restore sanity, sanity rally, school reform, stephen colbert, stewart colbert, waiitng for superman  
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Comments

"Sure schools could do better — but so could the banks, big business, and Congress. Schools, our teachers, and our kids are not responsible for the economic strains our nation feels;....."

BINGO! Every word George Wood has written here is true and SANE.

I hope he is invited to speak at Stewart's rally.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 29, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Fortunately for all concerned, the rhetoric is beginning to change. In this month's issue of the Atlantic, Deborah Gist, commissioner of education in Rhode Island, had this to say:

"Our goal is to have the best public schools in America, and we can't meet that goal with educators alone. This cannot rest on just our schools."

Now there's a smart lady and she might be the one to encourage Americans to get behind a real push to bring a high-quality education to every child.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 29, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Excellent post! As are most if not all of your posts Valerie - thank you! They are informative and intelligent. Wish George Wood could speak at the rally, and to the President and all his staff who work on education reform,and that they would listen...

Posted by: highquality4kids | October 29, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

America is 14th among the 16 industrialized nations in how much we spend on our kids’ education.

Why is it OK in free-market business to say "you get what you pay for" but we cannot raise taxes for public education even though we rank at the bottom of education investment? Yes, you do get what you pay for!

Posted by: smillerred | October 29, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Linda,

That would be the same Deborah Gist who supported the firing all the teachers at Central Falls and helped the "negotiate" an extended school day and more work without any other changes in the issues that school system was facing?

If she is the bright light supporting educators, then we still have a long way to go.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | October 29, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

As the Cheshire cat told Alice, "…which way…depends on where you want to go" In President Obama's speech of November 2009 he mentioned the educational way as leading to the goals of national prosperity, international competition, earnings, jobs, a quality future, success, a knowledge economy, and eliminating the cost of achievement gaps. I would suggest that these are secondary goals, and even as secondary goals there are many important omissions such as the joy of learning, excitement of discovery, creative adventures, and just the contentment of knowing. We need a primary educational goal that is simple, engenders common agreement, and encompasses all secondary goals. In this regard, the best expression I have heard is that trite but powerful phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Posted by: bpeterson1931 | October 29, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Wrym:

Yes, this is the same Gist. But now she's stating that teachers cannot be expected to shoulder the whole burden of educating a child. To me, that's significant.

And don't forget that every teacher had Central Falls was hired back.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 29, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

yes, wyrm1 - I was thinking the same thing about Gist. But maybe her latest remark shows a change in thinking. Maybe she's actually learning from her mistakes.

She's also the one who exposed the erasures on DC-CAS and then quickly left DC for the job in RI - so she has some integrity.

Posted by: efavorite | October 29, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

hey, Linda - great minds think alike!

Hey, Wyrm1 - maybe soon Gist will be speaking out against Rhee's brand of school reform -- then we'll know real progress is being made.

Posted by: efavorite | October 29, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Desperate, eh? Yes, Rhode Island is a real beacon of public schools and government integrity.

And Mr. Woods thinks we need a ton of money added, as if public education's primary problem is about bucks. Surely, that is not the District's problem.

He also thinks good schools are filled with good teachers. Don't we all.

Posted by: axolotl | October 29, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

George Wood, it was great to read this. Well said.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 29, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

I've come to a conclusion about public schools that is somewhat parallel to what has been said here: schools cannot do it alone. We have these kids for six to seven hours a day and are expected to correct all/most of the ills of society in one quarter of a child's day. It's NEVER going to happen.

Plenty must occur outside the school day and by adults other than teachers to even begin to scratch at the touted achievement gap in our schools.

Parents and politicians would be two good places to start but the first of these two is essentially off limits because it's politically incorrect. So my hopes for rectifying this glaring inequity are seemingly dashed before I start my engines.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 30, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

I don't get it. Why isn't the media or the politicians listening to people like him?

Posted by: educationlover54 | October 30, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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