Sunday, January 17, 2010

The System of School

I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I'll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the

The System of School

January 8, 2009 – 9:19 am by Brendan

From the Chicago Tribune Transformation of Chicago schools could be model for USBeing from the Chicago area I have read a lot of stories over the years about Arnie Duncan. I think this one sums him up pretty well.

Basically, Arnie is a chief executive type. He believes in cutting costs, merit pay, and teaching to the test. On the other hand he also believes in strong local schools, mentors, and high quality teachers.

Will he transform schools the way I want? I doubt it. Will he make small systematic improvements over the current administration? Probably.

It doesn’t look like the NCLB testing idea is going away. It does however look like teachers and schools will have more resources with which to tackle these tests.

This comment (below) on the article is interesting. Obviously Mr. or Ms. Guiness isn’t a fan of Arnie Duncan. (It seems people either love or hate him, which seems odd for such a middle of the road guy) He/she does however bring up one very good point. (Conveniently bolded and colored yellow.)

I don’t think you asked the teachers in the neighborhood schools in Chicago on how the feel about Arne Duncan. What reform in the neighborhood schools of inner city of Chicago? Reform has been defined by Mr. Duncan and the Chicago Commerce Club as creating a policy of watching the bottom line over looking out for the welfare of children. Arne Duncan and CPS want better scores on the standardized tests. That sounds simplistic but that reflects the real knowledge of Duncan, the Chicago School Board and their non-educator surrogates since none them have any first hand knowledge of transforming neighborhood schools into high performance centers of learning in a systematic way. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are ignorant on these matters. It is conveyed to Principals and Teachers that the bottom line is scores. I think there needs to be a reality check about Chicago schools. The instructional day in elementary schools is possibly the shortest of all large urban metro areas. By the tenth grade a CPS student may be shorted close to a whole school year in instructional time in comparison to a New York City student. One response by Arne Duncan and the Chicago School Board has been offer second rate third party after-school tutoring services and eight Saturday’s of test prep before the standardized exam are given in early March. Behind closed doors and in a most non transparent manner, neighborhood schools are closed and usually, “cheaper” charter schools, that are not held accountable to the same standard move in. Is that reform and forward thinking? I wonder why Arne Duncan and his ilk don’t really engage the professionals in the the classroom, the teachers. Is it fear of what they will say. Fear of coming up short as to what is needed to help build a strong cohesive professional community at each neighborhood school. Why doesn’t Arne Duncan and the Chicago School Board, give each neighborhood school the same POWER and FREEDOM to reorganize themselves as the charter schools do? Empower your teachers, that is a novel idea! Nahhh!

by eGuiness January 07, 1:46 AM

Now Mr/Ms Guiness says this like it’s a bad thing. I don’t believe it is if used correctly. If the instructional day is shortened to say 4-5 hours and the teachers are given three hours to plan, collaborate, and/or develop professionally I think we would see a marked improvement in student performance.

The other improvement, not used correctly as far as I’m concerned, was mentioned in the article “The flexibility given to independently operated charter schools means a longer school day…”

Now if teachers have a shorter teaching day with more time to plan, collaborate, and develop their own skills how do students end up with a longer day? Simple, different teachers take over. Students can extend the school day, but the teachers still have the time to plan high quality fulfilling lessons.

If you read the comment you see bolded and in green that the Chicago Public School System is already attempting to do something similar. The difference I believe is the focus and the quality of teaching. When I suggest extending the school day I’m not talking about tutoring or test prep, I am talking about high quality programs in high interest programs for the students taught by high quality teachers. I’m talking about teaching Art, Science, Literature, Drama, etcetera being taught with real teachers and real funding in a structured environment. (Basically doubling the number of teachers I know.)

The first half of the day could be what the hard line reformers want. High quality teachers hitting the three R’s, just keep it short and to the point. The second half of the day could be what all those touchy feely reformers want. High quality arts and humanities (actually Science and Math can and should also be offered) taught in a student centered fashion.

In reality, though both halves of the school day should be the same. Remember, children (adults too) love to learn. When given the opportunity to learn we generally take it. Most just hate learning at school. Just like my story from yesterday. Schools are viewed as ridged and educators our viewed as mean, until all desire to learn is beaten out of us.

Actually, what I would think would work great is two teachers working together. (Yes I’m thinking about elementary school here because I am at heart an elementary school teacher.)

· Two teachers, one teaching 7 - 3 and the other teaching 11 - 7 and the school day going from 8 - 6.

· The first teach has an hour along to work in the morning. The second has an hour in the afternoon alone.

· The teachers have at least two hours together in the middle of the day to collaborate. Students would have a long lunch with free play and/or physical education.

· The rest of the time can be used for professional development, collaboration, or additional planning time, or just time to get all that paper work done. It could be time used to analyze student performance and really understand what they do and don’t have difficulty with. It could be an end to the paperwork brought home by teachers. That time could really be very useful. Sometimes that time could even be used to co-teach.

I know it has been mentioned often how Finland has some of the best schools in the world. They along with many other high performing countries have shorter school days that we do in the U.S. There is much that is glossed over in those stories though.

· Finland students don’t face the struggles we have - immigration, lack of background knowledge etc..

· Many high performing countries often have a culture of high stress tutoring programs.

· Our best students match up very well with their best students.

Our education system works well for the average student. It doesn’t work well for the “at risk” student. When we talk about fixing schools (and I do this very often also) what we are talking about is fixing schools with “at risk” students. We just don’t say that. Our best students who match up with the best students in the world are usually students who are either self motivated or have grown up with a rich full life outside of school.

As this article from New Jersey says, a big factor in success is what happens at home. Our “at risk” students don’t have the full resources to build the background knowledge needed to have success at learning. The longer school day gives them that opportunity. Students can spend ten hours a day in a rich fulfilling system. It isn’t twelve hours a day hammering away at the basics like some people would like, but in the end I think it would be more effective.

Post a Comment