Teachers are the hardest working professionals I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. My own experience as a teacher in rural and urban public schools has shown me that (almost) every single moving part performs with the best of intentions and extraordinary effort that is easy to miss for anyone outside of the walls of the school building. Of course, we’re past the point of moral victories in public education. While there are no easy answers or fixes, looking back on how we got to this point might be enlightening.
15 Brutal Mistakes In The Development Of Public Schools.
1. Focusing on curriculum and assessment rather than learning models and support.
This is likely the worst idea public schooling has taken on. The idea here is that by using a standards-based, outcomes-driven, direct instruction model, real-life content can be parsed without neutering it. In this model, understanding is anticipated, data can be gleaned, and resources can be shared in tidy little Data Teams and PLCs to improve learning for all. Unfortunately, this only encourages teacher compliance and serves to homogenize learning in a way that makes it unrecognizable for students, and foreign for most parents and community organizations.
School has trumped learning.
2. Adopting Scripted Curricula
This is perhaps the most symbolic adoption by public schools struggling to keep teachers and students “on the same page.” For now, let’s skip analyzing the desire to have all teachers and students “on the same page,” and focus instead on the naive idea that a learning experience can be planned in another state by a corporation with zero knowledge of the personal lives and cognitive identities of students. The hubris! And shame on school districts for falling for it in the name of abstract ideas like “college readiness.”
Growing from one-room schoolhouses to sprawling campuses with as many as 5,000 students seems like a natural “development,” but was a recipe for disaster. Size obscures nuance, numbers challenge personalization.
4. Moving from local to federal control
When this happened, the government—local, state, and federal—became involved, giving us gems like No Child Left Behind, National Standards, and Race to the Top. All well-intentioned, and all train-wrecks that cost billions of dollars, ironically distract from the students themselves and reduce the autonomy of the best teachers.
At some point learning left the homes, families, and communities and ended up in textbooks. Textbooks can be excellent sources of information, but they are brutally awful sources of learning.
6. Handing out letter grades instead of fruit baskets
We’ve talked about this one before, but essentially letter grades are overly reductionist—distill impossibly complex realities into a signal symbol that is then over-reacted to by students, parents, and colleges everywhere.
7. Giving examsAssessment makes sense; implying that students can adequately demonstrate what they know on a teacher (or corporate)-made exam is, at best, problematic. The point of assessment is to find out what the student understands. This places the onus on the exam, not the student, but unfortunately, it has gotten reversed at some point. Today, grades and tests trump understanding and learning habits, and no one seems bothered.8. Busing students
Hey, here’s a great idea. Let’s wake children up at 6:30 a.m., pile them by the dozen into yellow monstrosities of mass transportation and send them bounding into neighborhoods they’ve never seen to be taught by teachers they don’t know. They’ll be home by 4, in time for parents to patronizingly ask what they learned in school today, and then ignore the warning signs when their child can’t even begin to answer convincingly. But what can you do? Send them again tomorrow and hope for better results!
9. Grouping by age
And once we get them to that school, let’s group them not by theme or project, community or technology, learning model or even learning needs, but rather by their date of birth.
10. Adopt one set of “national” standards
So much confusion occurs when Florida sees a standard one way, and Washington another, am I right? Some states even see content differently, which means Uncle Sam and Corporate America can’t “expect” a common body of knowledge from students. This causes chaos for everyone and forces Apple to manufacture iPads in China. To be a nation of 21st-century learners, we all have to be on the same page!
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