"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

Archive for the tag “education reform”

Strike That, Reform It

Heads butt once again over education reform in the recent Chicago teachers strike.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago teachers certainly have different takes on how to improve Chicago schools. But which path is the right path to take?

Chicago teachers strike

Mayor Emanuel suggests closing poor-performing schools and opening new ones equipped with new teachers and administration. I almost laughed when I read this in the article. Really? That’s like cleaning up your bedroom by removing everything off your floor and hiding it in your closet—problem solved. Or is it?

I get it; he wants a clean plate, a fresh start, but while this may temporarily give some peace of mind, this seems relatively inefficient. There are already great teachers out there, why replace them? We already have a solid structure built, so let’s tweek it and cultivate it, not get rid of it.

Based on the article, it sounds like Mayor Emanuel thinks bad teachers are the cause of under-performing schools. To me, this is illogical thinking. At first glance you would think that a teacher’s effectiveness at teaching should be evaluated by their student’s test scores—a single input and a single output. But education is far more complicated than that, and that is why I believe it is unfair to evaluate a teacher’s performance based on their student’s test scores. A child’s academic performance is a result of many factors, their teacher’s influence is just one of them. Crime, poverty, hunger, problems in the home, and health are all factors that influence a child’s learning. Teachers do not have control over these social issues! So to evaluate them based on students’ test scores is to say teachers are responsible for these factors.

His plan is also inefficient in that it will bring us in a complete circle. Teachers and administrators are replaced. Then what? Replacing teachers doesn’t guarantee more effective teaching practices, and it doesn’t change the fact that some disadvantaged children come to school without basic school supplies. If only the teachers change and nothing else, we’ll end up right where we are now.

Unlike Mayor Emanuel, Chicago teachers are getting to the root of the problem. They are aware of the multiple factors that influence a child’s learning. Their push for more resources in neighborhood public schools is evidence that they are doing what they can to improve these factors.

This is way beyond the job description.


Students and Parents: Education Can’t Change Without You

Much of the talk about education reform has focused on teachers and what they can do to help kids be successful in school. A lot is expected from teachers. They are expected to present material that is engaging, plan hands-on classroom activities, would have conversations with their students, keep up to date on the latest teaching techniques and resources, connect emotionally with their students, and provide encouragement and support. If that lengthy sentence had you feeling exhausted, think of how teachers must feel. Indeed, teachers are in the hot seat when it comes to education reform. But what many people have failed to recognize is that education reform does not rely solely on teachers. In fact, change can only come about with the combined effort of teachers, students, and parents.

What can students do to help? Take initiative and bring your student voice. Speak out and get involved in the talk, the decisions. Education is for the students, and any changes that are made will impact you. Communicate what you want your education to be like. What works/doesn’t work in the classroom for you? What changes can be made to help you succeed? Without your voice you’re like a crying infant, and policymakers are like the mother who is trying to guess what her baby needs. Policymakers are not the ones going to school everyday; you are the expert on schooling.

Parents. Become actively involved in your child’s education and show your support. Communicate with your child’s teacher and know what your child is doing at school. Try to understand your child’s passions, interests, and struggles. Do what you can at home to help them succeed in school. You’re afterschool pick-up conversation shouldn’t just be, ‘did you have fun in school today?’ ‘yep.’ I encourage you to dig deeper. Too many parents drop off their kid at school and make their child’s education the school’s responsibility; it’s passive almost, but it certainly shouldn’t be this way. If you and your child are investing this much time and energy in education, it doesn’t make sense to go through the motions.

If students can voice their opinions and if parents can follow through, I think we’ll be able to connect some pieces of this education reform puzzle.

What are the other missing pieces?

21 Sesame Street: My Undercover Elementary School Assignment

Brief: More than just cookies are being stolen on Sesame Street, creativity is too.

I woke up one morning to a Twister game sitting at the foot of the stairs. ‘”What is this doing here?” I say to my Ma. “It’s game day at your brother’s school, the second to last day of school,” she said. My seven-year-old brother over hears her; he frolics down the stairs saying, “Yeah it’s game day today!”

I decided to join in on this game day. I thought it would be a good thing for me to see where my little brother spends his weekdays, to let him show me his desk, and to meet his teacher. I knew my visit would excite him too. I suppose I wanted to show him that I was involved and supportive of that part of his life.

I hadn’t approached this campus in some time. I used to come here to pick up my little brother from school every now and then, but now I approached the campus with a critical eye. I suddenly had the opportunity to step out of the role of the student and take on the role of the observer. I was curious. How has elementary school changed since I left? Has it changed at all?

After a few post-recess classroom activities and a few (defeated) Connect Four games later, I was able to answer this question.

Elementary school has not changed very much since my time. One thing I noticed is that everything is still structured, if not more. The schedule for the school day is up on the white board, there is no time for tangents or off-topic comments, and your butt must be glued to the carpet—always.

A recent article, 3 Ideas to Prevent Schools from Killing Creativity, Curiosity, and Critical Thinking, brought me back to my first grade classroom experience. One thing this article nailed: these kids are fidgety. You can see it in their eyes, down to their tippy toes; they are in a constant struggle to maintain self-control. You can see that they are antsy to standup, to move around, to talk out of turn, to share, and to engage with their classmates. This is wonderful news!

It’s great that we have children who are eager to learn, share, and to connect with others. It’s understandable though why there is structure—the classroom is innately a jungle and without rules and reminders the monkeys will run wild. But can’t we let them run wild a little bit? Instead of silencing this writhing energy for 8 hours a day, can’t we “transfer” it somewhere else?

This is where the article brought in some interesting points. Though there are activities like recess, art, music, and P.E. class that are meant to give kids a break from classroom lessons, I feel like there is still a lot of structure and rules that essentially take away children’s autonomy. I have no recollection of choosing my own instrument to play in music class, but instead, being handed a recorder and told to play it. And I doubt I would have ever chosen juggling for a P.E. class activity, let alone be graded on it (yes graded!).

In accordance with the article, I think we should allow kids a greater voice in what they want to do in school. We should give them time in the school day to do activities that they are passionate or curious about. This isn’t a recess or some pointless free time, it’s a time where kids can exercise their creative minds with the encouragement and support of their teachers. Giving children this opportunity will help reboot their minds for better focus and concentration on other classroom activities that require attention, patience, and structure. Also as a result, you will help create a group of children who feel empowered and confident to pursue their passions and ideas. We want to generate students who challenge the what, the how and the why—essentially leaders, not followers.

What do you think about the current structure of elementary school? Does it need to be changed? If so, what changes do you think should be made? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Reforming Education In America: Finland Teaches Its Kids and America Too

I think it’s great that America is getting off its high horse and reaching out to other countries for guidance on how to improve its education system. In a bigger picture, I think that communication and collaboration is key to positive social change. One thing I’ve learned through academics and athletics is that it’s okay to ask for help, in fact, it’s a pretty dang good idea. Look to your role models and do what they do—this is how you can learn and improve! After taking the article into consideration, this is what I highly suggest America does to improve its education system.

Students in Finland are consistently performing well, making Finland one of the leading nations in education.

I just read an intriguing, eye-opening article on Finland’s educational system. The article, What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success, was very informative and offered some great insights on what our nation can learn from Finland’s education system, and how we can apply their nation’s values to help improve our own education system.

From reading the article I learned a very inspiring and impressive piece of information about Finland. For one, Finland reformed its education system with the focus on achieving equity—giving every child, no matter where they live, their family’s income, or their background, equal opportunity for education.

Does this seem quite the opposite of America’s education system? It is. We have private versus public schools and universities. It looks as if America has a “mini war” within it, where institutions with money, power, and prestige strive to be better, achieve more wealth, and strive to outdo its competitors. These schools want to be known for producing the most special, standout students. Given this approach America is currently taking, it’s no wonder our students are falling behind in academic achievement—only a select amount of students have the best education available to them!

In agreement with the article, I think America needs to veer away from this competitive attitude and have schools cooperate with one another. America has a goal: achieve academic excellence so we can compete globally. But this goal cannot be reached if everyone is looking out for their own self-interests. We need to grow up, lend each other a helping hand, and sacrifice for the good of the group. Perhaps academic achievement isn’t something we can directly obtain, but merely a by-product of fundamental changes to our education system. If we can establish a policy on equity, I think all the pieces will fall into place for us.

Do you think it’s possible to establish a policy on equity here in America?


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