This time of year can be a bit nerve racking for schools. The fun and excitement of the holidays is behind us, and the spirit that comes with those days tends to begin sneaking away from our psyche. In the public school system, especially after the past few years, this is a time many of us fear because it is when the budget season really kicks into high gear.
Any school district that is worth their weight in salt has been talking about the upcoming budget since the last one ended. However, during the summer and fall when school is new again, the budget woes are not at the forefront of everyone's mind because those within the system are getting to know a new crop of children. Then the holidays come along and educators and parents get caught in the hustle and bustle of shopping and planning family gatherings.
As we all take down our holiday decorations, we begin to look ahead to the cold months of winter that we have left, and focus on teaching by day and budgets by night. This is a time when finger pointing, packed board of education meetings, and angry words on the part of all stakeholders begin to rear their ugly heads. It seems to be human nature to point out the flaws of others when life gets tough.
It would be wonderful if we could agree to disagree on some issues and find ways to meet in the middle on other issues that affect students. I have always spent my career in elementary education, so perhaps that is why I have that goal. I always try, when it is not a case of abuse or harassment, to get students to meet in the middle on their differences.
Those of us in education have heard the arguments on the other side. They are written in countless blogs and countless comment sections at the end of blogs. They are:
• No one wants to see their taxes rise (This is why there needs to be a new method of funding schools at the state and federal levels).
• Teachers and administrators make too much money.
• Schools do not spend their money correctly. I'll split the difference with you on this one. Some schools do not spend correctly. However, there are many more schools that have tightened their belts and are doing everything humanly possible to bring down costs.
• Many people were taught in classes of 30 and they turned out just fine. That's a great argument but you were most likely taught during a time when there were not any mandates nor was their state testing.
The reality is that education has changed both for the better in some areas and for the worse in others. Ideas that started off as good intentions get ruined along the way when people in power put their own spin on it (i.e. standardized education, testing, etc.).
For Better or For Worse
Education has changed for the better because teachers are working hard to meet the needs of students and are incorporating technology, 21st century skills and other forms of instructional practices into their daily teaching and should be applauded, or at least respected, for their efforts. Although New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that teachers and principals have lobbyists and students do not (Gibas) in his 2012 State of the State Address. The truth is that most principals and teachers have been lobbying for their students since the inception of NCLB, it's just that politicians are not listening.
If you do not have children in school, are not partnered to an educator, or have not been in school in the past few decades you may not be aware of all of these changes, because you may be aware of how education used to be and not how it is presently. There is a faster pace, which can be both good and bad, and an increase in academic standards as well as the number of resources used to educate students.
Technology and social networking are probably two of the most influential educational resources that we have ever had. Those can be used to do research on any subject imaginable as well as help people from all over the world connect to make professional learning communities (i.e. Twitter, etc.). However, technology has also been used for cyberbullying, plagiarism and other negative reasons, so students must learn the positive and negative attributes of the resource.
Education has changed for the worse because it is inundated with mandates that make little sense and many educators are forced to give state tests that are too long and difficult for the very children they are supposed to properly assess. Although states like Ohio and North Carolina are doing a great job with helping their educators negotiate their way through the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and assessments, states like New York seem to care more about testing than they do about providing guidance to their educators on CCSS.
Schools have been forced to become testing dominated when all educators know that it is killing creativity. I'm sure testing was begun with good intentions but it is not used to make educators accountable. In the words of Diane Ravitch, accountability means who will we blame next?
We all want accountability, but creating long exams that secretly include field testing questions that students cannot answer, and making educators hand all unused tests back to the state after completing the exams creates a philosophical paradigm and an us vs. them attitude. Assessment, which can be a very valuable tool for students and teachers, needs to have the input of those very stakeholders and should not be done in the isolation of a state education building.
As we move forward through 2012 perhaps we can take some time to find real solutions that are good for kids. As much as many educators dislike mandates that do not make sense and tests that are flawed, there are many of us in education who are willing to work with those in power in order to truly make out system better. The ball seems to be in the court of the state and federal education systems that surround us.
In the end it is about our students. Meeting the needs of all students takes a great deal of work and that goal cannot be met through streamlined educational practices that are used in an effort to pass a test. Meeting the needs of all students means creating different pathways for students and not making them feel as though they are failures because they did not get a 3 or a 4. We can no longer point the finger at students who receive a 1 or 2 and tell them that they are not good enough, because we all know they are.
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Gibas, Katie (2012). Cuomo's State of the State Education Proposals Met with Mixed Emotions. YNN