Let’s Make American Schools Great Again!
No, I’m not going to write about that guy running for President. I am going to write about the canard we’ve been telling ourselves. The falsehood goes a little something like this: Back in the day, I guess when Dewey was around, American schools were great. We reminisce about how great our primary school days were. We talk about our favorite teacher (mine was Mrs. Veum at Beye Elementary School in Oak Park, IL) and how said teacher evoked a love of learning. The truth is, “back in the day” American schools excluded people of color from its curriculum. It segregated students of color, excluded children with disabilities, allowed millions of children to drop out, and had different expectations for women because they weren’t going into the workforce. “Back in the day” academic achievement measures were introduced indicating American children were no smarter than 5th graders.
Here is where I go all Education-ese. I do love acronyms, so bear with me…
ESEA, IDEA, NCLB, and now ESSA were attempts to ensure American children were smarter than a 5th grader. I do believe these legislations had ambitious or “righteous” goals; but, each Legislation failed to produce the academic results we were hoping for. We assumed mandating tests and threatening with public humiliation would lead to miraculous academic achievement, but Legislation alongside mandates and threats have led to States and School Districts grasping at every literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional initiative under the sun by means of superficial random acts of professional development. Why do we keep finger pointing and placing blame at the “end” of the pipeline-- at students and teachers in the classrooms?
Here is my supplication to make American Schools Great Now!
We “cannot” continue to PD* our way out of a teaching and learning crisis, but rather take a deep dive into analyzing the root cause(s) for the reasons K-12 public education is broken. My research and analysis indicate the teaching and learning crisis in K-12 public education is a result of not having established and enforced “National Standards” for the practice of teaching and leading. I’m talking about National Standards that set rigorous requirements to be a teacher and leader that don’t include alternatives or short cuts to certification. Additionally, “Colleges of Education” whose professors, many of whom have never taught, led, or turned around a public school, design degree programs that perpetuate race, class and culture divides. These degree programs are not aligned with current K-12 standards and assessments, and they lack job-embedded internships/practicums that could address these voids. I could make a trite comparison to the medical and legal professions, but you all are familiar with that argument.
ESSA** is in its early stages of implementation and we have the opportunity to shift the dialogue from more Legislation, mandates, and PD to addressing the real issues and root causes of the teaching and learning crisis. Are you with me? Let’s Make American Schools Great Now.
*PD = Professional Development. Facilitated learning opportunities including credentials such as academic degrees to formal coursework, conferences and informal learning opportunities situated in practice.
** ESSA = Every Student Succeeds Act. which is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, last reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The new law P.L. 114-95, enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama, addresses state education accountability, student testing requirements, intervention in low-performing schools, teacher evaluation, and grant reauthorization and requirements.