Saturday, December 5, 2009

More on Educational Reform...

One of the sub themes of this blog is to support the improvement of our school systems. Notice I didn't say to reform education. Just to improve what we are doing. The main theme of this blog is to support and tell what the classroom teachers are doing right now in teaching our education population from pre-school to graduate school. My last blog was a short story on how my major professor got me to learn about computers in the investigative mode. Remember, there are only three ways to learn: 1) Expository mode in which the message is transmitted primarily by voice or print by the learner or the teacher, 2) Investigative mode in which the learner tries things out and makes decisions as to what is important (in my case playing with an IBM-360-40), and finally the performance mode in which the learner performs in front of an audience and learns an insight into the message. Remember all that from a previous blog? Test on the modes this Friday, eh?

One of the stressful buttons you can push on me is the Educational Reform button. Tell me that some major company has been hired to lead some school district and I'll blow a cork. Tell me that some school district is going to eliminate summer vacations and increase the time that kids have to spend in class and you will view steam coming from my ears. But the worst thing that I can't stand is when someone places non-education administrators who have never spent a day in the classroom in charge of school districts. It really frosts my cupcakes! Well, it appears the latter has happened. Or will happen.

In a well written editorial piece for the New York Times, (December 5th, 2009) Bob Herbert has written an article, entitled, In Search of Education Leaders. He reports that Harvard University is planning a new doctoral degree in "Leadership in Education." While I applaud Harvard for this step (it is the first new doctoral degree in 74 years) it should be noted that there are a number of schools that have this type of degree already in their curriculum. For example Seattle University has had this degree for almost twenty-five years--an excellent program (a disclosure: My wife is a graduate of this program and I have participated by sending students to the program and serving on doctoral committees) I think Seattle University does an excellent job of providing educators with leadership capabilities.

But still, one needs to keep in mind what Harvard is up to. My big disappointment with the Harvard news as reported by Bob Herbert is that the faculty for this new doctoral program will be staff by faculty from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Oh dear, here we go again. And because it will be coming from Harvard, many folks will believe this will produce top school administrators.

I do wish some university would gather it's resources and do a large scale survey of teachers from across the nation and have them list the things they see that would promote better education. What do our teachers need? Less kids in a classroom? More books or more up to date textbooks? More Smart Boards or White Boards? Clearer objectives for each grade or subject matter? More computers? More or less time with the kids? I suspect but am not sure that some teachers would want their students to have a good breakfast in the morning, or a safe place to go after school is done for the day. I don't think anyone has ever done a large scale study of what teachers think. What would improve their teaching from the teachers' point of view?

I do think that many teachers--it doesn't matter which level or grade--would ask for a clearer curriculum. Most teachers want to know what is it you want me to teach your chid or teenager. But our school curriculum has become chaotic with many different requirements. The American Legion wants the schools to patriotism, the legislature has passed a law requiring all students to study the holocaust. There are literally hundreds of different learning objectives now required in our school curriculum. To some degree I understand why some teachers prefer to teach to the test--at least the test questions are clear and insightful. But still, I suspect many teachers become burdened with curricular requirements. [an aside to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Here is a worthy cause for you to consider--compile a curriculum for a K-12 school district and make it available to all districts.] What should the modern curriculum be? Here we are once again, "What knowledge is of most worth?"

Once again, the New York Times article that set me off was, "In Search of Education Leaders," by Bob Herbert. A well written article: I thank Mr. Herbert for writing it. And you should be thanking your teachers for giving you the knowledge to be able to read all this and make your own decisions as to what is a good education. Thank a teacher today.

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