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Thinking Outside the Box

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Math, science, social studies, language arts—this is the stuff of a proper education. No course of study is complete without them. They represent the foundation, the structural basis upon which all other academic pursuits are built. This is the educational status quo of our time. But now, it's time to think outside the box, writes Marion Brady, a retired educator, in this Education Week Commentary.

When it comes to educational reform, setting standards, and creating accountability, the overarching assumption that these four subjects are the ultimate organizers of general knowledge is problematic, according to Brady. These subjects, he writes, are merely mental organizers, and not broad enough to properly equip students for making sense of the world as a whole. To do it right, Brady writes that educators must accept a supradisciplinary knowledge organizer, placing these subjects and others within a larger context.

What do you think? Would teaching and learning improve if schools organized knowledge in ways that go beyond the "core curriculum"?

31 Comments

At the expense of connected, meaningful learning, we have let curriculum experts be the tail that wags the dog of defining quality human development. Students drill on isolated content, frequently doubling up on those subjects that can be more easily reduced to a test score at the expense of experiences with cultural and moral relevance. I fear that we are producing a generation of mechanized thinkers who will be ill-equiped to understand and solve the problems of our very complex world.

Mr. Brady frequently writes articles dismissing the basics of education. He apparently abhors the notion of basic education. In Florida only 20% of all students who go to college graduate with a degree. So that tells me that our focus should be on the basics and foundations of education. Yes certainly go out of the box, but only after you `ve mastered the box. Look at the stastics, we are not able in this state to graduate enough children with a basic education let alone teach them what`s outside the box.We rank dead last in the nation for graduates at 49%.

As a librarian at a major corporation, I help people, many of whom are highly qualified PhD's or have other advanced degrees, find information they need to do their jobs on a daily basis. No teacher or school system can teach any child all they'll need to know to succeed. Learning how to learn is the most important task for any person. Learning in context and relationship helps people (and I'm speaking of all ages of learners) retain and use knowledge more effectively. Recognizing what you know and what you don't know and then using tools and resources to find out what you don't know are the real tasks of learning. I say Mr Brady is right on. The International Baccalaureate (www.ibo.org) program uses this type of approach to learning for children from elementry through High School. I'd like to see this become the model for education in this country to develop critical thinkers, engaged citizens and productive workers.

"Recognizing what you know and what you don't know and then using tools and resources to find out what you don't know are the real tasks of learning."

Erika, I agree very strongly! You articulated my thoughts exactly.

Thus, it becomes the job of every teacher not to impart "knowledge" of a subject, but the ability to think! In that case, core curriculum means little to nothing, and the onus is upon teachers to create a "curriculum" (of sorts) that teaches their students to think critically about our world, not just mechanically become part of it at 18 (or whenever they drop out from boredom).

Mr. Brady has raised for me the essential question that must be addressed by educational organizations in a world driven by rapid access to information. Advances in technology, the evolution of neurosciences, and changes in the structure of work are impacting the schooling process. In light of these events, the basic structures of curriculum and our workday have stayed the same. When was the last time you thought about the underlying assumption of Ralph Tyler's model and its functionality and relationship to a "digital" world? Until we think about the present curricular structure and its relationship to the needs of a accountability and performance and a world that is highly interconnected, our children will not be well prepared to live and function productively, much less negotiate “high-stakes testing,” because of mismatched structures.
Visualizing the curricular structure in schools today, one sees boxes that define a domain of knowledge (discipline) and grouping patterns of people (grade levels). Underlying these boxes are mental models that contain the assumptions, values, and beliefs about learning and teaching. These mental models shape how we act. For example, mental models found in schools today include, a teacher transmits knowledge directly to students, and schools should be organized into self-contained, age-graded classrooms where students and teachers interact for a short period. Given the evolving structure of the Internet and its access points to data, how congruent are these assumptions in this age of performance standards and accountability? Mental models are usually tacit; therefore, they are often untested and unexamined. The consequence is that we lose sight of why the school was designed in the first place and therefore try to make the “new ideas and practices” fit the “old structure.” This is why we continue to see the “pendulum-swing” between different educational practices and theories; the K-12 structure stays the same no matter what! Thank you Mr. Brady for surfacing some of them.

At the risk of sounding like just another teacher, irritated with accountability, I am another teacher irritated by so-called accountability. Education is currently focused on output and only marginally concerned with input. Because of testing requirements, teachers are engaged in a kind of cheating behaviour. We are helping students gain the answers to tests so that our schools will test well.
What is termed test prep by testing companies is really teaching to the test, or more simply, giving students the answers in the weeks before they take the tests and hping they retain enough of those answers to adequately "pass" the tests.
We might as well write the answers on a chalk or whitebaord and let the students copy them. Education that concentrates on high-stakes test skills is really just training. Teaching outside the box is not an abandonment of basic skills. It is teaching basic problem solving and thinking skills that work in many different situations and fields.
Reading is necessary and it is "FUN"damental, but so is the ability to read critically and to evaluate and dicern meaning, whether it be a passage from some essay or a short word problem in math. Math is also more than problems to be solved. It is challenges to make orderly sense of the world and the universe and even the sub-atiomic world. Real math is far more literary than numbers on a page.
Students that are guided and taught to be critical thinkers and problem solvers will be better educated and will do just fine on the "satndards tests" which are really unecessary and a waste of educational time.

School board candidate Guy Barber maintains that I "frequently write articles dismissing the basics of education."

In fact, I'm merely trying to draw attention to the REAL basics of education --- the fundamental conceptual "building blocks" of thought and communication (and school subjects). Those "blocks" have been in place since the dawn of civilizations (indeed, are probably responsible for their emergence).

Surely, if it weren't for the problem suggested by the old saying, "a fish would be the last to discover water," we'd long ago have realized that the ordinary system for organizing knowledge we all use all the time is far more comprehensive and sophisticated than the academic disciplines which the conventional wisdom sees as "basic," and NCLB is freezing in even-more-rigid place.

I'm not advocating replacing the famiiar disciplines. I simply want students to be able to put them in context, to discern the whole, to "see the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box" showing how they relate and what they neglect.

I'm not sure that I understand what Mr. Brady is advocating. It may be that his five categories are somehow hard-wired in us all and serve as useful organizers of knowledge. For the sake of argument, let's say that is the case and we all instinctively see things in terms of Actors, Actions, Places, Times, and Causes.

How would schools organize and present knowledge to take advantage of this marvelous in-born world-view? Should we replace courses in Science, Math, Social Studies, and Language Arts with courses called Who, What, Where, When, and Why?

As the father of one child in 4th grade and another in sixth, and as an involved classroom volunteer, I see public school teachers working very hard to teach much more than the subject specifics in each of the traditional subject areas. No one talks about the Bernoulli Principle without also talking about Bernoulli himself, as well as the time and place of his working life and, at least with regard to scientists in general, what motivated Bernoulli. I won't re-cast the preceeding sentence to cover each of the other subject areas, if only because it's so obviously the same concept; in math they talk about mathematicians and mathematical themes in literature, in language arts they do math, in social studies they do art and math and science...

In fact, I wonder if some children aren't being short-changed by this intense multi-disciplinary approach. I'm sure some, at least, would benefit more from more focus on a given topic.

There are many other things I'd like to see changed -- more arts and more of them, real and frequent PE, flexible movement between grades for students who are out of step with the cohort in one subject but not others, as a short start to a long list. So please don't think I'm saying everything is perfect in this best of all possible worlds.

However, on balance, I'd much rather be in one of my chidren's classes than the ones I actually sat through. My chidren's schools today offer a vastly richer and more engaging experience than I enjoyed; my classes were very much as Mr. Brady describes. But Mr. Brady seems to be describing elementary school then, and for me, THEN was fifty years ago. My children's curricula seem to be organized very much in the way Mr. Brady wants.

As I said above, however, I'm not sure that I understand Mr. Brady's point. Perhaps I'm missing it.
______

Yes, I was in 4th grade in 1956 and my son is in 4th grade in 2006. I was a slow learner.

Ah, the Curse of the Comment: I spent so long writing my first comment that the author of the article on which I was commenting commented on another comment, clarifying his position and rendering bits of my comment pointless, BUT I only saw that after submitting my comment.

Argh.

Still, the thrust of my comment is unchanged: educators in my children's schools are clearly attempting to do what Mr. Brady advocates. Given that these are public schools in Tennessee, I suspect that their curricula are representative of the big middle of the Bell curve. I could be wrong about that, but it seems a reasonable assumption.

To quote Mr. Brady from "A Seamless Curriculum*
*A single, systemically integrated whole, every part of which relates logically to every other part"(Gee, that sounds a lot like Life.), "We make a very weak case for the usefulness and relevance of what we're teaching. If students are as perceptive as we should hope they are, telling them, 'You'll need to know this next year,' or, 'It's in the book,' aren't very convincing arguments for investing time, effort, and emotion."

We all prefer to know why we're doing something, how it fits. We all strive to understand ourselves and others. When will we integrate and apply what we know about human beings and human development? Thank you Mr. Brady for your simple genius.

Speaking of core subjects, is it okay if we add our children's favorite subject? THEMSELVES!

Marian Brady (August 30) claims he has discovered the ultimate secret as to how schools can engage in "making more sense" for students about life, experience, and the future. In this regard, he claims he uniquely knows "how their [students'] brains organize knowledge."
However, a close examination of the supposed "job that needs doing" Brady posits reveals that it is little more than subjective brainstorming about its issues. The history of educatiion is replete with such speculations. They all have the same fatal flaw. That is, none of them is based on experimental studies that can be statistically analyzed. as to their time- and cost-effectiveness.

Marian Brady (August 30) claims he has discovered the ultimate secret as to how schools can engage in "making more sense" for students about life, experience, and the future. In this regard, he claims he uniquely knows "how their [students'] brains organize knowledge."
However, a close examination of the supposed "job that needs doing" Brady posits reveals that it is little more than subjective brainstorming about its issues. The history of educatiion is replete with such speculations. They all have the same fatal flaw. That is, none of them is based on experimental studies that can be statistically analyzed. as to their time- and cost-effectiveness.

I appreciate the additional comment, including the criticisms.

I really don't know whether our usual way of organizing thought and communication are hard-wired in the brain or deeply imbedded in culture and learned. Either way, this isn't "Marion Brady's Idea." I'm merely pointing out what we're all already doing, and suggesting that KNOWING what we're doing would allow students to make deliberate use of it.

Decades of helping students from 6th grade through university move from "knowing," to "knowing what they know," from implicit to explicit awareness of how they assemble meaning, assure me we've barely scratched the surface of student potential. As I wrote someone yesterday who was underlining the critical role of the teacher, "Yes, but if all you have to work with is a Swiss Army Knife, it's considerably harder to demonstrate your skill as a surgeon."

If anyone is interested, I've posted many of the "problems" I noted in the article on my website, and put a "More" button after each linking to related newspaper columns.

There's also other stuff on the site, including an intentionally edgy Power Point about NCLB I put together for use by the program chairs of a couple of local civic organizations.

http://home.cfl.rr.com/marion/mbrady.html

Thanks again for the continuing comment.

Marion

The curriculum as currently organized tends to fragment knowledge, emphasizing isolated skills unrelated to a broader intellectual horizon. It seems to me that the Greeks had it right, placing philosophy at the center of learning, enfolding scientific investigation, aesthetic theory, mathematics, and politics into a serious consideration of the great epistemological questions: What is knowledge? How do we learn? How do we know that we have learned? Such deep learning is obviously impossible in an age of test-driven accountability.

On Wednesday, August 30 Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings declared that NCLB was “…like Ivory Soap….99.9% pure.” As discussion of the renewal of NCLB heats up there will be salvos fired by all sides in this on-going debate.
Marion Brady’s article about an integrated educational structure that gets away from the compartmentalized structures of many schools is going to strike a chord with NCLB critics and provide fodder for NCLB supporters. This article and many of the comments posted here should be carefully considered by all involved in the debate.
There is much interest in school reform around the country. Go to just about any Department of Education web site around the country and you will find something about high school renewal. High schools have long been the most compartmentalized and resistant to change of the various educational institutions. Two reasons for this come to mind. One reason is parents of successful children see no reason for school to change and are often far more influential than parents of unsuccessful children. Another reason is that people walk into a high school 40 or 50 years after graduation and everything looks and feels the same and they have been successful so they see no need to change.
Recent research by Russ Qualgia (QISA.org) has shown that students have a different view of what happens in school and the real world. A survey of 65,000 students found that only 40% of the students agreed with the statement “My classes help me understand what is happening in my everyday life.” If students see no relevance to what they are learning, there will be little incentive to become engaged.
Bill Daggett of the International Center for Leadership in Education (Daggett.com) has been promoting an integrated education around the ideas of rigor, relevance and relationships for a number of years. This work focuses on the need for students to know what to do when they don’t know what to do. As pointed out by Erika Mittag the ability to learn in a rapidly changing society is what will be most beneficial to students in the future.
As NCLB moves forward it is important to focus on students who are not being successful. However, success involves far more than basic skill knowledge in limited areas. We need to produce students able to analyze, synthesize and evaluate in a complex and changing world.

Comments on this thread hit many aspects of school reform possibilities. No Child Left Behind is an attempt at school reform. It is not avery creative attempt or even a very new attempt. I can think of at least one similar "reform" concept, "A Nation at Risk", a pamphlet published in the early 80's and touted by then president ronald Reagan as proof that the Federal Government should pull out of school funding.
The pamphlet did not in any way suggest Federal withdrawal from education and the president was compelled to announce on CNN that he had not even read the report before making his announcement.
I am not certain if George W. Bush has read the No Child Left Behind Act, and, in fact I know very few who have even set themselves the task of reading it. I sincerely doubt that Margaret Spellings has read it, but if she has I offer a humble apology for my doubts.
No Child Left Behind is first and foremost, not a reform. The law is a mandate to set standards, many of which were already in place and to test for those standards. The U.S. Education Department sets no standrds and creates no tests under the law. The Federal government merely mandates that these things be done and states that the cost will be absorbed by the Federal Government.
In short, No Child Left Behind does absolutely nothing to reform education and, in fact does not even mkae much of a case for reform.
Test scores will improve, but as we have seen reported in this week's Education Week, SAT scores are at a 31 year low. Most of my students will graduate from high school ready for the twenty-first century as will those of my colleagues. Some will not. There seem to always be some students that just won't make it for one reason or another. It is not because the students are stupid or underpriviledged or that teachers aren't effective and our curriculla are lawed. We are still working at ways to engage and move some students forward. Mnadates will not make it happen. We do not need higher stndards or high-stakes tests. We need to continue to teach the best we can to the largest number of students we can.

I read with interest Marion Brady's commentary. In the economy of the 21st. century, we will be dependent upon those who can think, create, and communicate effectively. The Internet has diminished the need to retain vast amounts of information in one's memory due to the fact that all you have to do is query whatever you want to know into the Google window.

It will be more important to know what to do with the information you access. Additionally, the Internet is an aural and visual artistic medium which requires more and more imaginative capacity on the part of its users.

To do all this, our students will have to develop the key attribute that distinguishes our species - our capacity to imagine something which isn't - yet. This, combined with our highly evolved forms of communication; visual, aural, and kinethetic has enabled the human race to dominate the planet. Our imagination develops our forms of communication, in turn those forms expand our imagination. We need to focus on those two qualities in our students.

Finally, cultures around the world are becoming compelled, whether they want to or not, to interact more intimately than every before. This will require our students to understand and effectively engage with people unlike themselves. Imaginative empathy.

There is nothing inherently negative in the focus on "core" subjects, just the mechanical and UNimaginative ways in which they are taught.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!
Thank you, Mr. Brady, for putting into words the inchoate knowledge I've always had that something was missing from our educational system. I feel vindicated and inspired. Thank you.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!
Thank you, Mr. Brady, for putting into words the inchoate knowledge I've always had that something was missing from our educational system. I feel vindicated and inspired. Thank you.

Marion Brady has exposed the central reason why schools are failing and cannot change. The conventional curriculum shapes just about everything about schools: how they organze students, how they use time, how they assign teachers, how they allocate dollars, and even the physical layout in schools.

The back page essay in this issue explores how school districts cope so poorly with the financial consequences of declining enrollment. The curriculum is arguably the most powerful obstacle to flexibility in school budgets.

Standards-based reform and NCLB, along with those educators and policymakers who press for core curriculum and college prep courses for all, have constructed a straightjacket that makes significant reform and innovation virtually impossible and are a main reason why significant numbers of young people give up on school and drop out as soon as they are legally able.

Advocates of core/college prep curricula might have a better case if they could show convincing evidence that it works--that most kids exposed to these courses really learn to think and solve problems--or even remember what they "learned" for that matter. But the evidence is overwhelming in surveys over the past 75 years that most Americans are abysmally ignorant about most of what they supposedly learn in school. Significant majorities demonstrate that they don't know basic facts about how our government works, or understand basic concepts in science, or are able to make rational judgments when confronted with important social issues.

Maybe the core curriculum works for the 15 to 25 percent of the students who come from middle and upper class homes and will go on to attend selective colleges and universities. There is not much evidence to show that school added much value to these students, however, and most of them would probably have done well irrespective of the school they attended.

Some of what Marion Brady was talking about can be found in some of the innovative, small schools being funded by the Gates Foundation, by some chartered schools, and even by a few of the bolder district schools here and there. But if policymakers really believe their own rhetoric and care about the billions of dollars and human futurese that are being wasted, they should at least try some of the suggestions in this brilliant essay.

Call me crazy, call me silly (don't call me late to dinner), but I personally think that the United States has one of the best public educational systems in the entire world. No other nation educates so many of its' citizens and non-citizens. No other nation sends as many of its' secondary students to some kind of higher education. No other nation has even begun to try to achieve the diversity, albeit poor, that the United States has in its' schools.
In short, there is always room for reform and improvement, but the U.S. public school system is doing a very good job at what it attempts to do, to educate as many of our children as possible to the highest level they can achieve.
U.S. students do not all know the exact order of succession to the presidency beyond the vice president and most students would have trouble pointing out random areas on a map, such as South Dakota (Most can point out Texas and California, though they may not remember the capitols). This is trivial nonsense that may win a contest at a local pub once they are old enough to frequent such an establishment. Most students can add, subtract and even multiply and divide when pushed to. Few understand statistics, but I am not sure theyare worth understanding. Those that need to, learn calculus and most under twenty year-olds can use a cell phone and a laptop better and faster than most over that age. Young people entering the workforce today are expected to do far more far more quickly than any generation before them. Amazingly, they can!
Those that want a more rigorous curricullum should be required to demonstrate their achievemnet of that same curricullum first.
We can do better, but we are already doing a very good job.
I don't need studies and research to tell me what I already see.
Before we go about reforming education, let us look at where we are now and what we do have.
I do not oppose reform. I do believe however that one need not fix what isn't broken.

Many schools and communities have already recognized the shortcomings of our current education system described and have done something about it - THANK GOODNESS!
Take a look at what is possible and what is happening at schools like Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology (VA.), Denver School of Science and Technology (CO.), John Hay High School of Architecture and Design (Cleveland), and countless STEM (Science, Technology , Engineering, Math) schools around the country (Metro High School in Columbus, Ohio).
My only wish is that my 5 year old daughter will be fortunate enough to be able to attend one of these integrated curriculum and forward thinking type of schools, resulting in her becoming not just technologically literate, but simply literate as an individual and future contributing member of society.

Simplification really helps human brains work better. For over 30 years there has been no one in any leadership position with any significant competence in simplification of technical knowledge. No leaders have been competent to comment on the level of competence available -- at any level of leadership. There is a huge need to fix this "black hole of competence". I would like to hear from anyone who thinks they know of any such competence or is interested in seeing some developed. There is background at
http://users.rcn.com/eslowry . Ed Lowry
[email protected]

Wow! After reading this article and subsequent comments, I am impressed with so many folks who genuinely care not only for education, but realize the significance of interdisiplinary education. Mr. Brady touches on some important and poignant issues that I wrestle with (sometimes) daily. The question being, how can a teacher teach to standards but still allow children to absorb that learning in their own learning style? And then, kind of spit it out to you whenever and however, at any given time or situation.
Research actually shows that when teachers make connections to not only prior learning but to other subjects, children actually learn better and longer. Mr. Brady's approach/ideas to education makes common sense of how children learn. I've been fortunate to see the "light bulb" go on in my classroom when I'm teaching (and I teach art!). Interdisciplinary teaching is an approach to teaching that should be enbraced by both public and private schools in the U.S. It involves integrating visual arts, drama, dance, music to all or most core curriculum subjects. It allows student to make connections to other subjects and their everyday worlds. I agree with Superintendant John Gould that "Until we think about the present curricular structure and its relationship to the needs of accountability and performance and a world that is highly interconnected, our children will not be well prepared to live and function productively, much less negotiate “high-stakes testing,” because of mismatched structures.
One thing we all need to understand is that it's not about us, it's about Tommy, Jane, Marissa and Jorge. They all (believe it or not) want to learn, but all have particular needs that have to be addressed. We are their single source of learning at school and they are the one's that are actually living "the box".
Thank you

In Brevard County, Florida our school board combined physics, biology and chemistry into one taught by one teacher. My research found only one of 21 teachers in the program qualified to teach all three. By watering down these subjects the district saves money.
This also allows time to teach to the test, FCAT, the Florida standards test. Yes, Mr. Brady is right we need to go back to the basics. Of the 76,000 student population in Brevard 32.800 are working below grade level.
Bob B

Looking at the way children are taught, I wonder and marvel at any learning they may get. Do we really know how to teach children.
Writing spelling words five time, coping work, and other things do not quailfy as teaching.

I, as a school counselor once had a 12th grade young man tell me he had learned more from me than his classroom teachers. They is something wrong with this picture as I saw him only for 15 or 20 minutes each week.

Education can be fun and wonderful.
Yes, the USA system is great but it does need to be brought up to the future and NCLB will not do that.

How sad it is that at all levels of education providers are so involved in meeting requirements that the phrases 'do the right thing' and 'do our best' and 'exceed expectations' are rarely heard anymore. The problems unique to each situation and the unique ways to address them fade from view as the struggle to meet heavy-weighted generic standards mires the whole process deeper and deeper into a muddy rut.

So much attention is drawn towards reforming education that little if any is given to what schools are doing right now and have been doing.
U.S. Public schoolks are doing a fine job of educating individual students. Some still slip through thre cracks, but it is not the fault of education. Most teachers are dedicated to educating our children and our undereducated adults. It is a two way street however and students must do the learning. One may argue for or against one or another method for teaching, but it should be kept in mind that most students, nearly 75% are graduating on time and with sufficient skills to enter the workforce. Some do drop out and others are taken out for legal and disciplinary reasons. Some students stay behind, none are being left.

This is the problem. Most reforms are not truly reforms and whole reforms. They are basically bandaids to cover up what is wrong. No one wants to see the wounds or the blood oozing from those wounds. NCLB was another attempt to cover the uglier and deeper wounds that have been created over the years.
Parents, teachers, school administrators, politicians, and society in general are the culprits. None of us are exempt. We have allowed education to be mishandled, depreciated, underfunded, watered-down, comercialized, demoralized, disconnected, poorly-planned, more bureaucratic, politicized, and inconsistent.

We have allowed for teachers to be bashed, demoralized, under-paid, and unappreciated. On the other hand, we have not been careful in assessing the teacher preparation and education programs that issue certification to supposedly highly qualified teachers.

We have allowed for uncaring, insensitive individuals to enter one of the most important professions ever, for all the wrong ressons. We have allowed for teaching to become a non-profession. Something someone does in the meantime until something better comes along. We have allowed for admisitrators to become produce managers and not educational leaders.

We have taken away the power of the teacher to be a thinker and an innovator in the classroom because the reforms regulate and almost script what teachers must say and how books should be used. I had a principal tell me once that I had not followed the format plan in the teacher's textbook edition and that I had not held the book the entire period. I followed all the steps of a good lesson. I used my brains, common sense, creativity and fulfilled the objective but, "the approved tools" had not been used.

We have allowed administrators to budget and save money on the basics while their offices are plush with the latest office furniture. Meanwhile students sit in very uncomfortable, rigid, inappropriately proportioned seating, all day. Most school buildings in this country are dilapidated. The heating, and wiring systems are obsolete, very unhealthy and cannot possibly sustain the kind of technology that we say we need to improve learning. We expect students and teachers to work in rooms that are not airconditioned and poorly ventilated.

We care more about our roads and making sure that they are paved every so often and especially just before major elections than we do about the working conditions of our teachers and students.

We allowed our country to becoome the testing mecca of the world. HIgh stakes tests are reigning in the the assessment kingdom. I believe in formative assessment. I even see a place for some norm based testing. Yet most of the test data does not inform teaching or planning of curricula. It is more of a political or real estate tool than anything else. Teachers end up teaching to the test, and districts will swear on the bible (oops, maybe not a bible) that they have not spent three quarters of the time on test prep. Test results arrive three months after the test was administered. Generally, teachers do not see the actual tests. They have little time to sit with colleagues to decide on a plan of action. The tests are sent to parents but they seldom get any real feedback on what the results mean. Yet, these high-stakes tests are relevant somehow. They do cost tax-payers millions of dollars each year. School districts pay for these tests to be scored by out-of-district entities. Materials are cranked out by major publishing companies to help teachers teach to the tests. Reforms model-developers and consultants are paid millioms to help the teachers get back on track. Most of these proposed ideas for professional development are recycled ideas pull into fancy binders. The highest bidder usually gets the contracts. Who are we kidding?

So you see we are all culprits. No one can really reform anything. It is big business and no one knew it would be so lucrative. No so much for the teachers of course, but all the other folks interested in reforming education.

In the meanwhile, students complain about boredom, irrelevant curricula, poorly strucured courses, and too much time on "stupid stuff" that will not help them in the future or the present for that matter.

I say revoltionize education. We need a power tank of good thinkers to meet and begin to link what kids need to learn for this, fairly new century. Put the kids "street smarts" if you will, to work. Of course, we will always need to learn to appreciate the classical, the ideals, and the collective works of great writers and thinkers of the past. But, should not that be the long term goal?

We also want to address the bullying,violence and social ills that brew in many schools. We need to change the menus in the cafeterias to more healthy diets. We want to make schools aesthetically, appealing and alive. We want to create flexible learning and teaching schedules that adhere to moderm living and busy lifestyles. One size does not fit all anymore. We have too stop teaching to the middle and forget the great minds. We need to embrace the multicultural values of the people of this country. We need to be willing to be risk takers and become more outside of the box doers not just the thinkers. Education is a need. It has to be revolutionized. It needs to be revitalized.


I think Mr. Brady is on to something. As a middle school principal, our middle school concept is to concentrate on teaching the whole child. That means that there is more than the simple core curriculum and we have to use those courses to bring in the other 10 things that need to be taught in order for them to have the tools to be successful in high school, college, or life. We have to also remember to teach "up" when addressing all of these needs. If your expectations of kids is low then they will remain low- but if you maintain with your staff, community, and students that high expectations are the norm at this school, then we have found that the students will rise to the level desired. Don't get me wrong- my school is high poverty, high special ed., and deep in the AYP mess- but we still grow each year in performance by staying true to the idea that all kids need to be taught more than just the 4 core courses. There is so much more for kids to be able to do these days that our current structure for education needs to be reshaped. Looking outside of the box is not just needed, but it is needed by commisioners, state officials, and professionals if true change is to occur within the system of education. In the end- if you have taught the students to think and be able to be critical, then we have succeded!

This is the problem. Most reforms are not truly reforms and whole reforms. They are basically band-aids to cover up what is wrong. No one wants to see the wounds or the blood oozing from those wounds. NCLB was another attempt to cover the uglier and deeper wounds that have been created over the years.
Parents, teachers, school administrators, politicians, and society in general are the culprits. None of us are exempt. We have allowed education to be mishandled, depreciated, under-funded, watered-down, commercialized, demoralized, disconnected, poorly-planned, more bureaucratic, politicized, and inconsistent.
We have allowed for teachers to be bashed, demoralized, under-paid, and unappreciated. On the other hand, we have not been careful in assessing the teacher preparation and education programs that issue certification to supposedly highly qualified teachers.
We have allowed for uncaring, insensitive individuals to enter one of the most important professions ever, for all the wrong lessons. We have allowed for teaching to become a non-profession. Something someone does in the meantime until something better comes along. We have allowed for administrators to become produce managers and not educational leaders.
We have taken away the power of the teacher to be a thinker and an innovator in the classroom because the reforms regulate and almost script what teachers must say and how books should be used. I had a principal tell me once that I had not followed the format plan in the teacher's textbook edition and that I had not held the book the entire period. I followed all the steps of a good lesson. I used my brains, common sense, creativity and fulfilled the objective but, "the approved tools" had not been used.
We have allowed administrators to budget and save money on the basics while their offices are plush with the latest office furniture. Meanwhile students sit in very uncomfortable, rigid, inappropriately proportioned seating, all day. Most school buildings in this country are dilapidated. The heating, and wiring systems are obsolete, very unhealthy and cannot possibly sustain the kind of technology that we say we need to improve learning. We expect students and teachers to work in rooms that are not air-conditioned and poorly ventilated.
We care more about our roads and making sure that they are paved every so often and especially just before major elections than we do about the working conditions of our teachers and students.
We allowed our country to become the testing Mecca of the world. High stakes tests are reigning in the assessment kingdom. I believe in formative assessment. I even see a place for some norm based testing. Yet most of the test data does not inform teaching or planning of curricula. It is more of a political or real estate tool than anything else. Teachers end up teaching to the test, and districts will swear on the bible (oops, maybe not a bible) that they have not spent three quarters of the time on test prep. Test results arrive three months after the test was administered. Generally, teachers do not see the actual tests. They have little time to sit with colleagues to decide on a plan of action. The tests are sent to parents but they seldom get any real feedback on what the results mean. Yet, these high-stakes tests are relevant somehow. They do cost tax-payers millions of dollars each year. School districts pay for these tests to be scored by out-of-district entities. Materials are cranked out by major publishing companies to help teachers teach to the tests. Reforms model-developers and consultants are paid millions to help the teachers get back on track. Most of these proposed ideas for professional development are recycled ideas pull into fancy binders. The highest bidder usually gets the contracts. Who are we kidding?
So you see we are all culprits. No one can really reform anything. It is big business and no one knew it would be so lucrative. No so much for the teachers of course, but all the other folks interested in reforming education.
In the meanwhile, students complain about boredom, irrelevant curricula, poorly structured courses, and too much time on "stupid stuff" that will not help them in the future or the present for that matter.
I say revolutionize education. We need a power tank of good thinkers to meet and begin to link what kids need to learn for this, fairly new century. Put the kids "street smarts" if you will, to work. Of course, we will always need to learn to appreciate the classical, the ideals, and the collective works of great writers and thinkers of the past. But, should not that be the long term goal?
We also want to address the bullying, violence and social ills that brew in many schools. We need to change the menus in the cafeterias to more healthy diets. We want to make schools aesthetically, appealing and alive. We want to create flexible learning and teaching schedules that adhere to modern living and busy lifestyles. One size does not fit all anymore. We have too stop teaching to the middle and forget the great minds. We need to embrace the multicultural values of the people of this country. We need to be willing to be risk takers and become more outside of the box doers not just the thinkers. Education is a need. It has to be revolutionized. It needs to be revitalized.

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  • Melba Christie: This is the problem. Most reforms are not truly reforms read more
  • Aaron Allen/Principal: I think Mr. Brady is on to something. As a read more
  • Melba Christie: This is the problem. Most reforms are not truly read more
  • Bob Frangione, Teacher/Parent: So much attention is drawn towards reforming education that little read more
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