Monday, August 2, 2010

Random Twitter Inspired Rant

Ed reform isn't going to happen from abandoning grades or eliminating standardized testing. It isn't going to happen through a massive exodus to charters or blaming teachers and teacher's unions for every problem. Neither is blowing up the system or running away from accountability. And what will definitely not reform, rather transform, public education is the parade of non-educators selling quick, unproven fixes.

If we are serious about providing a quality education to every student, we first have to define what that quality education consists of. We have to define the mission and vision of public education. Just saying we want students to know technology or become authentic persons or score a certain of proficiency on a standardized test isn't gonna cut it. It is too broad and doesn't layout a plan for the purpose of K-12 education.

We also need pragmatic leaders, workers, more doers. There are far too many crunchy granola folks or business model, politically motivated outsiders in the game. In fact, if you haven't worked with young people, either in an after-school program, a nonprofit organization, the criminal justice system, or in K-12 education, you need to sit down and shut up. You are causing more rancor than solutions. And if you are an organization who believes that quality teachers is at the heart of miraculously improving public education, like Teach for America, then you need to be in another line or work, because of NO teacher can overcome poverty, abuse, apathy, and indifference without the resources and support from the government, the state, the district, the school, and the community. This ain't an either or thing. This is an all-hands on deck thing.

Further, we need more males and teachers of color in the classroom. Honestly, in urban areas, there are too many non-people of color in the classroom. I know that is not politically correct to say, but those students need to see faces they recognize and faces that can give them the truth in a way that is both palatable and meaningful. Not only have I seen it, I have lived it. Teachers of color are able to be mentors in ways non-teachers of color can't. For, when students see them, they see someone whose had their experiences and know the world they live in. And that makes a difference when trying to get a kid in the projects to believe in the possibilities.

I will close this rant by saying enough is enough. Let's stop fighting and talking over each other and get to the business of transforming public education. If we can't agree on how, can we at least agree to stop digging the hole any deeper? There are generations of individuals and families at stake.


  1. Will,
    I think you make some critical points here. We DO need more teachers of color, teachers kids can relate to and see as models and those they can look up to in the classroom. We also need to understand that even if we are not a member of a certain ethnicity and culture, we can listen to and learn from each student as an individual! We need more passionate teachers willing to stop and listen to kids and not make assumptions about them.
    I agree that we need to stop arguing as well. Reform, transform..whatever you call it, we need change and we need it now! We need less big business and more heart-driven passionate educators to lead the way.
    So much more I can say, Will, so perhaps I will also write a post about this. Thanks for always making me think and learn with you!

  2. Well said my friend!

    The business of transforming education is in the doing not the saying. "All hands on deck" requires a new mindset not just a new skill set. "Doing" more of the same, creating more checklists, mandating more skills will not cut it.

    I would only add this. Truth comes from knowing, doing, AND being. Standing in front of students, colleagues, the community and demonstrating the kinds of teaching and learning that emulates what is possible.

    "BE-ing" the change is not just a quote that sounds nice, it is something we need to commit to as individuals and advocates for the system.

    If we are asking students TO BE- creative, TO BE critical thinkers, TO BE open-minded, TO-BE contributors in a global community, TO-BE empathetic, open-minded, and innovative...don't we owe it to them TO BE the model?

  3. Love this article - too much talk and not enough thinking BEFORE action - you have not worked with kids, then sit down and be quiet (awesome!) I really appreciate your fresh and no-kidding attitude toward education. I wish more people approached this serious and extremely important issue with more resolve and dedication.

  4. A very honest post, Will. There is definitely a need for change. No, I don't think that a total rebuild is necessary either. No, I don't think that changing "grades" or doing away with standardized testing are the only answers. Transformation will come in all different sorts of ways. The arguing has to stop, but he debate has to continue. The difference is that arguing is done to prove one party wrong (often times) and a healthy debate allows both side to consider as many points of view while coming to a, hopefully, common ideal, or in this case, a common remedy for what is ailing public education. I agree that we need to have a more diverse pool of motivated and effective educators in our schools. Having someone to relate to is vital.

    On that same note, I work in an extremely poor school, 93% free and reduced lunched, and I feel as a "white" teacher I have been able to relate very well with many of my students. We have a high, nearly 60%, Hispanic population. Now I don't live their lives, but I did get to spent 2 years of my life living in south central Mexico serving the people. No, I never lived THEIR life, but I did live it with them. My experiences have provided me with the empathy to understand their situations and help them achieve excellence despite any issues outside of the classroom that could possibly hold them back.

    So yes, we do need more motivated and qualified teachers of color in the classroom, but we also can't discredit the efforts of those already fighting the daily battles in our inner city and urban schools.

    Thanks for your post. Your passion is contagious. we need change now. It will take some time, but it needs to start within each of us and our classrooms if the change is to last.

  5. Joan, I have never discounted the support and investment from White teachers. In caring about people, especially children, race shouldn't be an issue at all. However, the students from urban communities already face a dearth of mentors and possibilities. And having teachers of color can be a great motivator.

  6. Angela,

    Being is the key. Education has to have some meaningful, personal connection to one's soul. It has to speak to the individuals core sense of who they are. That is when the individual is able to begin to fulfill their greatness.

  7. Macdonald,

    I feel what you are saying, and I meant no disrespect to what you do and your relationship with your students. The point was that too many young people don't see teachers who look like them, and that isn't good for the students, the community, or the profession.

    After reading your post and thinking about our conversation on Twitter, I counted the number of teachers of color I had throughout my K-12 education. When I was done counting, my final number was 11. My wife never had a teacher of color until she got into college. The same can never be said about White students. They never grow up sparsely seeing teachers who look like them.

    The issue isn't as much about race as it is about mentoring and identifying with the teacher. I want to stress that my most influential teachers have been White. So, my point wasn't about denying the contributions or effectiveness of non-teachers of color with students of color.

  8. Will,

    It's amazing to me how easily the mention of race turns the conversation into one about race. I am guilty of wanting to talk about the fact that the color of one's skin does not automatically make them a good role model, but I will focus on the fact that YES, I am tired of 'bipartisanship' in education.

    I think one of the problems that we run into is that many politicians would say that they volunteer in their child's school or chaperone school trips, so they ARE engaged in what goes on in schools. In addition, many programs like TFA and City Year graduate future politicians and policy makers who want 'the experience' to better guide their practice in the future.

    That's not a bad thing, but it is important that all parties come together and really listen. As you state 'all hands on deck.' Thanks for your passion. I hope it's contagious!

  9. MB,

    I am with you on the fact that race or gender doesn't automatically make someone a good mentor. I know there are some terrible teachers of color out there. But those students have to start seeing successful people who like them who don't act, sing, rap, or play a sport.

    As for the politicians, most of them have no clue about what makes a learning program valuable. They're too caught up in their parties platform to understand the work that must be done. And if I hear one more Republican talk about vouchers, I am going cuss (not curse) out loud. In the grand scheme of things, a voucher ain't nothing but a coupon. They don't cover full tuition - just what the government ordinarily would've have paid for the child. So, who picks up the difference?

  10. Will, one of the best posts I have ever read.

    I am tired of hearing theories from people who are not even educators, going on and on about education. Well, set foot in a classroom, live with the kids every day, see what other needs they have in their lives, and then come and talk to us.

    I have heard lots of talk about removing grades. Even removing rewards. Removing motivation in other words. A reward is not only a golden star, or a sticker, or a chocolate bar; it can be a "Well done!", "I am so proud of you, keep going!"If we take that away from kids too, then where is their motivation? Where is that extra little psyching up to do better? Sometimes it has nothing to do wth actual schoolwork. Sometimes you might have a child from a troubled family. One that does not have dinner on the table every night.One might be taking three buses to come to school from where he lives. But still tries. I'm gonna give that student extra praise and extra bravos and kudos for continuing to work hard despite what he or she is experiencing at home.

    The question is not the grades as you say, not the testing, is what can really be done for the kids. Because it is for the kids.

    Excellent post, Will, great thoughts from a great educator.We need people like you in education. I am forwarding this to every teacher I know.

    Many thanks,