Jul 152013
 

schoolreformThis mid summer blogpost comes to you courtesy of a tweet I sent a few weeks back. It got a retweet or two and I had a wee bit of a discussion about what it all meant with my twitter friend @HGG, which eventually brought up an obvious question. If parenting is more important to a child’s academic achievement than school, why doesn’t the education reform movement focus their vitriol on the living room rather than the classroom?

Ultimately, I think we all know why reformers don’t point fingers at parents, it’s just bad politics and teachers are ripe for the whipping. The other problem is that there is a laundry list of things beyond the classroom that can derail a child’s academic progress, something I call “Academic Disruptors”. Some of these disruptors are related to parenting but much of it is simply a reflection of the twisted society we live in. The unpopular reality is that failure to thrive in school, is a MUCH larger issue than just a lack of rigorous academic standards or teacher accountability measures but reformers don’t want to hear that, they just want someone to blame other than taking a look at a socioeconomic system that has come to ruin.

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Out of curiosity I asked a few people (teachers and civilians) to give me three things they feel get in the way of a child’s success in school. Obviously the teachers looked beyond the classroom but curiously, I did not get a single response from a non teacher who pointed to the classroom. The list of “academic disrupters” I compiled are essentially all forces beyond the hallowed halls of your local school.

The list has some fairly obvious items but there are some not so obvious ones in there too. Many are interrelated but I mention them separately because they can stand on their own as an academic disruptor. What follows are the items from that list, juxtaposed with the two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers.

  1. Tougher academic standards
  2. Greater teacher accountability

As you read through, you may ask yourself “Yes well… how many of kids does this list really represent?”

My response is that any single item may not represent all that many kids but collectively, I would say that it represents a significant percentage of any school population. The other thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and could potentially be endless.

I hope as you read through, it becomes clear just how ludicrous the education reform movement in North America has become. The simplistic bifocal solution of tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability cannot fix the education system, simply because it does not address the real academic disruptors in our schools.

Poverty – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will immediately address the daily effects of poverty on a child’s ability to be academically successful.

Hunger – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will provide a child the daily nourishment they need to be ready to actively engaged with the curriculum.

Divorce – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will mitigate the emotional turmoil that can be created by divorce and ensure that students experience academic success.

Mental Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will negate any mental health issue that could impede a child’s cognition or ability to build positive relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Addiction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the root causes of addiction and substance abuse in our society and pave the way for academic success for our children.

Fitness & Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the epidemic of poor health and fitness issues faced by North American society and empower children to become more academically successful.

Body Image Disorders – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will protect our adolescents from the biological, psychological and environmental factors that are believed to cause body dysmorphic disorders and allow all children to be academically successful.

Digital Distraction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will keep children from spending inordinate amounts of time outside of school on passive non academic activities such as gaming, surfing the web and playing on their smart phone.

Nutrition – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will prevent children from starting their day with a bag of chips and a can of coke. This will ensure that all children eat nutritious meals before during and after school, enabling them to be ready for their academic day.

Enabling – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will stop parents from enabling their children to engage in behaviours that negatively affect their academic performance and ensure academic success.

Pregnancy – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability, will prevent teens from having sex and conceiving children, allowing children to stay in school and be academically successful.

Employment – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that academically successful students will be gainfully employed once they have completed school.

Death – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will shelter children from the detrimental emotional effects of death in the family or amongst their friends, allowing them to be academically successful.

Developmental disabilities – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that children with developmental disabilities will no longer need psycho educational assessments or classroom assistance and they will still be academically successful.

Bullying – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will eliminate all bullying regardless of where or when it takes place, allowing for all children to feel included in the school community and become academically successful.

Relationships – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that students do not get themselves involved in distracting or harmful relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Now if anyone tries to tell you schools can be fixed within the walls of a classroom, you can call BS with confidence that it can’t.

If you come up with anything else, feel free to add to the list. I would love to hear more.

**NOTE** This post is intended to be a critique of the school reform movement in the USA, not a critique of the Canadian education reform movement. It can however, be seen as a “Don’t go there” warning to Canadian education reformers.

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  3 Responses to “Education reformers don’t know what they are talking about”

  1. That’s a great list… it would be good for new teachers to think through these disrupters that form such a significant set of identity contexts for the students they will teach. Pondering these is an important first step towards building empathy and gaining a heart for the people for whom we wish to make a difference.

    I wonder, though, about the “two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers” (standards, accountability). I think in the US these might seem to be the case, but I have not seen this same pressure in BC… quite the opposite, really. Standards are becoming “personalized” meaning that we can apply almost any measure of success to any demonstration or effort and call it “learning.” We have found multiple ways for students to get through courses and graduate even when there has not been accountability (or even fidelity) to learning outcomes. You have probably seen 100 versions of the same rubric that still basically do the job of sorting performance into 3-6 shades of “you’re doing alright.” The bugbears of provincial exams and FSA tests are seen as standards-based distractions to the real business of learnin’ which is more about accommodating each of the disrupters you mention. I’m not suggesting we shift one way or the other re standards, but I think our BC education system doesn’t really have a grasp on what standards are worth teaching & assessing and what to do with the results when we give it a try. As for accountability, I think we could use some more all around in BC… students, teachers, admin, school board staff, ministry, even parents (maybe especially parents). I don’t mean a hard-nosed back-to-basics approach, but rather a means of ripping the bandaid off the obvious areas of dysfunction and dealing with them openly. What do we do with students, teachers, admin, board office staff when they are incompetent? Right now we mainly punish bad students, offer rare ineffective evaluations on teachers, and simply gripe (or just plain ignore) problems in management. What kind of caring intervention, non-coercive and non-punitive, can we take to actually get folks to take their roles more seriously and stop doing crappy things? Personally, I think the solution lies in much smaller cooperatives (than the district and provincial models), each committing to mutual accountability. The union would have to change shape, but so would admin structures and interaction with parents. O.K… I’m rambling now. Great article, thanks for posting.

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment Glen.

      I agree, the perspective I wrote this from is distinctly American but I felt it worth writing anyhow because we deal with the same issues in our classrooms, just we haven’t come to view the teacher role in all of it the same way.

      I agree with you, that in BC we do almost anything to get a kid through and that the FSA is more of an annoyance than any sort of test driven directive.

      I suppose I should drop a bit of a note of clarification in there some place.

      Thanks again for your excellent comment.

  2. Yes, yes and yes. We would be way further ahead emphasizing to teachers to never stop caring about individuals, than worrying about the “catch of the day”. The enabling and helicopter parenting is a very real issue, done out of love and without malice but damning nonetheless. Great post.

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