Introduction 1. How many of you had a senior class with a 100% graduation rate? 90%? 80%? 70%? Less than 70%? I graduated in 1985, tenth in my class. There were 500 kids in my senior class, and all but three of us graduated. That’s over a 99% graduation rate. Yet, we had been told just two years prior that our schools were not doing their jobs, and that we would be the first generation that would not exceed our parents’ generation educationally. What does that say about your generation? Is it your fault? Or your teachers or parents? Is it because of or in spite of education reform? 2. Today I will speak to you about education reform.
First, I will discuss a bit of the history of reform, especially in the latter half of the 20th century. Next, I will speak about how the reform of today is actually hurting both students and teachers, and creating problems for future generations. Finally, I will talk about some possible solutions to give teachers more autonomy in teaching and children more joy and interest in learning. 3. I am qualified to speak about this topic because of my own experiences with education reform, the past ten years of extensive research I have done on this subject, and the papers I have written about it.
(Transition: Let me begin by giving you a brief history of education reform. ) Body 1. Education reform is nothing new. A look at the history of public schools in the United States shows accountability standards have been around for nearly 200 years. Who is accountable to whom and for what have changed, but the basic premise has been in place a long time. In 1897, Dr. Joseph Mayer Rice began the push for standardized achievement tests to evaluate curriculum and instruction. While unsuccessful at first, by World War I school boards across the nation were using achievement tests in elementary and secondary schools.
Accountability was placed on the administrators, superintendents, and the school boards. Until just after the Second World War, schools in modern buildings with sufficient rooms, desks, and textbooks for students, qualified teachers, and indoor plumbing were viewed as good schools. A. With the launch of Sputnik by the Soviets, education standards in America began to change. The upheaval of the 1950s and 1960s gave way to higher standards and the onus of accountability was beginning to shift to teachers. B.
In The Schools our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards”, published in 1999, Alfie Kohn writes that by the end of the 1970s, two thirds of the states had mandated that high school students had to pass minimum competency tests to graduate. C. The 1983 report A Nation at Risk states “…the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.
“ Reforms continued through the 1980s and 1990s, but it wasn’t until the much maligned No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2002 that education reform was once again at the forefront of our attention. (Transition: That brings me to my second point, which deals with the problems with education reform, most especially NCLB) 1. Teachers are being held to tougher and higher standards than ever before, and they are feeling the pressure. Many excellent teachers have either gone to teach at private schools or quit teaching altogether to avoid the demands made on them.
Others have done their best to teach students in what has become a decidedly unfriendly environment. Decisions made by people who either have no experience in teaching children, or are so far removed from the public school setting are causing a rift in our educational process and a loss of respect for teachers. Teachers are now held accountable for the test scores and graduation rates of their students. Teachers are an easy target, and teacher bashing is all too common among policy makers. Some parents are also quick to blame the teacher instead of themselves or their child for poor test grades.
It is little wonder that some teachers are seeking different jobs. The pressure of being a teacher is tremendous. To be held responsible for that over which they have little or no control is no way to keep current or attract new teachers to the profession. A. In their 2002 book High Stakes: Children, Testing, and Failure in American Schools, Dale and Bonnie Johnson make comparisons between jobs in education and other service-oriented jobs, saying “ Dentists are not held accountable for patients who develop cavities. We do not blame social workers for clients that cannot get jobs.
Lawyers are not accountable for clients who end up in prison. ” B. A lack of autonomy and decision-making power over structures and procedures that affect their day-to-day work is one of the working conditions that teachers find intolerable. Elaine Garan, in her book In Defense of Our Children: When Politics, Profit, and Education Collide, published in 2004, says that “Teachers’ control over matters closest to them, such as pedagogy and curriculum content, has diminished because poor test scores lead to increased pressure to teach the standards and a tighter monitoring of teachers’ work.
” C. It is not only the teachers who are affected by these standards. Children are also losers in this era of high stakes testing. An article titled High Stakes Testing Has a Negative Impact on Learning by David Berliner and Sharon Nichols in the 2008 book Has No Child Left Behind Been Good for Education? , states “By restricting the education of young people and substituting for it training to perform well on high stakes examinations, we are turning America into a nation of test-takers, abandoning our heritage as a nation of thinkers, dreamers, and doers. ”
(Transition: Now that I’ve spoken about the problems with current education reforms, I’d like to talk about my third point: possible solutions that might allow teachers to be more autonomous and students to learn effectively. ) 1. In my research, I’ve come across a few interesting ideas for education reform. Two ideas that have some merit are learning community schools and child-centered schools. A.
Charles Myers and Douglas Simpson write about learning community schools in their 1998 book Re-Creating Schools: Places Where Everyone Learns and Likes It. They say “When schools are thought of as learning communities, they are cultures rather than physical locations. As cultures, they have a moral purpose, a mission, and a shared set of core values. Their moral purpose is to educate students and their central goal is all students learning at the highest possible levels.
” Obviously, these are common missions and goals of all schools, but the difference in learning community cultures, the mission and goal are used more consistently to create better learning for children and teachers alike. B. In his 1993 book, What are we trying to teach them anyway? A Father’s Focus on School Reform, Ronald Pierce advocates for child-centered schools. He writes, “Child-centered educators believe that each child needs to develop their own commitment to and style of learning, and that can only occur in an environment where the child largely directs his own learning.
” In this setting, acquiring knowledge is still important, but not as much as the overall psychological and emotional development of the child. Conclusion 1. In conclusion, today I have spoken to you about the history of education reform, the problems with the current ideas, and some solutions that might make things better for teachers and students. 2. A teacher making $25,000 per year, buying their own classroom supplies, paying bills and possibly supporting a family is under a lot of strain.
Add to that the stringent guidelines and the accountability standards of education today and it becomes obvious why so many young people are abandoning the profession or not entering it at all. Veteran teachers with a few years’ experience may make a bit more, but the same stresses are there. The mass firings of teachers, guidance counselors, principals and assistant principals in Rhode Island in February 2010 is an extreme example of the effects of high stakes education reforms. How are teachers supposed to do their jobs when the threat of being fired looms over their heads?
We cannot expect our teachers to continue to work in conditions such as these, and we cannot expect our children to become automatons filled with facts that only glean the surface of what there is to learn. Bibliography Fisanick, Christina. Ed. Has No Child Left Behind Been Good for Education? Greenhaven Press. 2008. Print Garan, Elaine M. In Defense of Our Children: When Politics, Profit, and Education Collide. Heinemann, 2004. Print Johnson, Dale D and Bonnie. High Stakes: Children, Testing, and Failure in American Schools.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2002. Print Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999 Print Myers, Charles and Simpson, Douglas. Re-Creating Schools: Places Where Everyone Learns and Likes it. Corwin Press, Inc. 1998 National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. April 1993. Pierce, Ronald K. What are we trying to teach them anyway? A Father’s Focus on School Reform. ICS Press. 1993.
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