Sunday, January 31, 2016
Time may be at its most precious in relation to modern teacher professional development. Our school calendars, established generations ago, often provide scant time for teacher training, sometimes only four or five days.
Yet teacher professional development has never been more crucial as schools seek ways to alter and improve classroom instruction. In pursuit of more time for this activity, we shorten school days, having late starts, early dismissals, sometimes even entire days with no students. However, we do so with extreme reservations because we know one of the Correlates of the Effective Schools Research is to carefully guard student time on task (Lezotte, 1991).
As our local economies and our state tax bases slowly improve in the wake of the devastating recession of 2008 to 2015, we may be on the verge of an opportunity to improve education by creating more time for professional development. Most schools in the United States have been cash-strapped for nine years. As a result, teacher salaries have fallen behind, teachers have suffered, and the teacher shortage has approached critical levels in many instructional areas.
Now is the time to put more money toward teacher pay and include additional days as part of the package. This can be done at a local level by re-prioritizing our budgets, but it should also be a state initiative.
Some state legislators believe that fully funding their state's education formula does little to attract attention to themselves, advance their political clout, or garner votes in the next election. However, tying new dollars for teachers to additional time for professional development could be a stirring idea. We know teacher training has the potential to enhance student achievement. This would be using tax money directly for the purpose of improving classroom instruction.
This will be an idea most teachers will support. Most teachers have never been afraid to put in additional time, and many are actively seeking ways to improve. Linking additional pay to time for school improvement could be a winning combination.
I urge us all to talk to our legislators about putting more money into education with the intent of purchasing additional days and ultimately improving education in the United States.
Image Credit: The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí, 1931, Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
A decade and a half into the 21st Century, computers are everywhere. Most people carry in their pockets a smart phone that has more computer power than all of NASA had at its disposal in 1969 when it landed a man on the moon. Today’s mobile devices are more powerful than the desktop computers of the 1990’s.
This is only going to increase. Today we carry our mobile devices in our pockets. Tomorrow we will be wearing them and putting them on each morning as we do our clothing. The education of today’s students must include how to effectively use modern technologies. It is right and appropriate that our schools modernize so that technology is integrated into instruction as it will be in the workplace of the future for our students.
Schools planning for a digital learning initiative have some parents who naturally express apprehension about whether or not students are responsible enough to care for such powerful and expensive digital learning devices. Certainly responsible behavior often matures with age. However, this is exactly one of the reasons we needed computers in the hands of the kids—that we need to teach them how to use their computers responsibly.
With this new movement of digital learning devices in schools, a new curriculum is emerging. The whole world is now accessible to any student with a digital device, and schools need to teach digital citizenship. All schools need a K-12 curriculum in this area, and teachers need training in how to instruct digital citizenship skills.
October 18 – 24 this year was National Digital Citizenship Week. A growing number of schools each year are engaging in learning activities at all grade levels with lessons designed to teach students the responsible use of technology tools.
I endorse the work of Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org). They have an appropriate K-12 curriculum with a coordinated scope and sequence and age-appropriate lessons that address digital literacy and citizenship topics. Their curriculum includes professional development materials, student interactives, assessments, and family outreach materials. What is more, their curriculum is free and it is turnkey so schools can use immediately. This is welcome and refreshing news for the many public schools across this nation that have been bludgeoned by repeated budget cuts over the past decade.Digital literacy and citizenship skills are skills that students can use for the rest of their lives. New devices and systems will come and go, but responsible use of technologies will be timeless. A brave new world is emerging, characterized by anytime, anywhere connections for everyone. This age is coming with new challenges and new trials for our children. However, schools can play an important role in educating students for how to use technology responsibly.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
There is a paradox present in the public perceptions of the schools in the United States. For years I have seen this same result in the annual Gallup poll on American public K-12 education. A paraphrase of one question reads, “Overall, how satisfied are you with the quality of K-12 education in the U.S. today?”
In the latest poll (which is very similar to poll results for each of the last ten years), only 45 percent of those polled expressed some level of satisfaction with the quality of America’s public schools. The majority, or 54 percent, indicated dissatisfaction.
At the same time for each of the last 17 years, people were polled with a similar question, but one with a distinct difference. Parents were asked, “How satisfied are you with the quality of education your oldest child is receiving?”
Overwhelmingly, parents expressed satisfaction with the quality of the local school system their child is attending. A dominant 76 percent of parents said they were either completely satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the educational quality of their child’s K-12 school. Only 18 percent expressed dissatisfaction.
And these results were very similar to the results recorded fifteen years earlier in 2000 and with little deviation throughout the intervening years.
If this polling truly represents the length and breadth of our great nation, then the two numbers should be similar and not polar opposites. Gallup is among the best in the business. I trust their poll numbers. On a school-by-school basis, our American public is pleased with public school quality. The difference in the polling tells me there is a perception problem.
People know their local schools from first-hand experience. However, the only way the average person can know our nation’s schools is by what they read and hear from national news, politicians, and pundits.
Let us cut through the phony criticism. Americans like their schools. They regard the schools as providing quality education to their children.This is an opportunity to celebrate and demonstrate our optimism for public schools. In business the customer is always right. For America’s schools, their customers support the work they are doing.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Public education is in a state of crisis. It is vilified by uninformed media, greedy business people, and opportunistic politicians who decry it as a failed institution and a waste of tax dollars. As a result, political leaders, policy makers, and legislators decide to limit further investment in this otherwise essential public service.
The result of this condemnation is ongoing underfunding, dwindling resources, discouragement, and a teacher shortage now in drought conditions. Perhaps the greatest casualty of this onslaught is the erosion of public confidence in its schools. This is indeed a sad and unjustified loss.
An essential part of the job of every public educator must be advocacy for the profession. This is hard for many of us. It does not fit in our wheelhouse. We were never trained with any sense that public relations was a key essential among our job skills. As a result, some shrink from this duty. I have heard it said, “I just want to go into my classroom and teach.” Unfortunately, the ostrich approach is one of the limitations we must overcome.
However, we have those champions among us who step forward and lead. Understandably, when an institution is under attack, supporters often respond emotionally to the attacks. This sometimes results in acrimonious replies and accusations laced with vitriol. For all of us who have become disgusted with politicians, we cringe at their affronts and hate-instilling rhetoric.
To build a brighter future for public education, we need to frame our narrative with positive messages. Let us tell our public what is still right about our school, how they are making a difference, and how much more we can accomplish if we have adequate resources. This builds alliances and supporters. People want to be part of a positive and hopeful cause.
Eschew the urge to fight back. We appear small as a result. Confrontation intimidates many. Fill the message with the many wonderful things happening in education today.
If you think about it, this can be really easy. Our work in service to humankind writes a million positive stories every day. The time is now to bring forth all the good there is in our profession. We need to emphasize the benefits to civilization as well as the rewards we reap as career educators.
People want to hear the positive messages. In a world where the nightly news is inundated with stories of sadness, suffering, and sometimes horror, we have the opportunity to be the shining star that guides our culture. People want to hear what is right with the world. So let us all start and end our conversations with all that is good in public education. When we all do this, our public support will return.
So sing it with me: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar, . . .”