School Days, Michael F. Shaughnessy, Education News.org
Michael F. Shaughnessy – My book discusses the Square of Effective Learning – a square of four factors that bear directly on learning. The Square includes effective teachers, rigorous and efficient curriculum, focused learning environment, and prepared student.
1) Who is being “Betrayed” by the public school system in America?
The education establishment is betraying the following groups:
- The children, who aren’t getting the education they need;
- Parents, who struggle to manage bored and frustrated children, who must pay for several college remedial classes, and who sometimes wind up with students who have given up and dropped out;
- Teachers, who are micromanaged and disrespected in myriad ways by the bureaucracy and then blamed for the results;
- Taxpayers, who pay hundreds of billions of dollars each year for a largely failing K-12 education system;
- Businesses, which must recruit from other countries;
- Government agencies and military organizations that struggle to fill critical jobs with qualified Americans;
- The country, which teeters on the brink of economic and social disaster, crippled by a populace that is not acquiring sufficient skills or knowledge to properly run it or even to fully understand the challenges that face it.
The only people not being betrayed are those who feed off of our failing education system.
Unfortunately, that group gets larger every year.
2) Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book so I could be heard over the clamor of the well-heeled, self-interested groups that currently run public education. My goal is to give parents, teachers and policy makers a clear view of why the American public education system is failing the children. Tons of education data, statistics and reports float around every year, and yet, in all of that, the children’s reality is hard to find. This book faces down that information and shows the children’s stark reality and the bleak future they face.
But there is hope. Schools can be fixed. Alternatives are out there. The children can be saved. I wrote this book to give people a template for how to force the public accountability and transparency that is critical to a strong and healthy system, and to give them the knowledge they need to make informed choices on the students’ behalf. If the people are engaged and work together, they can save the students. It can be done.
3) Are the schools simply being asked to do too much, with too few resources with too little training?
In my view, no, to all of the above. Administrators say they’re being asked to do too much, that they don’t have enough money, that teachers need more training, and that parents are uninvolved. But the real mission of public school – academics – is not too much to do. Parents and community members want schools to prepare our students academically for postsecondary life. This mission is neither difficult nor expensive. Unfortunately, what we ask for isn’t being done.
Instead of paying for student academic learning, taxpayer money pays for social issues, office buildings, travel, luxurious administrator salaries, layers of assistants, conferences, studies, and cool technology. Instead of focusing on academics, administrators distract students for assemblies, parties, days off, excessive testing, and other nonacademic events. Instead of allowing teachers to teach, administrators constantly pull them out of class for “professional development” in failed teaching methodology, coaching, collaboration, conferences and committees. Administrators refuse to get out of the way, then wring their hands, say it isn’t their fault, and claim to need more money.
Administrators have built a system that serves the administrators. If everything is someone else’s fault, they don’t have to take responsibility for it. But even with K-12 expenditures in 2009 of $658 billion, administrators say there isn’t enough money to do the job. If schools focused on their mission – academics – much in public education would improve. If schools are in a box, it’s a box they built.
4) Children with special needs. Are they being ignored, betrayed, minimally serviced, and assisted, or all of the above?
All of the above. Comparatively little money in this nation goes to support gifted education, which is a special need. However, despite the biblical flood of money that goes to various disadvantaged groups and to special-education groups, the system fails them, too. Look at the gaps in achievement between white and Asian groups and all other groups. Many of these children get one shot at a good education. If they aren’t being taught what they need to know, then all of the money in the world won’t help. We’re nearly three-quarters of the way toward spending a trillion dollars each year on K-12 education, and it mostly fails. A focus away from rigorous academics helps no one. A failing system fails everyone.
5) How can a regular teacher, even well trained in differentiation, hope to comprehensively teach a class of 30 or 40 students?
A teacher can teach 30 to 40 students if they begin at about the same place. It happens every day around the world. Every teacher “differentiates” to some degree every day. But “differentiated instruction,” as a school policy and as a way of dealing with 30 to 40 wildly diverse learners is just jargon. It captures the rose-colored imagination of those who sit comfortably in an office, but it isn’t workable. Can teachers get through the day trying to manage 30 to 40 diverse learners? Sure. Will students learn something? Sure. Will they learn what they need to learn so they can pass standardized tests, meet the standards, be well prepared for the next level, and eventually graduate with the skills they need for postsecondary life? It’s doubtful. Look around, at any real measure of student achievement. It doesn’t work.
Given “inclusion,” large classes, “social promotion,” weak curricular materials, constant distraction from academics, a teacher who is constantly pulled away from class, and an obsession with time-consuming group work and “discovery” – you can see that teachers face an impossible job. And yet, the national trend is toward blaming teachers. It’s ridiculous, but here we are. This is what teachers face.
6) What’s going on in Spokane, WA, and are you going to write another book?
Spokane Public Schools is a poster child for everything that’s wrong in public education. Here, it’s devastating for children and teachers.
After four years of education advocacy, I perceive that the problem is central-office decision-makers, who appear to be married to failing curricular materials, to failing teaching methodology, and to their constant parade of professional development programs. Some have stated publicly to the school board that they don’t know how to fix the math problem and don’t know which of their “intervention” programs are working. They don’t always follow the will or the intent of the school board, there are few opportunities to publicly ask questions of them, and they constantly blame teachers, parents and students. Far from being fired, this last summer, most of them got an increase in pay.
Will I write another book? Let’s see how the first one does. I’m presenting the people with an uncomfortable message. Placing our trust in administrators has given us this incompetent system that fails our children every day, and that delivers our high-school graduates (and high-school dropouts) into a life for which most of them are unprepared. I know there will be huge resistance to my message from those who feed happily off of this system. But I also know the situation can’t continue indefinitely. When students can’t follow their dreams, can’t get into college, aren’t prepared for any future they envisioned, where will they go? How will the system continue to absorb them? Who will run this country a generation from now? The people must decide what sort of public-education system they want, and the education system will determine what kind of country we have.
7) Did Washington get the message?
It depends on who you are and what sort of message you wanted them to get. I’m frustrated with the country’s overall leadership – at local, state and federal levels. There isn’t much respect for the people, and I see a lot of arrogance and self-serving behavior. But who is to blame for this? Some taxpayers inexplicably voted for candidates who made egregious errors in judgment and behavior. The American people must continue to engage in all decision-making, but in particular to retain an ethical and honorable voting system. It’s our last resort, and once that’s gone, it’s gone forever.
I do hope the people will rise up to resist the federalization of public education. I’ve seen nothing at local, state or federal level that leads me to believe the federal plan will be focused on the needs of the children instead of on the wants of the well-heeled so-called “stakeholders” who stand to gain from “transforming” the system. Additionally, for all intents and purposes, this federalization will remove local voices from the process.
8) Tell us about your Web site. What would one find there?
I hope people find truth on that blog – passion, dedication to the children, fairness, and a questioning, journalistic mind. I’ve written all of my life, but the children motivate me. I’ve seen them cry over their schoolwork, and I’ve seen them standing in the school hallway, perplexed at why things aren’t working for them. It hurts my heart. As a child advocate, I can’t help but reach out.
My website focuses on mathematics because math is a gatekeeper. Students need it for college or the trades, for entry into the workforce, the military, or business ownership. People who don’t have basic math skills are limited in so many ways. Math also is the “canary in the coal mine.” It sings loudly about what’s gone awry in public education.
Math is simple to teach to children, and they like math, right up until their enjoyment is beaten right out of them by the idiot way so many public schools deliver it. Many school districts depend on “reform” math curricula, which de-emphasize (or remove) standard algorithms, practice, memorization, and procedural skill. Additionally, children are supposed to “construct” their own meaning and work in groups to teach each other. These curricula and methods appeal to people who are blind to the students’ daily reality.
9) What have I neglected to ask?
Q: What does a good education system require?
A: My book discusses the Square of Effective Learning – a square of four factors that bear directly on learning. The Square includes effective teachers, rigorous and efficient curriculum, focused learning environment, and prepared student. With a dedicated and deliberate focus on just those four critical “needs,” and a step away from the adult “wants” that cost taxpayers so much money, we could turn things around within a year.
Q. What does the future hold for public education?
A. That depends on the people. If parents and teachers can resist the negative messages that divide them, and instead work together to take back the classroom, many good things can happen. The country is desperate, the children are desperate, the taxpayer is desperate, and businesses are desperate. People must rise up and insist on the education system they want. It’s a pretty good thing to do for the children and the country.
Q: Which book should someone write?
A: I would like to see a book that accounts for the $658 billion spent from all sources on K-12 education last year, and for the $664 billion projected for this year. Does someone have it in a sock drawer? Did it fall out of the truck? Where did it go?
I also would like to see an investigative report on the funding, organization and creation of the Race to the Top grant initiative, the Common Core State Standards, and the consortiums that are building tests for the CCSS. That would be a very interesting book. Maybe I’ll write it.
Laurie Rogers runs “Betrayed” – a blog on education: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/
Her book “Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do About It,” will be published in December by Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Michael F. Schaughnessy is Senior Columnist at EducationNews.org
Used with the permission of EducationNews.org