Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mayor John Peyton: Mostly Wrong

Mayor John Peyton delivered the keynote address speech at the 24th annual martin Luther King Jr. breakfast last Friday and after reading the text of his speech which was mostly about education and how we can ill afford to leave any children behind I have to say he got some things right, but unfortunately he got most things wrong. He was right when he said that schools have to change the way they are doing things, it’s when he got into his details how to do so that he spiraled into hyperbole and contrived fixes.

I personally don’t think schools can fix neighborhoods or families that’s not their function though at the same time that’s not to say a school can’t be a source of pride or a resource for a neighborhood and that’s not to say schools can’t be an agent for positive change. Unfortunately the way public education is run now the opposite more than not happens. It has become so bad that schools can actually exacerbate the problems in families and neighborhood. They do so by not instilling in their students any discipline or a work ethic and by robbing children of their joy of learning, by forcing them into a one size fits all curriculums regardless of the children’s desires or aptitude. When schools do those things they make society worse.

In this era of high stakes testing and data driven education the whole function of schools has been perverted. Schools today aren’t designed to make children well rounded and productive citizens. They are instead here to pump them through school and dump them on the street after they have passed “the test.” We are no longer concerned with how kids are doing, all we care about is percentages on a spread sheet and how schools, districts and states appear to be doing and believe you me it is more often than not a lot worse than it seems.

Like I said above Mayor Peyton is right in some instances like when he said schools must start doing things different and the first step I think is to acknowledge we do not have the kids and parents we wish we had, we have the kids and parents we do and that we should plan accordingly. We must start by giving the kids that walk through the doors the lessons at school that they should be learning at home and I am not talking about the times tables or the states capitals; as important as those and so many other things are there are more important lessons children must learn before academic learning can take place. Like and to put it bluntly, to sit down and shut up and then to actualy put pencil to paper.

Kids must receive discipline and consequences for their behavior at schools, and this is even more important if they aren’t getting those things at home. If they don’t learn how to behave at home or in the schools then where are they going to learn how to? In the streets? We do not have to be cruel, stern and fair will suffice. So many teachers today endure toxic learning environments because they have been “taught” by their administrators that nothing will happen if they try and discipline their kids as they are quickly returned often angrier than when they left or if they write to many referrals the teachers classroom management will be called into question and their evaluations and in some cases their jobs could be in danger. Teachers all over the country breathe a sigh of relief when little Johnny or Suzy are absent because then they can teach. This is happening when perhaps the most important lesson we should be teaching kids is that their behavior matters and for bad behavior there will be consequences and remember or a consequence to be meaningful, it must be meaningful! A period or two in ISSP with their friends is not meaningful, being sent to their room, where their x-box, internet and IPhone is, is not meaningful. It’s not a few bad apples spoiling the cart, it’s apples we are allowing to spoil, destroying the system.

Then we must develop a work ethic into kids. Today’s children with their short attention spans and their sense of entitlement are expecting to get praised for whatever they do even if the product they turn out would have been substandard just a generation ago. To develop this work ethic we must make sure our classes have rigor. Half our kids do not just suddenly show up in high school without the ability to read or do math. No this is a process that started years before but once they get to high school there is nowhere to push them to and they get stuck and a log jam occurs. Then if stats are correct about a third end up dropping out. To help the kids get through we must have legitimate and required after school and summer school opportunities. You want to see a kid do better in math? Make sure they know if they have a F or a D they will be required to stay after school for remediation. Not asked if they want to. Then if a kid still fails after that and summer school, we don’t blame the teachers. Instead we roll up our sleeves and try again the following year. Graduation rates are nice and all but shouldn’t the true aim to be to make sure more students graduate prepared for life even if it takes longer, rather than graduating students on time ill prepared for anything.

If teachers can‘t discipline kids and then they are forced to pass them along then real teaching and learning cannot occur. This is the second change, after schools and society acknowledges they don’t and won’t always have the students and parents they would like, schools must make. They must have discipline and they must have rigor and the powers that be must support teachers in creating this environment even if the stats take a temporary beating. It has to be okay to both write a kid up for acting poorly and to fail a kid too. We must do what’s right rather than what’s expedient; we must do right rather than just appear through inflated stats that we are doing right. Other than additional summer school and after school opportunities above will not break the bank or reinvent the wheel either. In fact it’s what schools used to do before politicians and casual observers began to meddle and change things based on the latest fad or some billionaires flash of inspiration.

Once we establish discipline and rigor the last major piece of the puzzle is to engage more children in the learning process by making school both fun and relevant to them. In the early grades kids must be allowed to play and shouldn’t be forced to do hours and hours of homework every night and then in the later grades we should have multiple curriculums which play to kid’s strength and desires. We should make the teaching of trades, skills and the arts as important as math and science. Then we should also consider the very real possibility that not every kid either wants to go to college or is cut out for college and plan curriculums that will both maximize their abilities and prepare them to be productive citizens. For some kids we should celebrate if they get a job with room or advancement as much as we celebrate others going to an Ivy League school.

We don’t have to stop there as there are definitely other things we could do to which would have a huge impact. If we have standardized tests let’s make them a component of education not the end all/be all that they have become. In my school it’s all F-Cat all the time and creativity, initiative and flexibility have been all but legislated out of our classes and worse, now all we are is graduating is a group of kids who (many after several attempts) can pass the F–cat or whatever standardized test they are taking and then do little else.

Then schools need counselors and social workers. The reason many kids don’t go to school or do poorly at school has nothing to do with school it has to do with their homes and neighborhoods. To be able to help with their problems we must be able to get to their problems. Schools only have kids less than a fifth of the time.

Also if we are serious about reforms then how about we stop drowning teachers in paperwork that only had a superfluous relationship to teaching as everyday teaching becomes less and less about actual teaching and more and more about data collection, lesson plan writing and making up crap to get administrators off their backs. It’s all about appearances a teacher friend told me, they want to be able to check a box saying you did this.

Finally it would be nice if we stopped making teachers the sole scapegoats for all the ills in education. Why don’t we start holding the policy makers, politicians, parents, the public and students themselves responsible. Make them claim take their fair share for where we find ourselves?

These things above, not fads brought to us by the flavor of the month or a billionaire looking to increase his market share in the 500 billion dollar a year business that education has become are what we need. Make it all right to discipline and fail a kid and we'll see trememndous gains.

We don’t need market based solutions like charter schools and vouchers either as we already have the schools and teachers, the infrastructure in place. Do we build new highways when one has a pot hole? Of course not we fix it and move on. If we truly want to improve education which should be the great equalizer or all our children all we need to put in place are realistic and practical policies and procedures, and to stop looking at children as if they were data points on a spread sheet and to start looking at them as individuals.

Mayor Peyton was right, schools do need to do things differently and we do need to invest in them however when his flowery rhetoric was dissected with a critical eye, like most politicians rhetoric does, it came up short. He talks about the hole we are in and then his accomplishments that, not to be flippant haven’t led to many children extraditing themselves from the hole. Books are great unless the kid next to the kid trying to read is out of control and the teacher isn’t allowed to do something. Learning centers are great until the child goes home to a place of abject poverty and that, not teaching by the way is the number one measureable factor that determines how a child does in school. Increased learning opportunities are great until a child gets to a point in his or her education where school becomes drudgery and they learn to hate it.

Then the only real reform he called for was for longer school days and weekend schools but he failed to acknowledge that most teachers already work well past the last bell and on the weekends too. Should teachers who already give so much of their time away be required to do these things without additional compensation something I am sure more would do if they were heirs to multi-million dollar businesses?

Mayor Peyton uses some nice words but in the end his message lacks substance, we all should know by now that we can’t leave kids behind and that every kid needs a chance at a great education. Ultimately his ideas were contrived and his bully pulpit where real, meaningful change could have been initiated stands barely used. He talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk and in the end he got it a little right but was mostly wrong.


  1. It's been my experience that if you write referrals on a consistent basis the students will dislike you and lie about you to Administration. If there are two of them with the same story it becomes the truth. I have seen absolutely outrageous lies completely believed by Administrators and the powers that be in the Condo on the River. I have seen this over, and over, and over again in 35 years. Teachers fired because students were angry at a referral(s) and made things up. I never, write a referral unless I clear it with an Administrator first. And even then I'm wary of taking that action only as last resort to protect me.

  2. Well said. I, too, was disappointed by Mayor Peyton's speech. There are so many things we should be doing in our schools and are not, which is so unfair to our students, who deserve so much better!