“The best schools keep their eye on the prize—the kids—not just whether they are pleasing higher civil authorities. They see the job of adults as one of nurturing intelligence and empathy, openness to the world, while cherishing their children’s uniqueness. They stay close to families, and see teachers and parents as allies not adversaries.” ~Deborah Meier
Here is what the research tells us: We don’t need more money for state testing and national standards, what is needed is greater investment in successful teaching approaches, support services and innovative programs, so that high quality learning opportunities can be provided to all children.
Provide money for skilled teachers, support staff, dental and medical care, books, school trips, community building, lunch programs, arts programs, sports programs and whole school reform- not for Pearson, PARCC, private charter school investors and Common Core.
Decades of research has shown that solutions to education problems are not unknown or complicated, they just require a shift of priorities, and a willingness to put money into innovations that have proven themselves to be effective. They require a paradigm shift, providing financial support for educational approaches that will nurture the healthy growth, creativity and learning of children in a community.
The root cause of educational failure in America (and around the world) is wealth inequality and poverty, a resource and opportunity gap in the lives of children. This is what all the research points to, such as this recent analysis (sponsored by Pearson Education) and described on NPR: “Socioeconomic status has an effect size of 0.57, meaning that a student growing up in poverty may be expected to perform roughly a year and a half behind an otherwise similar student growing up more wealthy.”
While it may take decades to end poverty, the wisest approach would be to begin providing innovative high quality educational experiences and opportunities for every child, immediately. That’s what Singapore and Finland do. Children do better in school when they feel safe, loved, happy and supported by the people in their lives.
Provide the nation’s poorest communities with the same quality of education that the children of the wealthy receive and America’s test scores would rocket upwards, our economy would be strengthened. It’s an investment that the wisest nations have made, because by investing in a nation’s children we are investing in the future.
The problem with the education reforms dominating now (which emphasize student testing, teacher assessments and uniform national standards) is there is no research evidence that such a top-down approach can be effective. People in the business world and government might believe this will work, but experienced educators (and researchers in the field) know that such an approach is doomed to fail.
We know because we’re professionals who have been working directly with students, experimenting with various teaching approaches and reforms for decades. We know that fixed standards and test score benchmarks based on age/grade unfairly punish and psychologically harm children who’s learning has fallen behind because of socioeconomic, developmental, home life or poverty factors. They label teachers who work with children in poverty as “ineffective,” set the rich kids up for success and the poor kids for failure..
Children don’t magically do better when we test them more or raise the bar higher, they do better when adults back up higher expectations by creating supportive and enriched learning environments, that nurture and nourish children as whole human beings, with social, emotional and creative needs, not just as data points and test scores.
As Ken Robinson, author of Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education described recently on CBS News:
“What governments have tended to do is go into “command-control” mode, to tell people… they think the answer is to standardize everything. Incidentally, its a position that has led to a huge industry. The testing industry in this country is bigger than Hollywood. It’s bigger than the NFL. It has massive commercial interests.
A lot of the schools [that are effective] (such as Boston Arts Academy) follow the same sorts of principles. They have a broad curriculum, because children have very different talents. It’s important they should do math, language and so on, but music and theatre and dance are just as important for talents and for engaging kids. It’s not just about that. It’s about a creative approach to science. So its a broad curriculum and they have flexibility in the way they teach individuals.”
This isn’t rocket science, its just common sense. We have a choice, to support top-down approaches (that don’t work) or invest in innovative methods that have already proven themselves to be successful, such as James Comer’s School Development Program at Yale, Boston Arts Academy, Deborah Meier’s Mission Hill Schools (see video), Montessori Schools, Hank Levin’s Accelerated Schools or the Escuela Nueva (New School) model of democratic schooling.
The most successful learner-centered public school programs require an investment of professional expertise, parental involvement, love, time and money. They require freedom, experimentation and collaborative innovation from teachers and parents, designing school environments that fit the unique cultures, interests and needs of children.
Innovative community schools are not one-size-fits-all models designed by charter school CEOs in a board room, or investments for others (not living in a community) to profit from, they are investments in children, for the benefit of those children and their families.
If you have not heard of these programs (or are unclear about the difference between “learner-centered” vs. test-driven “factory” paradigms of schooling) it may be because there are people in the business, media and financial world who don’t want you to know. They have been blaming public school teachers and promoting charter schools as a new investment opportunity (and improved form of schooling), as a way to channel public money into the pockets of the already wealthy. (See: Fraud at the Heart of Education Reform).
Successful schools, such as those Ken Robinson writes about in his new book, are dynamic learning communities, where professional teachers are provided with the resources and creative autonomy they need to work together (and with parents), thereby transforming the learning experiences and opportunities of children, both in and out of school.
This leads to higher levels of skill development, mastery and greater achievement by students on tests, but the focus is on the children and their love of learning, not the testing.
There are no top down tests or “rigorous” national standards that will magically solve the complex problems in a community, because learning and growth happens locally (and joyfully), when children are guided, engaged, inspired, challenged, loved and supported directly by the adults in their lives.
It’s that simple…
The Art of Learning
“If you engage children’s imaginations, their curiosity, you get them working in teams, you get them doing practical project work, it’s a very different dynamic in schools. My wife used to teach forty kids in the classroom, and the place was buzzing because they were working collaboratively… There’s a problem with the standards culture, which is they see teaching as a kind of delivery system, like some branch of Fed Ex… dropping off the standards. Teachers are there to engage and motivate and inspire [young] people. Great teachers do that. ~Ken Robinson- How Government Standardization Blocks Innovative Education Reform
“Learning should be a self-directed journey of discovery. Students should be “free to learn” as they explore their interests and pursue their passions rather than simply following a curriculum map and data driven route to each Common Core learning standard.” ~Johnathan Chase, Data Driven Instruction vs. Passion Driven Learning
“Somewhere along the line, the school reform movement decided that fear would be their governing value. We will be afraid that students aren’t learning. We will be afraid that teachers aren’t teaching. The reformers are now so desperate, that they’re repackaging fear as nurturing. Standardized testing begets standardized instruction, which squeezes out electives like art, music, dance, which begets bored and disengaged students, which requires programs oriented around compliance and control…” ~ John Warner, Public Schools to Teachers: Run Your Class on Fear or Get Fired
“Escuela Nueva turns the schoolhouse into a laboratory for democracy. Rather than being run as a mini-dictatorship, with the principal as its unquestioned leader, the school operates as a self-governing community, where teachers, parents and students have a real say in how it is run. When teachers unfamiliar with this approach are assigned to these schools, it’s often the students themselves who teach them how to apply the method. “In these schools, citizenship isn’t abstract theory,” Ms. Colbert told me. “It’s daily practice.” ~David Kirp, Make Schools a Democracy (N.Y. Times, 2015)
“The best schools keep their eye on the prize—the kids—not just whether they are pleasing higher civil authorities. They see the job of adults as one of nurturing intelligence and empathy, openness to the world, while cherishing their children’s uniqueness. They stay close to families, and see teachers and parents as allies not adversaries. Schools for democracy are quintessentially always an act of collaboration with families and communities… an expression of the grassroots vitality and ingenuity that has always made our nation great…” ~Deborah Meier, Democracy & Education
* Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Testing * Schools That Learn – Peter Senge * Let a Child’s Spirit Be Free to Unfold – M. Montessori * How Schools Kill Creativity – Ken Robinson * Self-Direction is the Key to Mastery * Flow- The Psychology of Optimal Experience * Understanding How Our Brains Learn * Standardizing Education – Common Core’s Hidden Agenda * Toward a More Creative & Holistic Model of Education * Fraud at the Heart of Current Education Reforms * Who are the Corporate Reformers? – Diane Ravitch * Why Hedge Funds Love Charter Schools by Alan Singer * The Daily News – Hedge fund execs’ money for charter schools may pay off (NY Daily News) * Ranking and Sorting: The Sordid History of Standards and Tests * Walmart, Gates, Hedge Funds & Charter Schools (Business Insider) * Real Learning is a Creative Process * Children Need to Be Free to Learn * It’s a Pink Floyd World – Welcome (Back) to the Machine * Educational Malpractice – The Child Manufacturing Process * Schools for Democracy – Deborah Meier *
About myself: I’m a 1979 graduate of Clarkstown South High School, in Rockland County, New York. I majored in studio art at SUNY, Oneonta, graduating in 1983. From 1988 to 1993, I worked on my doctoral degree in Child & Adolescent Development at Stanford University’s School of Education. During that time I was a research assistant and core team member with the Accelerated Schools Project, for about 3 years. After graduating from Stanford in 1993, I moved to Japan, where I have been teaching English language and culture at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.