Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Resolution

Imagine you're in the middle of a difficult task.  You've exhausted all of your options, finally found a course of action that moves you in the right direction, and someone comes into the picture with a fresh idea.  If you haven't thought of it before you might be grateful for their insight.  But too often they simply suggest something you've already tried or thought of.

It's no problem if they shrug their shoulders and move on, but, you know the type, some people will just stand over your shoulder and criticize your efforts and tell you how they would do it until you finally break and give in.  You try it their way (again, because you already did it once), they observe how difficult the task really is, and move on.  Still, sometimes they insist that you're missing something and perhaps try to get their hands in on the task in another effort.  Finally, they give up, and you start all over, unless you give up and leave them to figure out on their own what you've already figured out... before you had to start all over.

Do I need to make the connection to everyone pushing the test-based accountability movement?

So far, I see no significant mainstream political or media push-back against the building momentum of excessive testing in public education.  The push back exists, and in large numbers, but it hasn't gained enough traction to translate into policy.  Perhaps there is hope.  Texas has generated a great deal of publicity with the 300+ school districts that have passed a resolution opposing the prominent place that high-stakes testing have taken in public education.  Now, 'Time out for Testing' has created a national resolution modeled after the Texas resolution and so far over 3000 individuals have signed on and over 150 organizations.

Read the resolution and decide whether you agree with the ideas presented.  If so, add your name to the list of signatories and encourage others to join you in adding a voice to the movement to restore sanity to public education by placing standardized testing in its proper place. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Problem of Articulation

Ever tried explaining electricity to a nine year old? I gained another level of respect for Virginia's elementary school teachers tonight.  My daughter has a test tomorrow on electricity. Nothing complicated: open and closed circuits, conductors and insulators, series and parallel circuits, resistance, etc. We used iPod headphones, turned switches on and off in the house, and even made some sparks with jumper cables to see the principles of electricity at work.

She really got it. Then I started quizzing her with the study guide. Maybe she didn't get it after all. She could show me and even explain what all of the terms and concepts were all about while we were moving around the house and looking at electricity at work in our world.  But something about putting it into clearly articulated words, absent the tangible examples, escaped her.

After a little work, she managed to articulate a little better, but when I read the definitions from the page for her to identify, she struggled a little more.  The terms and language used in the review guide didn't quite match the language she had used to understand the concepts. 

Tomorrow, I don't know how her teacher will assess her.  I'm sure that with over twenty other students taking the test at the same time she won't have a chance to just explain it to him, much less show him. If she's asked to write about it her chances are much better. I do know that at least by next year she will have to answer multiple choice questions about it for the fifth grade Virginia Standards of Learning test, the type of test that doesn't value what you know or give you the chance to express what you've learned-- it is the type of test that exposes what you don't know and expects the student to understand the narrow scope pre-determined by the "standard-setters" and "test-makers."

My experience tonight leads me to wonder how many students are harmed because teaching them to truly articulate their learning is no longer valued. We expect to assess learning through an easy and streamlined process.  We define what should be known, how it should be expressed and if students learn to articulate differently than what is prescribed they are punished rather than rewarded.

I don't have a well "articulated" conclusion to my thoughts, but after spending time engaged in learning with my daughter I found myself sad that even though I'm convinced that she understands, I'm not sure how she'll test. And in our world today, the test is all that matters.

(Post-Script- I first wrote this post over a month ago.  My daughter aced the test.  It was fill-in the blank and short answer.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Saturday Night Massacre

At the close of the state legislative session changes went through that have far reaching impacts on current and future state employees.   If you didn't catch this on the Facebook/Twitter circuit, then here is the link to a letter written in response to recent changes in the VRS(Virginia Retirement System).   It was adressed to Virginia's Public School Teachers(and other state employees) and appeared on the Roanoke Times website.  VRS has been the source of many a "surplus" for more than one administration and has been a political football.  It really is frustrating though since employees end up being the ones getting kicked.  It is never about money for teachers but money matters despite what we say and do.  One would like to think all the state employees matter too.  I guess not.

Read the Story

This Blog briefly explains some of the impacts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Be Careful Little Mouths What You Say (or don't)

Depending on the story, a Virginia teacher either removes, deletes, or outright bans the word God from the song “We Are the World” before elementary school students are allowed to perform it in concert.  All of the reports I’ve seen point to this as one more example of the public school system and its employees attempt to indoctrinate and secularize students. (It’s time for the secular social exorcism to stop) Online reports not only attack the system, but single out the teacher for reproach.  Ms. Flaherty is portrayed as intentionally removing this lyric with some type of ulterior motive of subverting the religious belief and identity of her students.

I want to offer a different possibility.  I bet that every public school teacher, k-12, who teaches science, social studies, or the arts has dealt with the tricky situation of allowing matters of faith and belief into the classroom.  Matters of faith and belief are more than just a style of clothes, taste in music, or the sports we like.  For most humans, matters of faith and belief are a part of our identity.  In a school, this is true for the students and also the teachers who teach them.  Outside, it is true of myself and most everyone I interact with daily. 

For this reason, matters of faith and belief cannot be suppressed.  Any misguided attempt by "authorities" to regulate against expressions of faith and belief will fail, and any misguided ideology that assumes faith and belief are systematically squelched is wrong.  Faith and belief walk through the doors of our schoolhouse by the droves every morning with every human body that enters.

That faith and belief are being intentionally removed from school is an inaccurate perception of the fact that any one person’s specific expressions of faith and belief are not given a special place of prominence over others.

In one year, I taught both Ancient and Modern World History.  At the beginning of each course I had to deal with parent complaints.  In ancient World History we began with pre-history and learned about the fossils of Cro-Magnon, Neanderthals, and other early humans.  To the religious parents I was a heretic, forcing kids to learn these things that don’t fit their expression of faith and belief.  In Modern World History we opened with the Reformation.  Once again, I handled parents who didn’t think it was appropriate to present Martin Luther’s view that salvation of the soul comes from the grace of God.

To one set of parents I was a secular humanist indoctrinating their children and to the other I was acting more like an evangelist than teacher.

I sympathize with Ms. Flaherty at Broadus Wood.  Full disclosure, I don’t know her personally, but we work in the same county.  She is also my daughter’s music teacher and I’ve been listening to my daughter sing and practice this song for the last three weeks, long before this story broke. 

I’m guessing she is young.  I’m also guessing that she knows how quickly people jump to the attack when they perceive you are treating their children inappropriately.  I know that she teaches at two schools, each about as far apart in the county as possible, perhaps more than a forty-five minute drive away from each other.  Holding part-time work at two different schools, she probably isn’t sure whether her job is secure for next year; if it is, she has no reason to think she will be at either of the same schools next year.

The kids need to perform for their parents.  She chose a song.  Hoping to avoid criticism and/or parent discontent she made a choice.   

It is not a religious song.  No indication in the song implies that the use of the term God means anything other than a generic, religion neutral god that would not offend the numerous performers involved in the song or the consumers and donors who might give money in response.  Several sources also critique the teacher for choosing the “We Are the World 25” version for Haiti instead of the original including the line “as God has shown us, by turning stone to bread.”

That line stuck out to me the first time that I heard the song in 1985!  As a Christian I appreciate its alteration.  It seems to reference Jesus time of temptation in the wilderness.  During a period of fasting, Satan tempted him.  “If you’re the son of God, turn these stones to bread.  You are hungry after all.”  Jesus refuses, while the allusion in the song would appear to reverse this bold resistance to temptation.

Unfortunately, the temptation to attack a teacher, for making a choice in which right or wrong depends on the particular constituent group you’re asking, was not resisted.

A secular work, not intended to praise or promote any particular faith or faith in general.  A single word, unnoticed by most until a controversy is created.  A teacher made out to be on the frontline of the public school conspiracy to indoctrinate the children of America to a godless liberal ideology.

She's just trying to help a group of children make a joyful noise.  

As for me and my house, our faith is taught in the home.  We participate multiple times a week in a community of faith to instruct and teach our children.  We send them into the world, thankful for their exposure to diversity and differing opinions that they might engage their minds, hearts, soul, and strength.  We play our role as parents and trust that our faith in God, the example we set in our lives, the prayers that we pray over our children, and the instruction they've been provided in our home and church will shine brightly in their hearts as they "work out their faith" growing into adulthood.

What Would Jefferson Do?
The absence of the word "god" from a school choir song will not diminish the presence of God in the life of my daughter any more than its addition would somehow make it stronger.

(What is the role of faith in schools? I've addressed the question from the other side of the schoolhouse door at YouthWorker Journal and Wild Frontier)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Technology: How important is it?

Prologue:  Is a prologue allowed in a blog post?  I guess it is now.

After writing and rewriting the post below in response to my colleague's Thursday afternoon post I'm still not happy with it.  So here's the short of it.  It's irresponsible to ignore the value of technology in education--AND--it is irresponsible to overestimate the value of technology in education.  That's pretty clear isn't it?  You've read this far, you might as well read the rest to see if you can figure out what I'm trying to say any better than I can.

About ten years ago (but only lasting a few) our school administrators included integration of technology as a part of teacher evaluations.  Serving on a teacher advisory committee for the school, I remember discussions about what it means to "integrate technology" in the classroom.  I argued at the time that simply showing a video clip to the class using the online video service "United Streaming" was no better than pushing play on the VCR or Laser Disk player.

I used United Streaming frequently, and found it much better for me, the teacher, than bothering with videotapes and laser disks.  But, I didn't agree that in a given class, me showing a video clip online made me better instructionally than another teacher showing the same clip on VHS.  Ultimately, United Streaming allowed for easier selection of relevant clips and allowed for smoother transition in and out of video presentations but it certainly wasn't a "game changer."

Technology should be an integral part of instruction, and I believe this has always been true.  It can be a powerful tool for reaching students in ways that can't always happen in traditional ways.  Here in the basement of the Teaching Underground, we witnessed this just last week.

Our colleague in the basement teaches an elective called "Issues of the Modern World."  In the fall, his class conducted an interview with an participant in the Arab Spring movement in the middle east.  After hearing from him, the students were able to formulate questions to ask him again this spring.  Through these interactions, students had access to a living primary source for history in the making.  They were also able to see the evolution and change of a movement and the demeanor of one of its participants in real time.  Twenty years ago this would have been a monumental task if not impossible.  Today, an internet connection and a Skype account are all that are needed.

My question is still the same.  This isn't critical of technology.  I am impressed with this teacher's learning activity.  It was innovative and forward thinking.  His students engaged in a learning experience that they will likely remember forever.  For my AP Psychology class, I frequently invite a graduate student from the University of Virginia department of neuroscience.  These doctoral students share with my Psychology students some of their ongoing research on the brain.  They even bring in a human brain for students to see and hold.  Which experience is better?  Skype or face-to-face.

Answer: neither!

I don't think I need to really explain this.  This teacher couldn't have conducted this experience without Skype.  For me, Skyping with a guest located three miles away wouldn't make sense.  For sure, we should recognize this use of Skype in the classroom for its novelty and innovation.  We should also recognize that in this case, technology brought a living primary source into the classroom in a way that couldn't be acheived without technology.

But, the underlying pedagogy is still the same.  Exposing students to primary sources in the Social Studies engages them in the process of social science instead of simply requiring them to memorize names, dates, facts, etc.

I think that most educators in the classroom recognize the power of technology.  When it allows us to do something more efficiently or better than we could do without it, we embrace it.  When it allows students to learn in ways that are more lasting and impacting, we embrace it.

Remember all of the modes of technology that have changed teaching and learning: mass printing, chalkboards, overhead projectors, filmstrips, television in the classroom, computer labs in schools, computers in classrooms, presentation software, streaming/digital video, computer access for most/all students, social networking, online course delivery.....

Quality teaching and learning can take place in the absence of any of the above.  There is a bit of a paradox when it comes to my attitude toward educational technology.  It is at the same time one of the most important factors/tools for learning and also one of the least necessary factors/tools for learning.

Whether they articulate this idea or not, I think that most teachers get it.  Some still avoid technology altogether, and others couldn't function without it.  Usually both types carry a sense of moral superiority about what they do.  In reality, they're both missing the point.

We should use technology resources available to their full extent insofar as they benefit the teacher and/or student and make learning more efficient or effective.  We should seek out new technologies that might benefit our classrooms.  We should not overestimate the power of technology for effective education or expect the technology to solve the complex problems facing education in the 21st century.

Post-logue:  Why not, I've already included a "prologue."  Thanks to Mr. Giordano for sharing his classroom experience with Skype.  If you're interested, he's also a recent convert to "Juicing." (The diet kind)  Read about his "juicing" experiences and related revelations about the human experience of eating at Sausage Boy Goes Green.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Technology: Friend or Foe

Many folks in the blogosphere have addressed the role of technology in education.  Views on the subject run the gamut and opinions differ for a variety of reasons.   We here at the TU find technology the frequent topic of conversation. And, we talk about its role in more than just education, discussing how and where it has altered the landscape significantly in the last five years.  We've written about the issue a half dozen or so times but it keeps coming around and a recent lunch conversation made another post seem warranted(type "technology" in the search box to the right to take a peek).

Technology is and has always been a creation intended to improve the human condition.  Whether saving effort with labor or making work easier and more productive, it is supposed to help.  Perhaps our development and reliance(some would say unhealthy dependence) on technology is what has allowed us to emerge as such a unique species.  From our earliest attempts with stone, bone, and wood, technology put us in a position to master our world and empowered us to do more things not possible before.  The purpose was to aid humans.  Constant innovation would periodically revolutionize our way of life.   Reshaped agriculture, transportation, communication, medicine among other areas touched almost every aspect of human life.

But we also have a funny way of forgetting the less desirable side of technology.   Once we started with tools and then farming, it likely didn't take long before we were developing things as a means to destroy stuff or people we didn't want around.  That you can usually see coming.  More recently the effects of technology are more subtle but arguably harmful as well.  It is these unintended results that bring the discussions about technology full circle.  Too often new becomes synonymous with better.  In particular those of us who work with young people are keenly aware of how intertwined they become with the newest technologies.  They block out the outside world with earphones and rarely say a simple "hello" while busy staring at the screen of their smartphone. (perhaps this isn't unique to young folks)  These gadgets quickly eradicate basic elements of civility.  Their efforts to "connect" with each other and the world virtually often leave them out of touch.  People are emboldened by perceived anonymity and do and say things they would never actually do or say face to face. Overall I'd say the greatest concern I have is that too much technology can be harmful.  Which bring me to the topic of education. 

Education's relationship with  technology is no different than other areas of society.  What is different is how powerful people embrace it and then take a paternalistic approach to how it ought to be used.  The change from the outside point of view revolves around "we know how to fix schools and we will do it with technology."  As a case in point take a recent post we did on Khan Academy.  The approach here  is using simple online recorded lectures with some included visuals.  The accessibility and ability to repeat and duplicate are great .  They offer tremendous advantages but couldn't a student or teacher just record a lecture?  How can anyone in their right mind think they are better than having an quality teacher?

The answer lies in our love affair with technology.  In the hands of decision-makers, the ideas of group-think do-gooders quickly become misguided and produce a vastly different product than envisioned in the conference or boardroom. In some ways, interacting face to face is the same as online.  In many ways it is not. The economic downturn has led to the laying off of teachers and cutting of valuable programs to save funds; all while funds are used on technology which fails to benefit everyone.  Computers, smartboards and technology that ultimately have a limited shelf life are  purchased.  Sure they are very useful, when their role is understood the right way.  So really technology is neither a friend or a foe, it is the instead how we view it that proves problematic. 

Most teachers are not technophobes(I even stand near the microwave when cooking).  We embrace what helps us do our jobs.  We are also wary of becoming too dependent or reliant on technology.  This is a positive trait.  The "paperless" classroom might not be all it is cracked up to be.  Most good educators realize how technology can help, but know that it can't replace people and relationships in education.  We are not talking about assembling something on a production line.  We are talking about young people.    Tech can be many things but it cannot do what humans do in education.  This dogmatic view of the role technology in our future does a great disservice and ultimately could worsen things in many ways.

Defenders of technology infusion would say "we are not suggesting that at all." But that is happening.   Rather than empower and improve our lives, new technologies often alienate and isolate.  While we have instant access to information, we often fail to internalize the importance of what we learn and how to use these tools.  Leaving it to someone else, say Wikipedia, to set that mindset for us.  If everyone was taught by the same teacher with the same approach it would be fair to say quality would suffer. I read once that getting information off the internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant. Makes sense.  You can get a lot from the internet, mainly information.   The benign marketing of technology that shatters the "one size fits all" school model misses the reality that varied instruction provides a rich environment to learn.

We end up isolated since we carefully self select our networks and thereby restrict views that may differ from our own.  This can be problematic.  Having students who don't learn the same and don't always get along actually provides a real world experience.  Freeing up the teacher and online collaboration sound great but what lies beneath that is less obvious.    Imagine if you will a toddler seated in front of a large screen with the alphabet along with some morals and values are imparted to them from some distant source.  Technology can convey knowledge and content.  But it can't really help teach responsibility, judgement, character, how to treat each other and it doesn't provide any wisdom.  I'd prefer to have my own children learn form a good person as opposed to good technology. 

The simple question is do people learn better using technology or using each other?  The answer is a complex one. Some would seek to produce a study using a true valid measurement to prove this, one that any experienced teacher won't be able to poke full of holes in 30 seconds.  They miss the point.  People learn from other people in so many ways and entertaining the idea that technology is anything but what it started out as, a simple tool would be a huge mistake.  Let's stop all the revolution talk and just try to find ways we can help our young people. As importantly let's be aware that anything we do should never have the potential for doing the opposite.    

Thoughts in closing.
A friend is someone you trust, not something you trust.  
 "Technology accelerates at a relentless pace.  Anything not moving forward, is moving backwards."  This is a quote from a 2013 Lexus Commercial.     I would respond that while it is certain technology can make us faster and able to do more, the one thing technology will never create is more time during the day.  So by doing more aren't we just getting busier?

For demonstration purposes lets just watch this commercial and see if you pick up the potential bad things(hazards)of new technology.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Step forward, backward or sideways?

Closing out the week of Spring Break TU noted that Virginia students who enroll in 9th grade in 2013-2014 will be required to take at least one high school course online to receive their standard or advanced diploma.  This would appear to be a step forward  advancing educational access and integration of technology.   This "blended learner" model presents a lot of future unknowns.   A few thoughts:

Thinking about it a bit it begs the questions of what exactly is the goal?  Is it improving education or getting a feather in the cap?  There is still relatively little known about how online learning and more traditional methods vary in the long run but anyone who has taken an online class has an opinion.  Testing I suppose provides an answer.  But not a complete one.  Rural communities where offerings and staffing are harder to provide might stand to benefit more.  But legislating every student to take a course might seem to originate from somewhere other than Virginia and quality.  

Likely an outgrowth of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Educational state initiatives program, online learning has benefits and limits.    But the origin of the measure is notable.  Three things summarize the approach pushed in Florida and other states by Bush's Foundation and they are school choice, accountability through testing and more use of technology to change education. Accompanying this are a host of other reforms.   There are several posts worth of material there but I read a blog post back in October that did a good job providing some background on the issues.  So the foundation wants to transform education.  I just get worried what it will be transformed into.

Jumping back to the change in Virginia part of me I suppose gets a bit threatened by virtual or distance learning, but that is a small part and doesn't blind me to the potential value of such programs. And speaking of value I would have to assume that local divisions will asked to carry any costs associated with this.  Not that big a deal for larger divisions like the one where I work, but I suspect some will feel the pinch.  The questions is which private company will be happily take that money off their hands. 

A couple types of students typically take virtual courses now.  Often those that are behind and need to catch up or need more support in an alternative setting can be found in the computer lab.  Others include those that can benefit from the expanded offerings available online.    Now a third type will take courses(notice I didn't use the word classes) and that's kids that are made to take them.    I suspect that this measure will do little to impact most students in the long run.  I further doubt that the  experience of taking whatever they have to will make learning very fulfilling.  It will instead just be "filling" in a matter of speaking. 

 Given there do not seem to be limitations of which courses can be taken, I would guess that if allowed many students might choose to take courses already offered at the school.  Seems a bit redundant.  New state requirements like the financial literacy course seem an obvious choice for pairing with technology but I suspect localities will have to figure this stuff out.    The true value of online classes will likely always be debated.  They can get you past a test.    I've taken a few, worked with kids taking a few an they have their limits.    I've taken them for two reasons.  Some because i wanted to learn and others because it was required.  I much preferred the former and most of the latter variety were awful.   Mostly I didn't have to think, just do stuff.  That tends to worry me both as an educator and a parent.  Not that this is a bad thing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Art not Science

April Fools Day,  our spring break, Tiger Woods  at Augusta...yep there's a lot going on.  We'll use it to catch our breath.  But for our loyal readers(all 3) we thought we'd put up something of substance, or at least that impersonates that. 

"Miles, just play the solo like its written."
Too many influential individuals methodically and mistakenly work to simplify and streamline approaches to instruction, experienced teachers continue to strive in the fluid environment that is and always will be the classroom.  Most don't pay much attention to things like Common Core until they start hearing it in faculty meetings.  The love affair decision makers have with data continues to push those shaping teaching to view it as a science that can be adjusted in such a way to produce a definite outcome. Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared on the Washington Post's The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss.  It comes from an experienced teacher in New York state Jeremiah Chaffee.   His experience with the Common Core Standards and lessons connected to them show this divide.  But first some comments on Common Core.

A quick perusal of the website led me to realize that Roy Romer really likes them.  Roy Romer...that's the featured endorsement?  But watching it becomes clear Roy might not see eye to eye with teachers on everything. He says they are set of tools.  If presented as that I am on board.  But I must admit to caring less about any standards and more about my students.  So read a bit more:

"The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

 That sounds like a bit of an oversell.    That all we were missing in education was this set of standards and presto, we are "positioned successfully" in that global economy thing.  That actually sounds like what I am supposed to be doing.   In the FAQ section of their website many of my questions appear and are answered.  The responses sound sterile, well rehearsed and too scripted.  I am left unsatisfied, especially the part about more tests.  I bet that feeling is a lot like what students would encounter if we reduce things to a homogeneous set of anything.  I think what students, parents and teachers need to succeed is a lot more complex than a list of what to teach.  For my students it means well planned and engaging opportunities to learn.  A goal that I must admit to falling short of providing on occasion.   But I adjust and tinker until I get it right.  When I view that process as complete I should be fired.  Like any quality artist I work to create something unique and valuable that suits the moment all in the name of learning

The romantic view that students just need access to curriculum and knowledge is forged far from the student themselves.  Teachers can't and shouldn't just unbox content and use a script, from common core or anywhere else.  I doubt anyone(other than those full of bad ideas) really expects that.  But it seems some forget the role teachers fill for students.  For certain kids can and do learn on their own.  But wishing for a "better" way to teach and kids to learn doesn't make it so.

These lessons are models, prepackages ones.  Sometimes I find these useful, sometimes not.  The best teachers I had in life never used them.  They scalped from them and did their own thing.    I find the years of experience I've gained are priceless and are far more valuable than resources. Would a pilot reading a manual written by an experienced pilot give you much piece of mind?  I suspect not.  The best things I do are often the result of improvisation and reading the pulse of the class and students. That dynamic is different every period, every day, every year.  As I leave you reading Chaffee's thoughts brought to you by someone I almost always agree with,  Valeria Strauss,  I think about it this way...great concerts and musicians provide much richer experience live than simply listening to a recording.   But if you want it done the same every time for every audience, just plug in the CD player. 

Scripting lessons is based on several false assumptions about teaching. They include:

* That anyone who can read a lesson aloud to a class can teach just as well as experienced teachers;
* That teaching is simply the transference of information from one person to another;
* That students should not be trusted to direct any of their own learning;
* That testing is the best measure of learning.

Put together, this presents a narrow and shallow view of teaching and learning.
Most teachers will tell you that there is a difference between having a plan and having a script. Teachers know that in any lesson there needs to be some wiggle room, some space for discovery and spontaneity. But scripted cookie-cutter lessons aren’t interested in that; the idea is that they will help students learn enough to raise their standardized test scores.

I can tell by what Chaffee says he is probably a good teacher.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

TU: Our Opinions Heard

By now the readers of this blog have recognized it is a labor of love by its authors.  Ranking somewhere behind our love of teaching our students, of course.  In the process of its creation we have learned a great deal about education policy and reform.

We put these newly found insights to good use by drafting E-mails and letters as part of a broad lobbying effort to just about anyone we felt had a hand in directing education policy at the local, state and federal level.  It was in January that one of these letters somehow drew the attention of someone important and a response.  How this occurred remains unclear but we think our attendance at the NCSS conference in December fed us into networks of leadership.  We received a letter asking us to play a role in the future.  As a pair, we were asked to serve on a reform committee.  It seemed our views as classroom educators were sought as part of an effort to create a coherent vision that would define and clarify the role and relationship of the federal and state government in K-12 education.  After brief discussion we agreed to take part in the yet unnamed committee. 

Over the course of the past 4 weeks we traveled to Alexandria, Virginia and met with some of the key figures directing policy as part of the Education Reform and Revision Organization Retreat.  While informal in organization the list of participants over that time frame was impressive.  David and Charles Koch, Jeb Bush, Michael Bloomberg, Wendy Kopp, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Paul Ryan, along with governors from numerous states all appeared or took part.   The TU and many other teachers were happy to at last have their views heard and represented. 

We listened, discussed, studied, reported and contributed over a period of more than a month and during that time many of TU's views were framed in a different light, even altered by what we heard.  What resulted was the Director's Universal and Meeting Board guiding the Education Reform and Revision Organization Retreat to put into words a substantive roadmap for the future of education.  As participants we believe it will strengthen our nation and remedy the failing schools needed so badly in this global age.  What follows is a preliminary list of recommendations that we were asked not to share until the beginning of April.  

Be it Resolved by this committee to recommend:
  • More standardized testing is essential in order to prove to skeptical public continued quality.
  • Additional Federal and State rules are necessary an must place increasing demands on localities to ensure they are doing what they are supposed to.  Instruct students as they should me instructed
  • Increasing efforts to privatize and direct public monies into the hands of for profit corporations.
  • Increasing use of Value Added Measurement as a method to evaluate teachers. A growing body of research clearly supports this approach as the only reliable way to eliminate the bad teachers responsible for the chronic under-performance in our schools.  
  • Reducing what is taught to common key standards designed and developed by impartial individuals who have not developed a educational bias by teaching. 
  • Eliminating tenure and promote easier less rigorous paths to certification, thereby reducing costs and increasing competition among teachers.  Promote legislation banning education unions. 
  • Enacting more punitive measures for schools if even one student fails to meet certain criteria, no matter the cause
  • Streamlined school choice measures to create more opportunity and competition, forcing failing school to improve.
  • Eliminating aspects of instruction that can't be measured(as they are not worthwhile)
  • Promoting an opt out for citizens who do not have school aged children to encourage more public support for education.
  • Lengthening school days and school year and couple this with added course loads for students beginning in Elementary school. 
  • Cut federal spending to education, such as Pell grants that serve lower income students, as soon as possible in order to create a more competitive education market.