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The current K-16 model of a one-size-fits-all education system is both outdated and inefficient for a nation as productive and progressive as the United States.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.