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Let’s just put them all in jail 24/7

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

This is one of those posts where I might have gotten a bit carried away.  But that title about jail comes from one of the comments I got when I posted some quotes from Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, on Twitter and Facebook yesterday.  The national education leader visited two Denver schools on Tuesday, and to an apparently unsympathetic room of about 400 middle and high school students,

Duncan said American schools should be open six days a week, at least 11 months a year, to improve student performance. (Gandy)

According to the 9News.com a story, entitled “Education Secretary says kids need more school,” Duncan said to the teenagers,

You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year.

I do not know enough about the school (Bruce Randolph) that Duncan seems to be holding up as a model for the nation, for an opinion.  But the two statements, attributed to the education leader, not only make my blood boil — but they are simply “Dead Wrong!”

Arnie Duncan was nominated to the Secretary of Education post by President Barack Obama in mid-December last year, and smarter men than me immediately called foul (See Gary Stager’s “What Do Arne Duncan & Paul Bremer Have in Common?).  I wanted to give Duncan the benefit of the doubt, but all doubt’s gone now.  We’ve gotten no where and we’re going nowwhere, especially if we are going to extend the sentencing of our children.

One commenter of my Facebook posts said,

..the competition we have vs. India and China (2 Million …  Read MoreMinutes) is an impossible task to overcome. Those are the best of the best compared to our better kids.

I would extend this mismatch to suggest that it isn’t simply that we’re comparing their best apples to our better apples.  First of all, you’re not going to win the blue ribbon at the county fair by leaving your apple pie in the oven longer.  And secondly, why not grow oranges instead.  Doesn’t a global market place need diversity of talents and skills — not everyone trying to best each other on the same narrow array of standards.

Isn’t this what we’re doing to our children?

But we’re not talking about fruit are we?  We’re talking about our children. ..and let’s face it, we’re talking about nothing less than institutionalizing “child labor” to satisfy a failed belief that higher standardized test scores will reliably lead to a stronger economy, more prosperous citizens, and a vibrant democracy.  What it leads to is boredom, ca lapsing morale among our best teachers, children without passion, children dropping out, and a growing and prospering testing industry.

I was so incredibly lucky to have gone to school when I did.  Even though I did poorly on tests, was not conscientious about homework, blah blah blah (we didn’t diagnose leaning disabilities (diversities) back then). I had wise teachers who said, “He’s bright and he can learn anything he wants to learn.”  My parents didn’t worry.

My son, who’s not A.D.D., still performed poorly, because he was bored.  He didn’t care.  He wasn’t drinking the kool aid.  He spent his time and attention with his music.  I remember when a middle school math teacher refused to sign off on his enrolling in more advanced math classes in high school.  She urged us to keep him out of math.  The cynic in me is convinced that continued poor math performance wouldn’t have been good for the school.

We put him in Math and he performed poorly — until he approached his senior year and realized that his grades would prevent him from earning that music scholarship he need for his music school of choice.  So during his senior year, he out-performed, in calculus, classmates who’d already been accepted at MIT.

Now if you think that the moral of this story is “making kids want to do well in Math will result in better performance,” then you’re wrong.  The moral of the story is that if my son finally wants a job, where he needs to know Calculus — then he’ll learn calculus.  You see,

Anyone who can master something that he or she is passionate about,

Can learn anything!

Bring passion back into education — and kick out the standards!

..and while you’re at it, kick the amateurs out too!

Gandy. Sara. “Education Secretary says kids need more school ,” 9News.Com 8 Apr 2009. 9 Apr 2009 <http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=113300>.

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Comments

  • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

    Ok, I’ve had time to cool a bit. Of course we need standards for basic information skills and a common context for where, when, how, and with whom we live (social studies, science, health, etc.) — and we need to assure their achievement. But just how much of the math you learned in high school do you actually use today. Certainly some of you use some of it. But most of it is only useful in a general since of knowing what trigonometry and statistics are. Being educated today is not how much you know. Instead it is what you can learn — what you can teach yourself.

    I strongly object to stealing another 15% of our students’ childhoods for the sake of some simplistic sense of global competition.

    I guess I haven’t cooled down enough.

  • JWatson

    Loved the end note, kick out the amateurs. Needed a good laugh to end the week. Great article.

    • J Broekman

      I don’t love the end note. Amateurs bring passion to whatever they do. We need more amateurs who are willing to come into our schools and work with our actual kids. The people we need to kick out are the bean-counters who won’t let a special ed class go on a field trip because that would pull their teacher out of her other classes and the armchair quarterbacks who prescribe remedies without any real evidence.

      I’m a teacher and a parent. Most of my kids’ friends are ridiculously over-scheduled already, both in and out of school. Most of my students think they don’t have to remember anything past the unit test or the final exam. More time spent in the same school system won’t help anyone, except perhaps those few student who are genuine slow-processors. And even those kids need time to spend on non-academic pursuits like a game of pickup ball or a hike in the woods…

      • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

        Point well taken, J. But when I ask that we kick out the amateurs, I’m referring to the politicians and their minion, who seek out political capital by appearing to be saving education — by applying more education…

        Again, I agree wholeheartedly with your observation. It’s one of the benefits of networked learning, that we can make the walls of the classroom more transparent and invite the passion in!

  • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com Karyn Romeis

    If the schooling system you have isn’t doing the trick, more of it won’t do the trick either. They don’t need more school. They need better school. As if the poor kids haven’t got enough on their plates already!

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Karyn, I feel that we need to realize that learning, growing up literate, skilled, knowledgeable, and passion is something that doesn’t just happen in the school or classroom. Typically, when we think of education, we think of the classroom and the teacher, the textbook and the chalk board (that’s how old I am).

      Our students participate in a native information experiences that is potent, positive, and largely unrealized by formal education. But I’m not advocating that we subjugate. We would only dilute the most valuable assets of the experience, which our students invented into it.

      It just seems to me that our students might actually spend less time in our classrooms, in instructional supervision, and more time directing their own learning through their social networks, digital resources, data processing, and amazingly expressive tools.

      Of course that sounds a lot simpler than it is. But finding that sweet spot of education would have to be exciting.

      • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com Karyn Romeis

        I’m totally with you. Which is why I used the word ‘school’ rather than ‘education’.

  • http://grykat.weebly.com Kathy Gryta

    Instead of more hours, perhaps if we did do 6 day weeks, but only 1/2 days, and let them have the afternoons off – so they have some time to process and internalize what we are asking them to learn? It seems to me that we push more and more abstract thinking on younger and younger children, before they are really developmentally capable of handling it, and then blame the teachers when the kids don’t perform.

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Kathy,

      As I suggested in my reply to Karyn’s comment, I think that few hours in the day has a lot of appeal, if for no other reason than teachers having three hours of planning time every day. But, I’ve thought for years that students could spend fewer hours a day in instructional supervision for only five days a week, and improve learning. We would basically redefine homework.

      – dave –

  • http://www.quisitivity.org Gerald Aungst

    In my job as a gifted support teacher, I see far too many students whose passion for learning is being extinguished in the name of better performance. I’m all for having standards and holding students accountable for their learning, but they also need time to be kids, and to pursue what they are passionate about. More and more I am asked to provide “enrichment” to classroom teachers. It appears, though, that “enrichment” is being defined as “more test prep”.

  • http://www.smithclass.org Terry Smith

    We all have to be quite unimpressed with the President’s choice for secretary of education. I assumed that Obama’s intelligence and caring attitude might be a part of whomever he chose for the ed office. This man Duncan is showing over and over that he does not understand anything about children or how learning really happens. He would be wise to consult some of the vast research on how and under what circumstances learning actually happens. While he is looking at the research, he might also notice that all children are different – didn’t he ever watch Sesame Street? I am an elementary teacher and have been for the past 14 years. I don’t recall hearing anything about people in my line of work being asked what we thought about kids or learning or how the actual time in a school affects or detracts form learning.

    David – don’t take back your standards comment. Our public schools are so “over-standarded” and so data-driven that it’s hard to find a kid who actually enjoys going to school. There are some kids out there enjoying school, however, and it is due to teachers flying below the testing radar and doing the right thing, connecting around the world with nings and blogs and projects regardless of what their school districts are mandating.

    • http://thebrainwaves.us Bob Greenberg

      Amen

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Terry,

      I agree that our schools have become way to standardized. It’s like with so much that’s the tendency of education, to latch onto a perceived silver bullet, and say this (standards, technology, virtual worlds, whatever) will save education.

      Yet there are certain pre-requisites to being a self-directed learner — basic literacy skills which are deeper than the 3Rs, but evident to anyone who uses today’s information environment.

      And, I believe that there are certainly things that we all need to acknowledge about our history, geography, society/culture, and how they all influence our thinking and out health and how we influence them. But we don’t need six days a week for 13 years to accomplish this. We don’t even need two days a week to do that. There are simply other activities that our students should be engaged in to become lifelong learners — some if it in the classroom and some of it outside. The basics are simply a foundation for the far more interesting things that should be our image of education.

  • kanor74

    I have no problem with longer school days or years, provided that really means flexible scheduling, providing enrichment opportunities, collaborative/project based learning, more technology availability, and as David says….passion for learning and teaching. Seat time should never earn a diploma….demonstrable, skills-based, authentic assessments ending in a culminating project is the way to go!

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Kanor, I too have no problem with six days of learning. I simply do not believe that it needs to be in the classroom. The thing is that our students are already involved in far more learning than that. It’s just that the learning is being directed by Nintendo, Facebook, and their own insufficiently backgrounded imaginations.

      I think that we can coop some of that time by restructuring our assignments and the projects they are engaged in to leverage their networks and even their video games as valuable future-serving learning experiences.

      • kanor74

        Yes, I agree completely. That is what I meant by flexible scheduling to allow for those types of activities. I wasn’t suggesting sitting in classrooms in those cute little rows for more boring ‘seat time!’ They need to be exploring their passions via the tools they use and produce meaningful, valuable results. Working with mentors, giving back to the community, and, as you say, ‘leveraging their networks and…games’ will go a long way to enrich and produce critical thinking, problem-solving workers. Virtual education needs to be a part of this, too, since it is the wave of the future. By that I don’t nean ‘distance’ learning….I mean immersive, 3-D, learning in a virtual environment/world.

      • Cliff

        So what is interesting is, after your rant, you do not contradict Duncan’s two soundbites here :) I think we’re all in agreement that more of the same ineffective education delivery is pointless. I think we are all in agreement that education delivery can be improved within the bounds of today’s schedule. Once delivery is optimized, however, it becomes a zero sum game. So at that point if you want to introduce additional content or skills, or if you want to go deeper in topics, you’ll need more time (whether in or out of the classroom). We should consider that learning outside the classroom is not an option for everyone – not everyone has rich opportunities outside of the classroom. One way to close the achievement gap in this country is to extend the school hrs for those that do not have rich opportunities outside of the classroom. We all seem to be looking for that one silver bullet answer. One size will not fit all. The solution may require several different models of education delivery. We’re seeing that already in our charter schools. There have been demonstrated cases where “problem” kids excelled in charter schools whereas they struggled in traditional public schools.

        • George D. Appel

          Cliff,

          You hit it right on the button. Your observation about Duncan’s comments and the extension of opportunities to all in whatever format works is clearly the right take on the topic.

  • http://www.kannapolis.k12.nc.us Brenda McCombs

    Working with teachers and students this year with an infusion of 21st century skills and tools proves your point – it’s not more school we need but better tools to work with.
    I’m not so sure I’m buying the 6 day school week in the far east either. When I visited Japan a couple of months ago, it was true that the students went to school six days a week. However, when we struck up a conversation with the students we found out that Saturdays were designated for sports, clubs, and extra-curricular activities – not academics.

  • http://teach42.com Steve Dembo

    I’m with you Dave, BUT… Here’s what I want to know, on a very practical level, what does a third grade math teacher do in class? Fourth grade? Fifth grade? And so on. Should students not be in a 12 grade system anymore? Are you advocating eliminating system wide STEM and such?

    While I do agree that a critical skill is learning to learn and unlearn and relearn. And while I do agree that many classes do seem to be missing the boat… What SHOULD the school day look like at each grade level?

    No, I don’t use the math i learned in high school every day. But how was I to know that wouldn’t be my interest if I wasn’t exposed to it? And without a doubt, there are times when it HAS come in handy.

    I guess my point is, while I myself am critical of the current system that is in place at many schools, I’m also at a loss for what ot replace it with. I can give examples for a specific class or subject or unit, but there’s a lot more to a 13 year education than just those specific projects.

    Curious to hear your response.

    And is it wrong that my gut instinct is to defend Duncan because he hails from Chicago? :)

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Steve,

      I’ve been putting this one off. You ask some REALLY hard questions — for which I do not claim to have THE answers, especially as you refer most directly to elementary grades. You know that this is not my area of experience.

      However, I suspect that third grade, fourth grade, and perhaps even to some extent, 11th grade Trig should look more like kindergarten — or at least what kindergarten use to look like. Students learn by working and play with things. I’m most drawn to Logo and Scratch as examples of what students at all ages might be doing for math, where they are learning to make things happen by working the math, not just assuring their understanding by doing the math.

      As for grades — gradeless schools is not one of the bandwagons I preach from — though it certainly has a lot of merit.

      I was a Boy Scout for many years. I earned my Eagle and a bunch of merit badges. One of the greatest benefits of Boy Scouts for me was that there were so many things that I learned twice, because I learned them in school and I also learned them to earn that Astronomy Merit Badge or First Aid Merit Badge.

      I’d not be a Boy Scout today for reasons you can imagine. But it occurred to me this morning, why not ask students to assure their learning by earning merit badges (or what ever) in specific areas. Some would be required (First Aid). Others would be based on their passions (Interstellar space travel). They could even make up their own.

      I don’t remember the details, but one of the most interesting thing about scouts was that for some badges, you had to stand before a court of honor, representatives from the community and defend your work and your learning. You presented the relics of your learning and answered questions. They determined if you had accomplished the expectations for the badge.

      I wonder how we might invite our communities into the assessment equation?

      • http://barbarabray.my-ecoach.com Barbara Bray

        Steve and Dave,

        I am enjoying this discussion alot. Schools have to change but you are so right – not just add on days doing the same old traditional methods. I was a girl scout leader, den mother, and taught PBL afterschool plus was a chapter leader for NASA – now that was fun. That’s where the real learning happened compared to the classes during school. One 6 week program I taught was advertising to 3rd to 8th grade students. No one was put in grade levels. They chose to be with others as an advertising agency who had to come up with a name, logo, business card, etc. I had to kick them out at 5. I even had some parents want to join in.

        Just imagine if you had ongoing programs that met the standards, was designed around students’ strengths, could be at any time, and involved authentic assessment. When learners (of any age) are passionate about what they are learning, they CAN learn.

        I wrote a challenge to education about setting up community learning centers open all day where learners choose projects based on their individual learning plan. Curious what you think: Read post here

      • llarry

        Well that’s a bit of a problem if you can’t describe what this looks like in the classroom. And that’s the problem with this rant meme generally speaking. Nothing Arne Duncan said precludes your vision. Nothing in No Child Left Behind restricts the type of learning you outline. But, if your vision of trigonometry was adopted today – how would we know? How would we know if the child was just merely playing or if they were actually learning trigonometry? There has to be some form of assessment – be it a “court of honor” or an exam. And shouldn’t that process be reliable so that student learning is measured the same regardless of the teacher administering it?

        You question the value of these basic skills and things like “statistics” but your blog still talks about nintendo spending more on R&D than the U.S. government (http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=342). In your vision of education, you’d still get an A. You researched something on the Internet. Reflected on what you learned. Authored a post with critical thinking in a blog. But your math was off by an astonishing factor.

        • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

          I know! I know! This is the problem. What does that classroom look like? What’s happening? What does that homework assignment look like, that engages the student to the point where he or she might actually be involved in six days of learning? The best example I can think of is The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, but there are others, I’m sure.

          And I agree that there is nothing in NCLB that prevents new learning experiences. But how it has been applied has prevented exactly the innovation that we so desperately need. You say,

          There has to be some form of assessment – be it a “court of honor” or an exam. And shouldn’t that process be reliable so that student learning is measured the same regardless of the teacher administering it?

          Here is where we disagree. I do not believe that the job of education is to make sure that the students know the same things and think the same ways. In fact, it is diversity in knowledge and skills that will better serve us in a time of rapid change. Of course there is much that is the same, but much more that all the student needs to do is to compellingly demonstrate that he or she knows how to use concepts (and tools) of trigonometry to solve appropriate problems.

          You ask,

          How would we know if the child was just merely playing or if they were actually learning trigonometry?

          I say that it doesn’t mater. I my classroom, it becomes difficult to separate play from learning — it’s hard to tell the difference. If a student comes to understand concept of Trig by playing with cogs and cams, then she’s going to be able to tell when here math “was off by an astonishing factor.”

          Respectfully, Thanks for continuing the conversation!

  • http://lparfitt.blogspot.com Lewis Parfitt

    I completely agree with you. It’s the same here in the UK. It is amazing how people in these positions are so far removed from the reality of what goes on – but even being removed, you would think that they could see the shortcomings of the system, that they are just trying to fix a system that doesn’t work at the core!

  • Heather B

    I disagree that adding more days per week and weeks per year would help student achievement. I feel that it would be more helpful if we looked at how time in school is being utilized. Not just “time in school” but “engaged, instructional time” in school.

    This reminds me of conversations I had with a HS math teacher. I was telling the teacher some technology tools that they could use in their classroom. The teacher’s response was “I’d love to integrate technology but I have all this content to COVER.” Cover is not the same as comprehension and learning. We would have students in classes longer but the theme of coverage would still be in place. Then what would that lead to? 365 days of school?

    We have to look at effective instructional strategies and provide teachers more time/opportunities for professional development and collaboration. I feel that would be more helpful to our students than more school hours. What about the students that need jobs to help support their families? We take that away and the choice between going to school and providing food on the table will lead to more dropouts. David, maybe I also need to take a step back and revisit when I have calmed down.

  • Brad

    David-
    Were you expecting more from Obama’s picks. So far he has nominate some real winners.

  • http://www.soulycatholichs.blogspot.com Charlie A. Roy

    Looks like Duncan is drinking from the fountain of KIPP. All this talk of being afraid of the Chinese and Indians who are gonna kick our global business “arse” is nauseating. We have to decide what the purpose of education is. Do we produce workers or cogs in the corporate wheel? Do we produce patriotic engaged citizens? or Do we produce young men and women who think critically, lead boldly, build creatively, and live humanely? Somehow if we focus on the third purpose we’ll probably end up relatively well-off. Maybe not well-off in terms of GDP and piles of plastic crap in our three stall garages we don’t really need, but well off in terms of a truly human sustainable society.

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Do we produce workers or cogs in the corporate wheel? Do we produce patriotic engaged citizens? or Do we produce young men and women who think critically, lead boldly, build creatively, and live humanely?

      Worth repeating again and again!

      Thanks, Charlie!

  • http://www.floydbobblog.wordpress.com floydbob

    OK, 1st it would be good to stop citing Gary Stager. He always seems a bit angry and pompous…unlike you who most often seem to have your feet on the ground, however it always makes for nice viewing when u guys go at it. I’m not ready to close the door on hope for Duncan…even though this was supposedly a blow out election, this is still a divided country when it comes to politics. Although it shouldn’t play into things we all know it does. Duncan is not even at 100 days in the job and already we are writing the epitaph… “Here Lies Arnie a Man With a Great Outside Jumper” My god, I know many “good” superintendents that have been at it for 2-3 years and still struggle to change the type of light bulbs and toilet tissue the district uses let alone the enormous paradigm shift(for some) we strive for. Lets be honest what can the guy really do anyways? He can talk and advise on funding issues…he can advise the president during their bball games. When it comes down to it your local member of congress that will approve and significant legislation that will tell us what we HAVE to do. I also think Charlie is worth repeating,
    “Do we produce young men and women who think critically, lead boldly, build creatively, and live humanely? Somehow if we focus on the third purpose we’ll probably end up relatively well-off.” I know thats what I strive for with my own kids and my education clients.

    • http://stager.org/blog Gary stager

      Wow! Angry AND pompous!

      Should I infer that you found my reporting unimpeachable?

      • http://www.floydbobblog.wordpress.com floydbob

        Not really Gary…just copying text from an old Substance article hardly constitutes reporting. Where did Paul Bremer play into this…? Not sure how we get from an insanely stupid war in Iraq, the placement of Bremer who was career Foregin Service and was probabely 10th on the list for the Iraq post and Arnie Duncan. As for the “Angry & Pompus” I know many that would take that as a compliment. Cheers

  • http://secondlanguagewriting.com/explorations/ Charles

    There are several different issues here: one of effective schooling, another of time, and a third of student interest. They shouldn’t be conflated, nor should one issue be used to cancel other issues.

    I don’t remember being particularly excited about school. At the same time, if I had not had a strong science background, I would not have done as well in college in my first teaching field of biology. Although passion can certainly lead to persistent engagement, which in turn leads to learning, there’s no question that to master a particular field, learning it first at a young age and then continuing on to studying it as one ages is the approach that is needed. There are no magic bullets for learning. Students who enter college without an appropriate background take longer to graduate and fail to graduate more often than those who are prepared academically. And we go further back in school, too. Matthew effects have been found in reading in which less prepared students just keep falling further behind (if no intervention is provided), and by 3rd grade, their difficulties in reading are quite evident.

    One problem, of course, is that youngsters generally don’t know what they will want to study and work at when they’re older. And so, present schooling is a shotgun approach to preparation that is rather ineffective and not very motivating. So, definitely, something about present schooling needs to change. That necessity, however, does not counter the importance of time in learning. At the same time, if schools don’t change, then it doesn’t make much sense to have students go through the motions simply to provide time that isn’t be used effectively.

    I could keep going back and forth between these different issues, but the point is, one issue does not negate another.

  • http://www.speedofcreativity.org Wesley Fryer

    Thanks for this important post, David.

    Sadly, this mantra of “keep the kids in school longer” has caught on with some of our leaders here in Oklahoma. I agree, it’s not the right approach.

    We’ve got to end this madness. President Obama has let down the nation and disappointed me greatly with his LACK of innovative thinking and leadership on education to date. Thankfully, it’s not too late for him to change course, and ours in schools. We need to utilize the social media tools at our fingertips and make our voices heard. After all, we DO live in a democratic republic, and as citizens we all not only vote but have the freedom to speak out to our elected representatives as well as appointed officials.

  • Glen Westbroek

    The blog and associated comments have caused me to reflect and consider my role as teacher. My current motto is “Advocating learning with Technology to support Inquiry.” I appreciate each reminder of the importance of 21st Century Skills. These are important to help students become better able to fill key jobs in the future. I am confident that there is not a job available today that requires the employee to complete and submit a bubble sheet of answers to his/her supervisor. In many cases, the supervisor wants the employee to look closely at any problems and do his/her best to come up with a possible solution. For example the cart retriever at WalMart. This individual does not just collect carts that have correctly been placed in the cart corral. He/she usually walks the parking lot looking for strays – carts that wandered from their home. These lonely carts are brought back to the WalMart mothership as well.

    I sincerely hope that every teacher will consider the importance of training future adults and leaders in his/her teaching. We are not training robots who must all complete the same task at the same time. Children are unique and our approach to them should indicate we understand and are willing to help them enjoy the learning process. I challenge my fellow teachers to reach higher and utilize technologies to help teach curriculum not to make more to teach. Our students can help us learn to use some Web 2.0 tools we may be unfamiliar with. Please do not return to the drill and kill practices of the past.

  • Davis

    Wow the article based on Let us just put them all in jail 24/7 is really inspiring.I like these kind of articles and is really informative.
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  • http://changingtheirminds.blogspot.com Jeff Richardson

    I believe these are things (the topics and issues discussed in these comments) that most everyone in education thinks about from time to time and many even wrestle with daily, but this train is rolling along so quickly that too few of us stop to actually see where we are headed. We are in it for the journey-most of us-but we do have to think about where we will end up. As most have posted, I do believe that we need a major direction change/paradigm shift but I don’t claim to know what that looks like or how it is too come about…but I feel it deep inside and know it’s gotta happen. I think a “top down” approach would work best, but my cynicism and despair keep me focused on the trenches, knowing that individuals with vision can make a difference for those in their sphere of influence i.e. creative, passionate teachers who know what they have to do in order to, as Charlie so beautifully stated, “produce young men and women who think critically, lead boldly, build creatively, and live humanely.” I, as well as most of you, don’t think adding days to an already over-extended school year would bring about positive results on a grand scale. I think there would be a great deal of backlash and such a decision would just just add more water to the already dying flames that many teachers are struggling to keep aglow.

    One of the strongest points made here is about your son and the effect that being bored had on his learning, or lack there of. I have no doubt that we have all seen this AND maybe even experienced it ourselves, probably over the last week! I just posted something similiar in my learning experiences with my own child, but it’s something I struggle with even more when it comes to my job as a technology coach for teachers. I can (and often do) teach something over and over again to the same person but until they connect personally with the content or realize the potential of that new tool, it doesn’t become transformative for them. It remains isolated and in most cases it just goes in and comes right back out, hence the reason they will come to the “beginners” session 3 times. I think it becomes important to them ONLY after they discover that they need change and growth in that area. And that’s where I believe we have to shift our focus, especially those of us down here at the bottom. Learning happens when a person is motivated to action, to change, to add something to their toolbox that will help them fulfill whatever it is they are seeking to accomplish, be it getting a scholarship to music school or building a profitable meth lab. I wouldn’t even know where to begin when it comes to mixing the chemicals needed to create “crystal meth,” but there are plenty of folks out there doing it and I’m willing to bet they didn’t learn it in their 11th grade chemistry class. So the true challenge, the driving force of every hard-working, innovative teacher out there then becomes facilitating those experiences for learners where they can truly connect with the things that stoke the fires inside themselves. And our Secretary of Education as well as every educational leader in the mix should be doing all they can to lead our system in a direction that encourages our teachers to create these experiences that are critical for our students today if we really do want them to compete with the others tomorrow.

  • Jane McConnell Greenspun

    I always say I only learned 3 things in school – how to read, write & think. I am not a fact recall person….it has never seemed relevant to my learning. I have always “filtered information” from a very young age…before I understood what I was doing. I think many students operate this way as well…..some more successfully than others.

    I think our students need to hear the message that they should actively pursue their interests and passions…..and formulate their own learning environments. In addition to hobbies & other interests, we should encourage them to have content for each subject area (age appropriate) so as to provide the balance they need to make good choices as they pursue their life’s work.

    What does this look like? At the highest end…..one of our soon to be high graduates who will be attending MIT…..http://wiki.theplaz.com/Main_Page

    We are loosing students who do not see the relevance of the education they are receiving. I think we should be teaching students how to read, write & think. I often ask teachers a simple question..how do you teach students how to think……I very rarely get an answer..it is not something we are used to thinking about! Students need practice in thinking, in many different ways, in many different subject areas.

    Students need to feel empowered – no matter what their learning style, no matter what their IQ! Hours spent learning in a classroom…..important…..hours spent learning independently…priceless!

  • http://gregorylouie.edublogs.org Gregory Louie

    Hi folks,

    Thank you for your passion. You understand what is necessary to reform education and why the traditional classroom setting fails the majority of our students. But more importantly, you are working hard to make things right. Bravo.

    I’m thinking how best to open Secretary Duncan’s or President Obama’s mind to other more effective policies.

    I understand and empathize with Secretary Duncan, whose outrageous statements seem to be driven by fear of our national “competitors.” He’s well meaning, just wrong on this point. I see this as a teachable moment… and ask myself, how can we get past this fear?

    I suggest we send President Obama’s family a little present …. The book, “A fine, fine school.” Here’s Amazon.com’s description of the book:

    “On weekends, redheaded Tillie climbs trees and teaches her little brother how to skip. During the week, of course, she goes to school. Her principal, Mr. Keene, is the kind of gung ho leader any school would be lucky to have. That is, until he goes a little over the top. “Oh!” he says. “Aren’t these fine children? Aren’t these fine teachers? Isn’t this a fine, fine school?” And then this exuberant administrator decides five days isn’t nearly enough for such a fine school. “From now on, let’s have school on Saturdays, too!” The teachers and students are not thrilled, but no one is willing to burst Mr. Keene’s bubble. Soon their well-meaning principal has done away with weekends, holidays, and summer vacation. It’s time for someone to take action… gently, though. Young Tillie has just the right amount of subtlety and tact–and motivation–for the job.

    Sharon Creech is the bestselling author of many fine, fine books for kids and teens, including the Newbery Medal-winning Walk Two Moons, and a Newbery Honor Book, The Wanderer. Wonderfully clever touches by the illustrator, award-winning New Yorker cartoonist and cover artist Harry Bliss, include signs in the cafeteria (“Why not study while you chew?”) and the priceless expressions on students’ and teachers’ faces as Principal Keene announces yet another plan to increase school daze. Wonderful! (Ages 6 to 10) –Emilie Coulter”

    It’s a very gentle and humorous way to make our point.

    If you know of anyone in the White House or anyone associated with Secretary Duncan, perhaps we can send this book for them to read to their children.

    I’m going work my contacts to see if I can get this book to our First Lady as a present for Malia & Sasha.

  • http://stager.tv/blog Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.

    David,

    I admire you for having the courage to speak out against education policies and practices designed to go in exactly the opposite direction of progress. For many months I have been sharing concerns about the appointment of Arne Duncan and how the Obama education policies are indistinguishable from those of Paige/Spelling/George W. Bush. What scares me most is the President Obama’s competence. He may actually be able realize the NCLB fantasies of merit pay, charters, union-busting, higher-meaner-tougher standards, more testing and teacher deskilling. This is indeed a threat to our democracy and our economy. Read: First, We Kill the Teacher Unions, published last August, to get a sense of how the "new Democrats" plan to break teacher solidarity, devalue creativity and bust the very unions who 1) elected them and 2) seem willing to participate in their own demise as cheerleaders for Duncan/Obama. Duncan and President Obama are effusive in their praise for D.C. Schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, the Molly Hatchet of public education. Read: Obama Practices Social Promotion.
    You make an excelent point when you point out the insanity of simplistic calls for a longer school day/year. What could be a better way to improve failing schools to do more of the same louder, longer an more often? Why doesn’t a reporter have the common sense or courage to ask Secretary Duncan such a simple question? You need not be Nostradamus to conclude that the school’s monopoly over children’s time will decrease, not increase.

    The Obama transition team used Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, hardly a radical, as a political pinata in order to appoint the President’s quite undistinguised basketball buddy, federal Secretary of Education. This not only contined the tradition of political cronyism and patronage responsible for Duncan’s meteoric rise, but it satisfied the billionaire mischief makers (Broad and Gates), Teach for America, KIPP and the Business Roundatble members who would never dream of sending children they love to the sorts of obedience schools for poor children they seek to impose in our great urban centers.
    During his time as Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan closed and reopened schools, created lots of charters and military academies and may have known that students were being abused.

    Duncan is the pet of of well-heeled ideologues convincing politicians to suspend democracy (and common sense) in order to turn the public schools into their private playthings. Read: School Wars: Politicians, billionaires and mavericks all want to fix public schools. They won’t. Parents will. The testing companies, textbook publishers, foundations, corporations and charlatans continue to win while children and teachers lose.

    The logic of these bipartisan pirates of public education is that the schools children of color and the poor attend should be run like businesses. After all, Eli Broad, the dominant player in American public education, was on the board of AIG for many years. You can not buy management expertise like that! (Then again, why would you?)

    Last weekend, a representative of a large urban standardized testing-crazed school district with an established tradition or test score rigging told me about their fantastic new acronym of lunacy in which teachers can earn a little mroe than a whole dollar per day if their students’ test scores rise sufficiently. Apparently, all we need is merit pay of a buck a day to get sinister teachers to stop supressing student test scores!

    Someone please ask Secretary Duncan if he approves of the Eli Broad owned-and-operated Philadelphia public schools requiring weekly standardized testing of high school students? If he agrees or equivocates, ask him what will be sacrified in the process? How high is he prepared for the dropout rate to go?

    Duncan’s ascendancy to Secretary of Education is emblemaic of two serious threats to our economy and democracy:

    1) Unqualified is the new qualified - Arne Duncan’s meteoric ascension to the senior public education position in the nation is a testament to being the beneficiary of cronyism and Chicago political machine patronage. Like NYC’s Joel Klein, D.C.’s Michelle Rhee and countless big city superintendents from Rochester to San Diego, Duncan possesses the sort of education qualifications preferred by Broad, Gates and Teach-for-America – none.

    2) Democracy is a big pain in the behind - This is the era of the imperial school district leader. Big cities such as New York, Washington D.C., Duncan’s Chicago and (nearly) Los Angeles have been able to bestow unchecked tyrannical powers on their schools chief by suspending democracy, weakening or eliminating elected school boards and dismissing the input of parents. This way every hair-brained corporatization scheme, endless standardized testing, union-busting, constant reorganization and top-down curricular mandates may be imposed without the consent of stakeholders. This results in an escalating chaos that challenges the viability of public education. Build a mote around the system and beat the peasants down for long enough and nobody will even question idiotic statements like Michelle Rhee’s desire to create life-long test-takers.

    According to [the messianic] Michelle Rhee, “Our children deserve to be armed with the academic knowledge and test-taking skills needed to perform well on standardized tests. Saturday Scholars will give District students confidence and instill lifelong testing competence.”

    The nation’s two major teacher unions are so infatuated with President Obama that they are willing to sacrifice their professional dignity, expertise and job security while contracts are being broken, merit pay schemes proliferate, privitization increases and up to 1,000 teachers are detained in rubber rooms for years without due process rights.
    Arne Duncan was so effective at leading the Chicago Public Schools, a job he was also unqualified for, that his "best friend" Barack Obama would not send either of his daughters to a single one of Duncan’s schools – long before he was elected President of the United States. As President, Obama wisely chose not to subject his daughters to the mean-spirited Dickensian test-prep sweatshops led by Michelle Rhee. If Arne Duncan and President Obama truly wish to improve public education, I offer this modest policy suggestion.

    Carefully study the educational experience afforded to Sasha and Malia Obama at the very fine Sidwell Friends School and work tirelessly to ensure that every child in America receives a similar education. That would truly revolutionize public education.

  • Kelley

    My thoughts on Secreatary Duncan,
    The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. The only thing that is worse, is to do MORE of the same thing and expect a different result!

    Here’s a thought…how about doing things differently to get a different result? Or perhaps even listening to the real people who work in the field of education? It it simply not logical to think we can train children for the work force by testing testing testing. How many jobs require their employees to take 2-3 test each week? It also makes no sense to assume children only learn in school. Did the education secreatary even consider the adition seat time would elminate sports, drama clubs, aand after school classes students take in things they are actuallky interested in?

    So sad to have yet another clueles Secretary of Education. President Obama could have/should have done better. He doesn’t need to hire everyone form Chicago.

    • George D. Appel, Ph. D

      Where and when did Duncan say that every child will be in a school building six days a week doing the same as everyone else the same way things are done now.

      It seems to me you have built a straw man and knocked him down. Please convince me otherwise.

  • http://erasertownusa.blogspot.com Maryann Molishus

    I have to say it again, but children have these great teachers called parents!!! We can’t take away their time with their kids because they have so much of their own to do, right? They need to teach how to set a table, ride a bike, clean a house, maintain personal hygiene, interact with other people, tie shoes (yes, there are elementary school children who do not have special needs who cannot tie shoes – and it isn’t velcro’s fault), play sports, RELAX, RELAX, RELAX, bake a cake, do home repairs, sew, answer the phone properly, clean out their school bags, mow the lawn, help the neighborhood, help a family member, iron, practice something that is difficult, extend the learning that takes place during the school day, care for a pet, drive a car, maintain a checkbook. They probably want to, for example, explore a park, climb a tree, read together, go to a museum, bird watch, learn how to use the Internet, RELAX, RELAX, RELAX, dig in the dirt, play checkers, take photographs. Can teachers help parents? Gladly. Can teachers replace parents? No!!

  • http://Education.Change.org Clay Burell

    As I said a few days ago, we should follow Duncan’s lead and “re-brand” by “re-naming” not just NCLB, but schools themselves. And the new name for schools is…..

    Obama is indeed disappointing in education.

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  • Cliff Baker

    David,

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this recent article from Edweek, but I think it helps put this issue into a broader perspective.

    http://www.edweek.org//ew/articles/2009/02/25/22levine_ep.h28.html?tkn=XVPFpqpAuSESmGn4EaiXn5dv0Kk2xe7McnTM

    I would be interested in your take on it.

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  • http://newmiddle-earth.blogspot.com/ Ken Allan

    Kia ora David

    Everyone, even Presidents, thinks they’re experts in education. I go along with you. Homework or no homework, it has to come from within – the learner.

    If the child is reluctant, let him reluct I say. If the child wants to learn, then bring on the learning. That’s it.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

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  • http://www.timetoshine.com.au/component/option,com_wordpress/Itemid,55 Tim Wicks

    I want my kids to be happy. I am talking about my children, not just my students. At this stage of my daughters education she is very ‘friend focused’, and I encourage her to make connections and be the best friend she can be. She enjoys math, writing and is developing a healthy love of reading. This sometimes happens despite her teacher and educational system she is in.

    I am distraught by her school’s insistence on cramming more and more into the curriculum, and I would not participate in a school week that was extended in any way.

    It’s a simple outlook to wish for happiness, and doesn’t address the need for fulfilling employer staffing needs. Quite frankly I don’t give a toss about our nations ability to keep up with others. From my experience in working as an educator and business owner, I know that happy people are resourceful, resilient, adaptable and optimistic; 4 traits I wish for my children, to take them into their adult lives.

  • http://techchicktips.net Anna Adam

    I agree with you 100%. I’m frightened about the direction our schools and the public education system seems to be headed. I’m concerned by the statements of our “leader” in education. What do we *do* about it? We’ve got to do *something*. I’m so discouraged. I feel defeated. I want to cling to the hope that it’s going to get better, but I know that’s not going to happen if something isn’t done about it. So what do we DO? I pray this isn’t read as a rhetorical question.

  • Chris White

    Terry – David- For example. I just left a school that had 18 days of the school year devoted to standardized testing and were in school 40+ weeks per year, avg ACT somewhere around 23, and considered one of the best districts in the state. My new school we are in session about 35 weeks, have time DURING school for clubs, so athletes are not excluded. During the free hours kids do what they want , where they want, most students have 2 free hours per day, No standardized tests, avg ACT 28. The bad part is the ACT might be outdated, but we are doing more with less. 6 days a week is not the answer. Yes, I work in an independent school and apparently throwing money at the problem is working, and kids do better with smaller class size and MORE free time to think and study.

    • George D. Appel

      Could six days a week lead, somehow, to smaller classes? It’s a thought.

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  • http://www.driftingfocus.com/blogs Kelsey

    As a teacher here in Korea, I have witnessed what having kids in school 6 days a week, 12+ hours a day (including cram school) will do to kids. They have no real interest in learning, no lives outside of school. They’re soulless drones. Sure, if you want workers, it’s fine, but if we want to continue the American tradition of invention, it’s a surefire way to kill it.

    Quantity =/= Quality

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  • Tim S.

    And we are going to afford this, how? C’mon Arnie! Actually, schools being opened from 7AM-7PM seven days a week may not be such a bad thing. HOWEVER, students would be allowed to attend no more than say 40 hours a week, and no more than 8 hours in one day (similar to child labor laws). Also, of those only 25 of those hours would be allowed for academics. This would work best at the high school level. Schools wouldn’t be simply brick-and-motor like they are today. Maybe students could meet a science hour/class requirement by meeting the teacher at a science center across town for an hour or two. Want to get an hour of PE out of the way? Well, meet the PE teacher on a Sunday morning for a bike ride on the park trail. Students could fit their schedule around their families schedule. Of course, this would cost a fortune and then some. However, Arnie seems to think money grows on trees. Guess he never went to an economics class!

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  • iryna

    I don’t think that you have gotten carried away with your comparison of what Duncan is suggesting with jail. I actually grew up in a country where I went to school six days a week. I had seven classes every day (not the same classes), and six or seven home works every day to complete either by the next day or the day after the next. All I was doing as a kid, it seems, was home work, pages upon pages of it, no computer, of course! There were no athletic activities, except for a PE class twice a week (that was the only class with no home work!). If you wanted to do sports, you had to belong to outside clubs in town. You are right; it did feel like jail, only I didn’t realize it at the time because I didn’t know any differently. I have two babies now, and I am already thinking about their education. Whatever it is, I don’t think that I would want them to “enslaved” by it like I was.

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  • Michael

    I agree completely with the article. Our students today do not have passion to learn because, teachers don’t have time to show their passion for their subjects taught, instead we teach our students how to bubble for tests. As if the test is the end all for what our students know. I have a son who is dyslexic and doesn’t test very well. When he graduates from college, he wants to teach history and coach. I have no doubt that he will be an outstanding teacher and coach because he is passionate about history and athletics. More importantly though, he is passionate about kids and doing everything he can to prepare them for the world. I have been teaching for 10 years now, and yes, there are teachers that are there for just a paycheck, but they are far and few between. Almost all of the teachers that I know are passionate about teaching students, but their hands are tied by politicians who’ve never been a teacher, looking at test scores and think they know what’s best. Why not let those who are in the classroom tell you what’s best, they are the ones that know the truth.

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  • Patrick Faverty

    This is not (no longer) rocket science – ENGAGE the learner and they will learn!

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  • http://tutorsforless.com Steve Lehman

    The whole school system is wrong. I remember back when I was taking an adminsistrators course a decade back. I remember a guest proff mentioned school should not assign students to grades. Instead they should be assigned levels. This day and age you can’t fail a student and have them repeat a grade unless the parents request it! This would mean you would be teaching student according to their reading writing and math levels. You may very well have a 12 year old in a leveled class that may have a mix of age levels in his class from 6 – 12 years old. This would elimanate special education programs but the student would not feel left out because they would realize that they are not alone in the class. You are with student in a classroom learning a subject with a variety of level and learning needs. The teacher would actually have an easier job because they would essentially have everyone in the classroom learning at the same level. Just imagine the student that is gifted. He also mentioned that after grade 8 you could see which student are going to be in the trades and which students are going to college. They why not open up trade schools in addition to high schools. These students would then graduate with a trade they can use in the workforce. Some of these tradespeople actually earn more than our college counterparts? Definitely something to consider in the future.

    Steve Lehman is has been an educator for 15 years an administrator for 10 and has been a director for Tutors For Less the last 7 years.

  • Tim Sullivan

    We definitely don’t need our students going to school for a longer period of time. As many of you have mentioned, it wouldn’t make sense when what we are doing isn’t working. Just by having the students in class for longer, isn’t going to increase learning. We have to completely overhaul the education system. This must start with our teacher prep programs and end with new curriculum that is designed with future in mind. Our schools are designed to fill factory jobs. The problem with this thinking is that our economy is no longer based upon manufacturing, or at least not the manufacturing of the 1970s. The main job of schools is to provide an educated workforce for our nation. Since our economy has changed, our education system must change as well.

    • Marites Siervo

      I completely agree that students staying in school for a long period of time is not the solution to increase their learning. Teachers must be updated through in-service training to access new research base instructional strategies that they can try and use in the classroom, or be given incentive to pursue higher learning. Parents’ involvement should also be encouraged in full force, so that there will be follow ups of what went on in school to home. Based on my years of teaching experience, during the report cards night, only the parents of high achieving students would show up. There are long lines of parents wanting to see and talk to the AP teacher down the hall, while I only got 7 who are the parents of students doing very well in class. Parents should instill in the mind of their children the value of education and show them the example of how they truly care by volunteering in school activities and school functions. I think the parents are the best teachers. Students will be more engaged in school, and goal oriented when parents are more involved in their children’s education. Staying longer in school is not the answer for students to be effective learners. “Good” and passionate teachers plus supportive parents equals motivated and goal oriented learners.

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  • Guest

    I completely agree that students staying in school for a long period of time is not the solution to increase their learning. Teachers must be updated through in-service training to access new research base instructional strategies that they can try and use in the classroom, or be given incentive to pursue higher learning. Parents’ involvement should also be encouraged in full force, so that there will be follow-ups of what went on in school to home. Based on my years of teaching experience, during the report cards night, only the parents of high achieving students would show up. There are long lines of parents wanting to see and talk to the AP teacher down the hall, while I only got 7 who are the parents of students doing very well in class. Parents should instill in the mind of their children the value of education and show them the example of how they truly care by
    volunteering in school activities and school functions. I think the parents are the best teachers. Students will be more engaged in school, and goal oriented when parents are more involved in their children’s education. Staying longer in school is not the answer for students to be effective learners. “Good” and passionate teachers plus supportive parents equals
    motivated and goal oriented learners.

  • Cordelia Polley

    I am and always have been a proponent of ending the cookie cutter educational theories and offer options to all students, especially those in high school. I work for an alternative middle/high school for grades 6-10. in the 10 years that I have worked in this environment, our biggest issue has been with lack of motivation and attendance. Our students are temporarily sent to us due to extremely poor academic and behavioral performances at their base schools, poor attendance, expulsions or they are mandated by the juvenile courts to attend due to repeated offenses in the community. Once they are enrolled, these students are placed in classrooms that do not exceed 15:1 ratio, mandatory lunch tutoring if their grade falls below a C average, blended learning opportunities, online credit recovery options as well as semesterized high school curriculum in order to gain needed credits because at least 98% of our HS students are a least 1-3 years behind their actual graduation date. Once enrolled, it is mandatory for the parents to be involved with their students education. Even with all of this in place, plus the roll out of the Common Core State standards and the Framework for Teachers, regular professional development opportunities in and outside of our building, some of the students are still not motivated in receiving a high school diploma. This type of mentality is evident even in our MS program.

    I agree with Steve Lehman that we need to measure our students by their academic levels and not by grade or standardized scores. Every quarter when grades are distributed, we loose a piece of our struggling students. Students who would more then likely progress knowing that they are being measured by their skills and not by how their skills do not measure to others. Although parent involvement is great, it does not guarantee the success of a student who is not made for a traditional education setting. We need to motivate our students by obtaining their attention in learning. Be it, in a trade or academic diplomas, we have to arm our future generation with the tools needed to be successful adults.


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