Sunday, February 16, 2014

#152 February 16, 2014- Transitions and More

Educational Transitions,
Where Are We Headed?. . .
The reality of life is constant change.  Part of this  perpetual change is the need to make transitions and adapt to new situations, conditions or experiences.  Often it is these transitions that determine either the future directions our lives take, or the success of the decisions that are made.  This is true for individuals and also for groups of people.  Changes are often challenging, and occur for many different reasons.  Some changes are under our control, but others are forced upon us.  This is clear in the definitions of transition from one on-line dictionary.  Transition is defined as either "the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another," or to "undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition."

Public school systems across the nation are experiencing a time of significant transition.  There is no doubt that our school systems need to make changes.  This is part of the inevitable reality of humanity.  Our school systems need to evolve to incorporate new knowledge about how humans learn, we need to adapt to changing demographics, and we need to reflect our society's concern for all citizens and insure equal opportunity for all.  Here in Wisconsin the pace of change has been accelerated by political considerations and a number of other factors in addition to those that are directly tied to educational objectives.  

While change is inevitable, and a necessity for the health of our public schools, at the same time we need to take a close look at the speed and direction that these changes are taking.  We must make sure that we are making changes that are necessary and that move our public schools in directions that are positive for the students that we serve.  We must also consider just how drastic the changes we make need to be.  In some cases, subtle shifts in our way of doing things can have just as large an impact on the achievement of our students as major changes. 

One of the first questions that should be, but rarely is, asked is who is making the decisions about our schools?  It seems obvious that we should include the voices of the educators who work in our schools and implement policies and curriculums.  We choose members of the affected profession in almost every other sector of our policy making endeavors, but too often we fail to do this in our appointments and hiring for positions that control decision making for our public schools.  Instead we hire businesspeople, listen to entrepreneurs and allow bureaucrats with few, if any, ties to classrooms and schools to decide what our public education policies will be.    

Here in Wisconsin we are doing everything possible to insure that educator's voices are silenced by eliminating collective bargaining in almost every school district in the state.  Educators without "Just Cause" protections provided by collective bargaining are silenced.  They are forced to implement new programs and policies not because of their confidence that the "reforms" will work, but rather out of self-preservation.  We can't pretend that Act 10 and the "reforms" or "tools" that Walker provided school districts aren't valuable weapons in the educational "reformers" arsenals.     

One might wonder why this is the case?  The answer is really quite simple and straightforward.  It was always about money and the power that accompanies wealth.  

The results are policies that are designed to benefit a select few, or to make a profit.  Too often they are not policies that are good for students, educators or families who work and learn in our schools.  In fact, the current brand of "reform" being offered in Wisconsin is often in direct opposition to what the people of the state truly want and need.  

The changes that are implemented from outside our schools force rapid change on those who work with our students.  One of the most powerful forces of change has been the concept of accountability for educators and schools.  Whenever I am asked about accountability I always have the same answer.  Tests and sanctions don't make me more accountable to my students and families.  Teaching a required, and often scripted, curriculum doesn't make me more accountable to my students and families.  I am accountable because every day I have to answer to my students, their families, my colleagues and myself.  It is the triad of personal, professional and community responsibility that truly holds educators accountable, not test scores or my ability to implement ideas that others attempt to enforce upon me. 

In fact these, so called, accountability measures are often just thinly disguised efforts to undermine and eliminate our public school systems.    

The data that drives our changes is often distorted by unsound educational practices and other factors. 

All of the fear and stress creates an atmosphere of change where we move quickly to adopt ideas that are not always supported by best practices, that often go against what we know about child development and that drive our transitions in directions that ultimately are not good for our students, their families and our community.  Kindergarten is the focus of these articles, but as an upper elementary teacher I can say that our primary teachers are not alone in seeing the impact that our policies of fear and anxiety are having on our students.   

All is not lost.  We are seeing concerted efforts to resist the changes and to force our policy makers to honestly consider those who work and learn in our schools when creating policies.  In order for this to happen we need to open the eyes of the general public who hears things like "rigor", "higher standards" and "accountability" and assumes that those words mean that our politicians are doing their job of controlling the "ultra-powerful", "ultra-liberal" and "greedy" educators.  We also need to combat the idea that the best schools are the ones that spend the least money and really dialog as a society about what we expect, need and want from our public schools.  Finally, we need to make sure that we are hearing the voice of all people who rely on our schools as their first line of defense and their hope for the future. 

Public schools are a public resource, and they must always be a part of the fabric of our society.  They should reflect our society and change with it, but we must always make sure that we are moving in the best possible direction and making changes for the right reasons.    

The Good, The Bad,
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . Powerful and right on.

The struggle continues around the nation.

Keep thinking about how you spend your hard earned money.

The Bad . . . With all the other issues that our schools and our educators need to deal with, this one seems like it should be pretty far down the list.  Attempting to make it seem like a dress code will somehow improve student achievement shows just how out of touch policy makers are.  It also shows a complete lack of trust and respect in the educators who work in the district.  

The Ugly . . . It seems like the current defenses for their jury-rigged district mapping from GOP legislators are either, "So what?" or "The Democrats did it too."  Neither one sounds like anything other than vindictiveness, and/or a blatant attempt to maintain power in a state that cast 53% of their votes for Democrats and still saw the GOP maintain a huge advantage in the Assembly.  

One of the Good Guys. . .

Madison lost a wonderful educator last week.  Bruce Dahmen, long time principal, teacher, coach, and community fixture died unexpectedly while traveling to visit a former student.  I only had a few opportunities to work with Bruce, but he always demonstrated passion and caring for students, educators and education.  His powerful presence as an advocate for all members of the community will be missed greatly.  Thoughts and prayers go out to his personal family as well as the school family that he loved for so many years. 

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