Tuesday, May 7, 2013

6 Smart and the Dumb Things They Say(and why that matters)

The setting was Education Nation 2.0 2011 at Stanford University.  Yeah it has been two years,  but this still very much applies today.  So as we look back, think of today. 

"Master interviewer and PBS host Charlie Rose and a distinguished panel of luminaries tackle the tough questions of how to improve our troubled school system and provide a better future for our nation's greatest resource, our kids."

If by "distinguished panel of luminaries" they mean people at least 2x as smart as me, own nice suits and probably read a lot more books, they they are right.  But I am confident I know as much as any of them about the state of education and what will and won't work.  Too bad no members of the TU have ever been described as a "luminaries".  Because we are remarkably average in many ways.But that would make this post too long.  :)

So let's talk participants for a moment.

Charlie Rose-"master interviewer"(Charlie is my man...but Chuck appears to have had some Kool Aid somewhere, maybe in the Green Room or on the plane out West.  He all too readily accepts just about everything that is said.  I give him an F for this one.  Too bad no one representing the average teacher was invited.  Maybe they were.  But if they were I suspect they were too busy actually teaching students to show up.

Salman Khan-from the Khan AcademyI love this guy.  But he is way too smart for average people.  I think he's been in "the bubble" near Gates too long and lost touch.  We've mentioned him before and are not wary what he does, instead by how it can be misunderstood and misrepresented by politicians.  Still, of all the participants, he seems to be the only one to have really tried to help... and has done some work instead of only talking, telling others what to do or writing a book about working. 

Corey A. Booker-Two time Mayor of Newark, NJ who's made plenty of news lately.  He never met a camera he didn't like and is a classic politician from humble roots.  Not faulting him there.  Better man than me.  Seems like a heck of a guy.  But also one who's ideas always trump those of everyone else.  Booker  is very into doing stuff.  Action for the sake of action.  There's a lot of that going around in education. Much of what he says either outrages me or makes me feel better.  He's a wild card.   Like Charlie from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

John L. Hennessy- Stanford University's 10th president and inaugural holder of the Bing Presidential Professorship-(what is that?). As President of Stanford he gets to be on all round tables automatically-at least that makes sense anyway?  What exactly does he know about the average public school classroom in America? 

Kim Smith- CEO of Bellweather Education Partners and one of the original of TFA(yuck) founders.  I am ignoring what she says simply because of that.  Well not all of it actually but I still am programmed for skepticism after a decade and a half of teaching.  My bad. I'm sure she is a great person.

Claude M. Steele-Despite his awesome name, the Dean of Stanford’s School of Education, he is simply way too bright for me to understand fully without visual aids.  I think I rarely beat up on academics for being academics.  But I feel like I want to in this case.   I'll take Remington Steele instead.

Reed Hastings-co-founder and CEO of Netflix.  OK, not sure why he is even there unless someone with actual merit regarding education canceled last minute. Maybe the CEO of Blockbuster backed out?   Netflix?  I mean come on, they want 40% original programming?....even I know that's probably a dumb idea.  But again, why is he there?  Maybe his presence would have been a good chance to suggest they kindly put the stuff online that I like watching.

So some of what they said:
"Frame for us the issues"-Hmmm, so basically tell us what you think is wrong.  Not everyone think r sees things the same and that is good.  But when one group imposes its version as the way it is, not so good.  Ask any teacher to frame the issues  and odds are you'll get a somewhat different response. 
"Redefine education before it redefines us."  Wow that is so catchy.  Makes me want to run out and design a school on a CAD program somewhere.  Then throw a bunch of kids inside and walk away. 
America's schools are in trouble. Twenty-five percent of American kids drop out of high school. Those that do graduate often are ill prepared for either college or a job. The U.S. Secretary of Education has even mandated: "we have to deal with the brutal truth."
Is the problem money? School administrators? Teachers unions? Parents? There's plenty of blame to go around, yet all agree it's a problem we must address. If we wait, the U.S. will lose its competitive edge, more young Americans will end up in dead-end jobs, and the U.S will drop to second-tier status. -  There is a lot here to break down.  I don't have time.  Some in trouble yes.  If the Secretary of Education says it, it must be true.  no way politics or anything like that would affect judgment. 

Designing an education that builds the necessary skills for today's diverse student population is not easy. But there is hope: innovations and innovators that challenge the status quo; research to help us understand how to make the changes; and reformers experimenting with new ways to teach, learn, and run our public schools.
The questions that need answering are complex:
  • How do we attract and retain good teachers, especially in math and science?
  • What is the best way to hold schools accountable and promote effective instruction?
  • What should the role of unions be?
  • How do charter schools fit into the overall solution?
-All of that makes sense but ignores the fact that education and schools are full of people.  Many of them innovators.  To imply, overtly or tacitly that innovation has to come from outside is not only foolish but dangerous. Especially when those innovators stand to make large sums of money from gaining access, influence and  and control.

Get rid of elected schooboards.-  Yes absolutely, let's remove democratic principles and put for profit or non profit entities in charge of all things...our children.  One cannot be selective in the application of democracy  You are either with us, or waving a red flag and playing soccer with your Che shirt on.   I know the West coast tends to lean left but the fact no one called him on this is worrisome.  To me this is proof that those inside the bubble not only won't get it, but can't. 

At the 9:10 mark Corey Booker discusses the "Silence and inaction of the majority of Americans."  he views this as a failure to respond to current conditions.  That is a great point and perhaps he is correct.  He certainly would be in many districts across the nation.  But is this true everywhere?  Are all districts and schools the same?

Once again I am left scratching my head at the lack of honest and open discourse and inclusion of others views which may very well be the only chance for successful and meaningful reform. I guess it makes for good TV though. 

It matters because here you have some clearly intelligent and well meaning people whose proximity to the actual classroom and actual students minimizes their awareness.  Yet it is they and others like them who have been entrusted to steer the boat.  They are not sure how it works, how much it can take or how exactly it works.

The TU would like to create a Education Renovation 3.0 , 2013.  It is faster, better and has more memory than the 2.0 version.  The panel here consists of not luminaries but people who work with kids. We probably can't afford a nice stage or TV cameras or a webcast.  But it would though generate local innovation and momentum for positive change, hopefully free of the pitfalls plaguing current reform efforts.    There would be a panel with one or more educational leaders,  concerned parents,  building level administrators, counselors, community members, business people, and policy experts.  But if there was anyone on the stage, the largest number of seats would go to experienced teachers.  The people who face the realities of education firsthand.  These teachers would represent a broad spectrum of communities.  Rich and Poor. Urban and Rural.  And not to be forgotten we would find some way to involve students.  

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