I am excited about doing this blog, and I hope to engage people from all walks of life around the country in a conversation about the American education system. For the past 14-15 years we have had a federally-controlled, policy-driven system that has had a narrow definition of what constitutes getting an “education.” The system has focused on testing, data-collection, and accountability as the magic bullets for creating a viable workforce that can compete in a global economy. It has been a system framed by a corporate paradigm that is product- rather than process-driven, assuming that all students can achieve in the same way. Such a system has submitted students, teachers, administrators, and schools to a punitive process to achieve the results sought after. Thankfully, the federal government has recently signed into law the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) to replace the “one size fits all,” unrealistic NCLB Act. The law supposedly gives states more flexibility and control, but maintains the corporate mindset of NCLB with its focus on standards, testing, and accountability as keys to student success. States will be given leeway in how/when they test students, in whether or not they adopt Common Core Standards, in what accountability goals they set, and in how they evaluate teachers, but they must submit accountability plans to the federal Department of Education. However, federal punishment for schools, principals, and teachers whose students have low test scores and Annual Yearly Progress will end. Time will tell whether or not this swing in a semi-new direction will be a swing in a positive direction.
I taught for 26 years in Australia and decided to return to the U.S. to live and teach in 2002. I was shocked by what was happening in American society and within the American education system. I never wanted to be anything other than a classroom teacher, and I did this with pride and conviction for 26 years. However, upon my return, I spent 11 years teaching in a system that I had grave doubts about in terms of what was expected of teachers and the effects that these expectations were having on students’ learning and on teachers’ professional standing in the classroom. I found that there are serious issues within the system that need to be confronted. These issues include: the effects of a corporate paradigm (with its focus on policies, procedures, testing, and data-collection) framing the system; how parents’/students’ entitlement mentality can compromise learning and hijack the system; how digital technology/social networking affects students’ cognition/emotional development; how censorship of ideas and content can stunt the development of higher-level thinking skills. During the last 4 years of my career, I researched the issues I found troubling to see if there was any basis for my perceptions. I found that, indeed, there was. I decided to write a book from a teacher’s perspective, “Taking Back Our Classrooms,” to expose how the aforementioned issues affect students’ learning and teachers’ ability to be effective in the classroom. So, a thrust of my blogs will be to discuss the issues I explore in my book, plus other important issues that arise from this exploration. I invite others to join the journey. An education system is the backbone of a society and if it has become dysfunctional, it needs to be fixed. Having a conversation about what is wrong and what needs to be done, is a first step.