Rethinking Learning
conversations about the future of teaching and learning
Barbara Bray
be creative, innovate, take risks, unlearn to learn

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My Challenge to Obama's Challenge to Schools
By Barbara Bray    March 2, 2010 -- 07:33 AM

President Obama is proposing $900 million to states and school districts that agree to drastically change or even close the worst performing schools. The problem is once again focused on schools and teachers. Obama said, "There's got to be a sense of accountability."

We have had, for most of these low performing schools, a big sense of accountability for the last nine or so years. I had a lot of hope for Obama and making change for our country, but this hit a nerve for me. This is one more stab at public schools with the students that have no other means to get the education they need to be successful. Blame the school and the teachers! Using this same type of punishing method based on data will not work! I do believe data is necessary to identify the real issues.

I challenge our administration and state education departments to look deeper. This is a social issue, a family issue, a community issue. I live in Oakland, California where the crime rate reflects the drop out rate. Over ten years ago, I was a grant groomer for the Digital High School program and assigned to several low performing high schools in Oakland.

My job was to provide feedback on the goals, objectives, benchmarks, and how they reflect the real needs of the school. At one high school, I reviewed all the school data and the numbers were there but not in the grant. There were 800 freshman and 160 seniors. I asked the administrators what happened to all the kids and they actually told me not to say anything about that. It was something they did not want anyone especially the school community to know about. I was appalled. The problem was the dropout rate and that was ten years ago.

These children were being thrown away. The dropout rate IS growing and starting earlier affecting mostly blacks and Latino children. We need real numbers now. What happens to these children if they drop out at 8th or 9th grade? What kind of life will they have?

Now here's where I disagree with the administration: we have to start earlier - much earlier. By the time these kids get to high school, they already feel like there is no hope for themselves. Look at the economy! Look at where they come from. Their parents are hurting. Many have no jobs or work multiple jobs just to try to make ends meet. The cities are in trouble. Social services are being cut left and right. The disparity between haves and have-nots is growing bigger and bigger.

Okay - here's my challenge:
  1. Take a small school community: one elementary school that feeds into one middle school that feeds into one high school and a local community college and university.
  2. Form a task force involving stakeholders from all levels including parents, preschool, family services, businesses in the area, student representatives, administrators, teacher leaders, social and health services, and even ex-gang members.
  3. Identify the real problems that the community is facing and how they impact the schools. This is where we need good facilitators that get to the real issues happening in that community.
  4. Form subcommittees around each problem identified that will design goals and objectives to be met with a realistic timeline.
I understand that one school the continues to fail our kids could have problems including teachers that cannot meet their students' needs. But many of these schools cannot do it alone without addressing the issues that are happening much deeper.

This is a social issue not a one school issue. Close a school and demoralize the community. I've had it with blaming teachers and not being realistic on what the problems are for the communities at risk. Put yourself in one of these communities and look around at what's happening there.

I challenge the Obama administration to develop a program that takes on a school community instead of punishing a school that may never be able to fix the real problems.



Categories: "Obama" "Funding" "Grants" "Problems" "Schools" "Teachers"



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Comments:
By Natalie      March 4, 2010 -- 01:50 PM
Greetings, Barbara.

Education is my passion, but it infuriates me when I hear my classmates are thrilled because they finally received a whiteboard. One teacher was tickled, because it replaced a piece of paneling painted in chalkboard paint. This would not be tolerated in the business world. So, Obama is once again, spending our (my) money on WHAT? How about focusing on preventative measures: the parents. This is only a teacher problem when we are the sole education providers as opposed to those students from less socio economic challenged areas. Don Tapscott in Grown Up Net declares this is the smartest generation ever, to which I do not argue; however, for those in this generation and upcoming generation without technology, how are we to provide students with the skills necessary to be productive in this society. Where is the technology in the schools?

I recently discovered from my colleagues that there are government jobs in Illinois for a “State Test Police” if you will, to sit in a classroom during the state tests and monitor the classroom. They slip in during the testing (not introducing themselves), sit in the classroom, and children have no clue what is going on,,,as they are under stress taking a test! I want to know how much are we paying these people? I can think of much better ways for educational spending! And, finally, I heard of school districts prohibiting reading chapter books until after ISAT (Illinois Standard Achievement Tests)-that wouldn’t be until March! Until then it is skill and drill-teaching toward a test. A stronger reign on government will also inevitably choke the fundamentals of a solid education from our students. Upon graduation, they will be able to take a test, but having skills applicable to the 21st century, I think not.

Sincerely,
Natalie in Illinois


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