Really, blame the teachers and the teachers’ unions?

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People are realizing that the “reform movement” dedicated to improving America’s public schools usually begins on the right track, but often gets derailed as evidenced by student outputs. As a result of these outputs, teachers are often left shouldering the blame for underperforming students. Reformists should realize that teachers and teachers’ unions ought not be the sole target of those driving the “reform movement”.

In any given educational system, there exist areas that could use some improvement; however, it does not mean that the entire system is broken.  That said, there is no one solution to fix everything, which is why making correlations between the characteristics of a community, its residents, and performance of the schools is a viable step towards achieving real solutions. The teacher horror stories that evolve from isolated situations make for good sound bytes and headlines, and as reality TV has shown us, drama does sell and captures the public’s attention.  Unfortunately, blaming teachers has become much easier than addressing sociological and economic problems beyond the walls of the schoolyard.

From one Ward or Barrio to the next, the same curriculum standards are required to be taught just as the same standardized tests are administered.  The system lags in exposing students to appropriate grade level content at the appropriate time, and provides no real alternatives to address educating some of the neediest children.  There is a great propensity for students from disenfranchised communities, with low employment and high crime rates, showing up on the first day of school unprepared, and who have fallen behind academically, through no fault of the teachers or the teachers’ union. The inability of the teacher to get such students to perform at grade level, will result in them not passing the standardized test, and the school in turn ends up receiving a negative report card, and the teacher eventually bears the brunt of the blame.

The tendency to cast aspersions on teachers totally misses the mark. Looking at today’s 21st Century STEM curriculum, as compared to the questions asked on standardized tests; it is clear the academic system is missing the mark.  One observation is the standards set for underperforming schools are higher than people realize, and students are being challenged significantly more than when you and I were in grade school. In an era when our schools were regarded as competitive, great places of learning, teachers were afforded the opportunity of being the best they could be without cumbersome testing requirements or classes full of unprepared students from disconnected parents.

Why Disparities Continue with No Child Left Behind

The “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act” of 2001 was created to implement standardized tests to measure student success and teacher performance (accountability). Ten years later, the education system is still experiencing educational disparities due to the lack of well-prepared and qualified teachers in critical areas such as math, science and literacy. American students will continue to lack skills to compete in a global market regardless of demographic and racial backgrounds without the proper resources mentioned.

Why Disparities Continue with NCLB:

The provisions of NCLB did not promote innovation or high expectations nor did it encourage the development of 21st century skills in public schools.  NCLB has further created a national obsession with standardized tests that do not measure depth, application, nor provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. Education acts, such as NCLB, that lack adequate funding to all states and school districts and shared responsibility of parents, communities, educators, and policymakers,  do not provide all children an opportunity for a great public school education.  The pitfall of NCLB is that it was neither specifically designed to close the achievement gap nor increase student achievement. Rather, it simply set an achievement benchmark and passed it on as a federal mandate for all public schools to achieve.

NCLB Overlooked Significant Factors to Creating Effective Educational Programs:

To ensure that educational programs are effective in increasing student achievement, educational leaders must be held accountable to create programs guided by a concise understanding of the school community and socio-cultural dynamics; particularly, within schools serving greater numbers of low income and minority populations. Program administrators and developers of educational offerings should create procedures that ensure programs are implemented as they are designed, with built-in accommodations to support and supplement broken and absent systems.  Leaders in education should understand that what works in one community will not necessarily work in another and there is no one size fits all solution to creating effective educational programs.  The reality is that successful education programs accommodate systemic needs of the school community, for example:

Scenario 1

To create effective educational programs that focus on the development of teacher content knowledge, teacher training should be accompanied with supporting workshops, adequate in-class tools and resources, instructional observations, and product evaluation (i.e. student-created product(s), presentation(s), and exams.)  The aforementioned holistic approach allows educators to truly gauge area(s) where children are gifted to help students visualize academic success, and holds teachers accountable for results-oriented implementation at an acceptable level.  The end result being, the educational program is more likely to be effective in closing the achievement gap and increasing student achievement.

 

Scenario 2

Creating effective educational programs becomes more challenging in schools serving high percentages of low-income students as they usually do not have the financial support of a PTO/PTA or community businesses.  Ensuring program implementation is effective requires integrating fund-raising activities and mentors. This extra step accounts for the inadequate social-emotional and economic support at home or the lack of exposure to opportunities beyond their immediate environment.

Necessary Changes:

The nation continues to respond to the education crisis by amending previous federal mandates, such as the reauthorization of NCLB to the America Competes Act, to meet our current education needs.  With every revision, government and federally aligned organizations continue to implement the same systems within the same structures.  Appointed officials and organization leaders, who failed the first time, are given an opportunity to re-invent themselves; yet, they choose to continue to work within the same structure.  As a result, we continue to get more of the same; an ever-widening achievement gap, disparities in education, and the potential of a lost generation of children unable to compete academically on a global stage. The government structures and federally funded organizations created to carry out education agendas, in large part, are not designed to engage at the school level or with grassroots organizations that have a pulse on what yields proven results in addressing the needs of their school and community. For a moment, just consider the numerous effective programs we have watched go unfunded and under supported while new programs are adopted, yet prove ineffective once they have run their course.  It causes you to wonder, are we really committed to delivering a quality education to all children or are we simply searching for the next new thing?

How to Create Educational Effectiveness:

Educational effectiveness begins with good leadership at the school level with administrators and teachers. For teachers to be effective and innovative in their profession, they need the support of principals to create a school culture that provides an instructional balance between implementing federal education mandates and state-approved curriculum. Achieving success in the classroom requires adequate teacher training using proven professional development models coupled with the right resources; this translates into practical learning exercises that foster depth, rigor, and relevance, contributing to the overall success of students.  Other areas that support creating educational effectiveness include opening lines of communication at all levels, testing, teacher mentoring models, budgeting priorities, alignment of student achievement initiatives, policy makers, and with teacher accountability systems.  Lastly, for this to have its desired effects, we must shift the focus to the students and how we best educate them, based on how they learn.  We must customize the educational experience to the needs of the children, and that approach must include hands-on and project-based learning.

 

Global Committee of Scholars Recognizes CSTEM Inc. as Finalist for 2011 WISE Award

CSTEM was recognized as one of the 20 finalists for the 2011 World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Awards. CSTEM was chosen by a committee of leading education experts for its success in identifying, promoting and implementing best practices that strengthen education strategies.  (http://www.wise-qatar.org/)
 
If chosen as one of the six winners, CSTEM will be awarded a cash prize and the opportunity to share their story to over 1,000 world leaders and advocates in education at the 2011 WISE Summit: “Transforming Education: Investment, Innovation and Inclusion” in Doha, Qatar on November 1-3rd. The Awards finalist’s and winners will act as a reference and set new standards for the international community.
 
Dr. Flowers, graciously noted, “I am humbled and thankful for this opportunity. I see this important recognition as a testament that our efforts at CSTEM can and will have a significant impact on STEM education in our world—because we’re helping prepare our future generation of STEM leaders for a rapidly evolving global economy.”