Perhaps a better question would be: Do the powers-that-be even want to fix Education? Public Education has become the ‘hot topic’ since the Obama administration assumed office in January. Whether you agree with the current policies or not, you have to admit that Education has not received such massive amounts of press in a very long time. I wasn’t alive during the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision or the ensuing desegregation/integration (two completely different things) debates and initiatives; however, I do believe today’s initiatives, succeed or fail, have that level of significance.
Perhaps the most-known initiative is Race to the Top, where states compete for funds to improve education. I believe that the theory behind RttT is admirable, i.e., closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students; I do not believe that dangling money in front of states to achieve that end is the best solution. Honestly, I am surprised at the lack of opposition to RttT by those who say ‘throwing money at the problem is not the solution.’ Where are those people? I need someone with whom I can dialogue about this initiative because it scares me for several reasons. Although I do believe that some of Education’s woes can be remedied with money, i.e., new computers, current textbooks/e-books, research-based and continued professional development, etc., some improvements are actually free.
Ever hear the saying, “If you continue to do what you’ve always done…?” Well, that’s exactly how I feel about Education. Let’s look at some low to no-cost change options. Since teachers have literally no control over what occurs inside a school building (unless they have a strong union), much of the change would have to occur at the district level including the Board of Education members and the superintendents. In some districts, board members have served for multiple terms and are not in touch with the needs of their constituents. Oftentimes, board membership does not reflect a district’s changing demographic (Read: There is no racial/ethnic diversity). This is the case in Gwinnett County, Georgia’s largest school district. J. Alvin Wilbanks is the CEO (his moniker of choice) of Gwinnett County and is often heralded as one of the longest-serving public school superintendents in the country. Sometimes the ‘longest-serving’ whatever can be a great thing; other times it can be a detriment to that particular organization. A district which heralds itself as ‘world-class’ should at least have a teaching and administrative staff reflective of its diverse student and community population. There are many competent, degreed minorities who can hold positions of authority within districts, and produce results, but we seem to be relegated to more positions of subordination than authority.
Likewise, a ‘world-class’ district should support its claim by implementing more innovative programs in the schools where they are most needed, e.g., Title I schools and those with high minority populations. Instead, the Math, Science, & Technology Charter School and similar programs are relegated to communities where the homes have $400k+ price tags. Interestingly, the district’s own charter school does not provide transportation yet Georgia’s State Board of Education (also lacking in diversity), did not forsee the lack of transportation as a barrier to creating a diverse school environment. By the way, of the 192 students enrolled in 2007-08, only 20% were Black and 5% were Hispanic; 43% were White. But I digress.
In addition to changing the leadership, districts can also enact research-based professional development initiatives. Although this measure would require significant upfront costs, within a few years the program would pay for itself. I will admit that when I worked as a Special Education teacher, I found myself doodling or making To-Do lists during several professional development workshops. After spending four years as a Special Education teacher, making me sit through an introductory Special Education workshop was an insult and waste of my time. I literally had to talk to myself to keep from falling asleep, not because I was apathetic but because the speaker was painfully boring. I honestly think watching paint dry would have been more exciting. At least then I could have watched the colors change. There have been other workshops that were a waste of valuable time, although others were grateful for a half-day or full day without students. I am very strict about how I spend my time and I do not like to waste it because I can never get it back. If I must attend workshops then they should cover information that I can incorporate into my classroom the next day. Lastly, professional development must be continuous, comprehensive, and relevant to today’s diverse student populations and their unique learning needs. If a teacher has to take a class on using an email system, then they may want to find another profession. I’m just sayin’.
I think I have ranted long enough but I would like to add something: I am partially responsible for the problems with our district because I only took an interest in school board members and their agendas within the past few years due to my involvement in developing a charter school. I have made it my business to stay current on all issues effecting this district, but especially the community in which I live. I plan to follow all votes and opinions, as two members will seek re-election next year. We need and deserve a representative concerned about the needs of those living in places other than the palaces of Duluth, Suwanee, etc.
Until something else ires me, later!