Sunday, June 10, 2012

My Education Statement of Belief

In 1983 when the National Commission on Excellence in Education released A Nation at Risk, I was thirteen years old and preparing to enter high school.  That report established my generation as the first to suffer failing schools.  It was a call for action and change, and it forewarned of a coming national crisis.  Yet, thirty years later, even as the nation has survived several cycles of boom and bust, the public education system remains largely intact. Even as the world has been reinvented through radical growth in information technology, public education looks much as it has since its inception.  However, change is incremental, and bringing innovation and progress to public education requires informed, passionate, and prudent leadership, as well as a degree of patience and commitment.

Certainly, the last thirty years have seen growth and development in education policy, especially with the rise of charter schools and various experiments in school choice.  Yet, despite numerous reform movements, not the least of which is the No Child Left Behind Act, the system remains virtually unchanged.  At times, that sort of intransigence can be disheartening to reformers.  However, it shouldn’t be.  There is much to praise about American education, and there is also great potential for change.  Margaret Mead said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world. Indeed, it has never been done otherwise.”  As an educator and leader in my community, I seek to be one of those committed citizens.

The current K-16 model of a one-size-fits-all education system is both outdated and inefficient for a nation as productive and progressive as the United States.  The system is not at all representative of American society, a culture built on diversity, innovation, and progress.  Change will come from the foundation of the American Dream – the notion of opportunity.  The greatest strength of American society and American education is the notion of “access granted.”  In Colorado, that idea is enshrined in the state constitution, which calls for a “thorough and uniform education system.”  At the most basic level that means equal opportunity for all students to access as much education as they require and desire.  As an educational leader, I seek to promote the strengths of American education while modifying its weak points, and my ultimate goal is summed up in the words of Washington Post education writer Jay Matthews who believes “The best education for the best is the best education for all.”

Having taught in Taiwan and in the United States, in both public and private schools, in the city of Chicago as well as several suburbs, my educational experience is diverse and informed.  Ultimately, as an educational leader, I seek to synthesize the best components of all systems into an exemplary system in the United States.  In the area of educational leadership, I have established a strong voice through a career dedicated to professional growth.  In twenty years of teaching classes ranging for ELA to developmental English to college prep and AP English, I have seen it all.  However, beyond the classroom, education policy has been a hobby of mine for years, and I consider myself a bit of a policy geek.  My desire to become an educational leader and reformer came during a staff development class on literacy when I discovered Chris Tovani’s book I Read It But I Don’t Get It.  That exposure kicked off a reading revolution in my classroom, and by the following year, my principal had purchased Tovani’s book for the entire department.  It was about this time that I began contributing to the world of educational commentary.  Following the publication of my first op-ed commentary on education – a piece for the Denver Post in which I challenged Sean Hannity’s assertion that the public education system was in a state of “ruin” – I discovered the world of education blogging, and truly began to develop a mindset for education reform and leadership.

As a reformer in education I firmly believe in “whatever works.”  For example, in terms of charter schools, I’d consider the plan in Mark Miller's book The 2% Solution, which should appeal to both liberals and conservatives, because while it is focused on achievement, it addresses the concerns of unions, which are made up of many passionate and committed teachers.  I’m also intrigued by reforms in the Adams 50 district, which challenge the tradition of “seat time” and “grade level.” Any program that produces results should be supported and replicated.  Additionally, I would like for Colorado to take a sincere look at the reforms in New Hampshire, which is moving toward a high school graduation at sixteen for students entering associate degree programs and trade schools. Students who stay in school for years 11 and 12 will take a rigorous AP/IB college prep curriculum that seriously prepares them for the work of a four-year college. This would radically cut down on the number of students requiring remedial courses in college or the half who quit without earning a degree.  The reforms are adapted from the “Tough Choices, Tough Times” report released by a coalition of education leaders and business professionals, and it draws on the Asian and European models that are so often cited by critics of the current system.  

Ultimately, America’s system of education has a strong tradition and foundation that can be developed and return the United States to the status of having the premier education system in the world.  The most important component of change, however, is open and honest dialogue that is grounded in the realities of the problems.  As long as Americans are committed to education, reformers can build on the strengths of innovation that are inherent in the character of the American people.


Michael Homan said...

In my opinion, and mine only, the reasons for why the educational system does not seem to progress... it's not supose to. It is not that we (our educational system)can not do it, the elist do not want it to come about. This is not a conspiracy theory, and only takes some logic and commonsense to see and understand when it comes to economics and society. I am not a teacher, but a thinker. It appears to me that children need to be taught more about creating things, thinking outside the box, and going past the limits we have been placed within over the past... fifty, one-hundred years. For the most part, children were taught to be obedient, staying seated for long times during the day, listening, and being being a memorizer of the content they read for later test, and getting a good score. But all of that is related to the job market... reputition at a job, and not free thinking. And that does not mean thinking anything other than what is in the box, so to speak just to say so, but moving toward logic and commonsense ideas. As I have gotten older, I notice how much we miss in life, from the small things to the larger. We read one book, hear one news report or hear from one medical report and we think we have all of the information concerning that subject. But in reality, we have a few bits of truth, some opinion or speculation, and then a few other things for good measure. For instance, the ongoing grab for humanities beginning's. Science versus religion. Both make good points, and both have missing components. Instead of being at odds with each other, why not find useful, logical simularities, and work together? But neither can do that. Adults that want to hold on to their power over society, money and position. Many of our problems today all stem from the same roots, but others use misdirection to divide us, as they have been for years, while they use the masses as they please. Everyone is to busy to see into these things. And when they do find them, they are made a laughing stock by the media and those behind keeping it going.

mmazenko said...

Thanks for commenting, Mike. I don't think that the ed system is "not supposed to" progress. It's just a reality of reaching maximum output. And perhaps topping out at 30% bachelor degrees is a good spot. We certainly don't need more. But we do need more skilled labor.

Michael Homan said...

I understand what your saying, but, let's look at everyone getting college degrees for, not labor jobs but, professional positions as you stated. There are few who want to be a factory worker. It is not very glamorous. I know first hand... I felt degraded working in a factory. While I did not have any college, I knew I could be more creative, and productive in better ways than being a go-for, and a paid slave with little to no benefits. If you have ever worked for a business, under a boss in a factory, you know how it is. And while some people can simply turn zombie and put up with it, some of us have a harder time with it. While many would say, as for individuals like myself that I was simply of a rebelious nature, or possibly not well trained for authority figures... it all depends on perspective. When I was in school we heard little about college. Today, that is all you hear, yet the price continues to triple. That does not look promising to younger individuals thinking about going to college. It looks like to me, with the higher prices, that are outdoing all other professions, as a way to deterent new enrollments. If that is not it, then an agenda to make it appear to be out of control will give some politian the right to claim it a right to all, and possible change the system. But I think that is highly unlikely. And as far as topping out at 30% bachelor degrees... we do not need people with a degree per se, but with skills to go beyond that. I see lots of so-called professionals like doctor's, yet it seems that all they do is promote the pharmaceutical companies drugs... which is also a contridiction to what we tell teens. Everyone is pill popping these days, and where are the cures? For all of our technology, where is the devices that actually save lives? Why do global climate change scientist mislead the public about natural occuring weather change patterns that, they, the scientist themselves have told us for years of the two or three ice ages and warming periods? Where are the smart people? They are in things that they make a living off the not-so-smart people. Buying solar panels, electric cars, and going green is great - we should have done it long ago! But making the case it's the peoples fault, the consumer, and turning it around on them, when they only bought what was available, not making the products... is just wrong! So I would like to see the educational system stop dumbing down people. I mean that bt stating, learning books helps in the area of the studies, but it does not promote commonsense nor basic logical thinking. Take a college student majoring in medicine. Just because they have studied books in the medical field, that does not mean they are smart in other areas. If a receptacle burned out in their house, they would not even try to understand how it works, nor how to replace it, they would simply pay an electrician. That is not an individual who carsd about learning, but learning only a trade to make money. There is a difference, and not many people go that far because they are not taught that way, or to have curiousity past a certain level. Life is an ongoing thing. Sorry to have ramble!

mmazenko said...

Well, this is a digression, but why do you assume that a climate scientist is not one of the "smart people," and is instead deceiving people? From what point of expertise does your criticism originate? I fear that the anti-intellectual, anti-expert, anti-science p.o.v. that is so prevalent today is a huge problem.

And while I agree that people should be well-rounded, it is specialization that has always led to progress. Certainly, it would be nice if a doctor could change the O-ring in his toilet, and the plumber could converse intelligently about science, medicine, and philosophy. But it's certainly not necessary, and can even be a hinderance.

Jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none is not a great educational model.