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Monday, September 27, 2010

The smartest guy in the room (unedited)

I spent ten years in college. I picked my degrees based on the math (well, make that the lack of math) I would have to take. My mother would lament that I would have to make it on my looks because making it with my brains was out of the question. And nobody - nobody - mistakes me for the smartest guy in the room; however, when I hear these so-called education experts talk about what education needs, I can’t help but think I just might be.

Experts yell about charter schools and merit pay, but study after study indicates that nothing makes a greater impact on children’s learning than your run-of-the-mill neighborhood school taught by your run-of-the-mill teacher. They also talk about mentors and early literacy programs and paying our best teachers to go to our worst schools - but the reality is that we have been doing these things (to no avail) for about a decade now.

They come up with the same tired old answers to the same problems as if suddenly, this time, they will work. Well, friends - they will never work as long as we ignore the elephant in the room which is not every kid is the same. As long as we insist on treating them that way, then nothing will change. We might not like it, (and for the powers-that-be, it’s hard to admit) but not every kid is cut out for (or interested in) going to college - and that should be okay. We should strive to help all our children be as successful as they can, whether that means college or not. The simple truth is that for some of our kids, we should celebrate them getting a job with room for advancement as much as we celebrate other kids getting into an Ivy League school.

So many kids don’t enjoy going to school. They only do so because they are required to...and here is some more honesty - why should they enjoy or like going to school? We push them along until high school, where there is nowhere else to push them to, and then we overwhelm them with classes they both aren’t prepared for and aren’t interested in. Often, their schedules are crammed with remedial this or intensive that and they don’t have a break from their academics with classes they like. Also, many are sitting next to kids who don’t care at all; who turn learning environments toxic; who have been pushed along, too, never having received a consequence for their behavior. I think it’s a tribute to our fine teachers that we are doing as well as we are.

Friends, we don’t need charter schools, and merit pay is one of those ideas that sound good on paper, but in reality it’s nearly impossible to apply. First, we need discipline; but then, we need multiple curriculums that service all our kids' needs - not just the ones who are going to college. We need to bring back the trade and skills programs and make the arts just as important as science and math. You want to know how to improve student's grades? Well, tell a sixteen-year-old that if they complete an apprenticeship program in carpentry, plumbing or some other skill, they can start making $20.00 an hour upon graduation. That will improve grades. Just pushing college has the opposite effect, as many of them know that college is just a mirage. I am not saying that college isn’t important; I am saying it’s not the be-all/end-all, and many of our students aren’t even remotely ready for college upon graduation from high school. What would be wrong if they worked at a good job for a while and then went to college when they were ready?

I have written before that we don’t need to bribe our best teachers to go to the worst schools because, quite frankly, many of them are already there - and they have chosen to be there. They have chosen to show up day after day and put in the work under the most trying conditions. Often, their reward is to be overwhelmed with task after task that, at best, has a peripheral relationship with education. Volumes of data are nice and all, but there are diminishing returns and most of the information they need they get from working with the children for a few weeks.

Mentors are also important, but buses to take kids home after they stay at school to receive extra help (or a consequence for bad behavior) and for legitimate summer school programs (where kids can either maintain skills or acquire new ones), are so much more important. If we are bound and determined to pass students through, let's at least make sure they get the skills they need, and for more than a few kids, that requires extra time. Though we have to make summer school fun, let's trick them into learning by giving them a P.E. and art class at the same time we give them academic classes.

Then, of course, we need early literacy programs - but we need to make sure they don’t lose their gains in middle school, which is what typically happens. Why do they lose the skills then? Well, it’s probably because about then, many students are having their love of school stripped from them as more and more assignments and classes are pushed on them. These are kids, for goodness' sake, and they shouldn’t have hours of homework every night. If we want them to do well in school, then it wouldn’t hurt if we made them like school, too. One way to make sure that happens is by providing them with classes they like.

We also have to take care of their needs when they are not at school. Academic coaches are such a fad right now, and where some are great, we have more pressing needs. Hey, I have an idea - let's let each department pick their best teacher and give them an extra planning period so they can help plan and develop lessons to help the other teachers. Then, let's take the money we saved and hire some social workers and counselors to provide wrap-around services and get to the meat of the problems that our most struggling students are having. So often, kids not trying at school or acting up at school has nothing to do with school. We’re never going to solve their school issues if we if we continue to ignore their other problems.

How do the powers-that-be (the policy makers and politicians) not get it,? Well, maybe it’s because they aren’t in the classroom and society has gotten to the point where everybody but teachers gets a pass for the problems we have in education.

I spent ten years in college. I picked my degrees based on the math (well, make that the lack of math) that I would have to take. My mother would lament that I would have to make it on my looks because making it with my brains was out of the question. And nobody - nobody - mistakes me for the smartest guy in the room; however, when I hear these so-called education experts talk about what education needs, I can't help but think I just might be.


  1. i am a coach...i am one of those people...i have a problem with some of my fellow coaches at other schools...they are not certified to even teach in the areas they coach...does that make sense? personally, i think the county probably has a 5 to 5 ratio of contact employees (teachers) and non-contact (coaches, admins, and other muckety-mucks)..that is crazy! while i would like to think that i cannot be replaced according to my teachers, the reality is a large part of my day seems to be satisfying state paperwork requests...don't get me wrong, i'm in my teacher's rooms all the time, but a lot of it is snapshots, surface visits for lack of substance time...chris, you just might be the smartest person in the room...i wish they would bring back the technical schools, the petersons of yesteryear....oh least a bunch of us got paid on saturday for more PD...if i develop any further i won't be able to fit in my clothes! LOL

  2. I tend to hear, I love my coach or I am not sure what my coach does and I can't help but think the district has so many people who don't work directly with kids that thats part of the problem. I feel for you.

    I was wathing NBC news's education nation and I just couldn't beleive I was hearing the same old, same old.