Saturday, January 28, 2012

How we should educate kids. Part 3 of 3-part series

Reformers and anti-reformers (those I have labeled as "teacher knows best") have been described in the first two parts of this series.  Please take a look at what Brand X school supporters would include and share your thoughts about how you think we should go about educating the nation's children.

Purpose of education (private and public)

“At a very general level there appears to be considerable agreement in the United States on what the nation’s schools are for.  Several large-scale surveys have revealed that parents are unwilling to give up on any one of the four major domains of traditional purpose:  academic, social, vocational, and personal.  They grow uneasy when any one of these domains appears to be neglected in their children’s schools.  Yet in national policy and local practice, the struggle over specifics is intense.” (John Goodlad, Developing Democratic Character in the Young, pp. xv)

Brand X schools believe that schools serve to promote economic ends, develop citizens, and promote personal growth.  Or they may express the purpose of their schools by saying that the ends of education are personal, social, vocational, and academic.  Ultimately, in order to prepare children for their eventual role as active participants in a democratic society, Brand X schools assist students in developing their individual talents and their ability to contribute to the common good. The specifics of what they mean by this become clearer as one understands the curriculum and the approach such schools take to working with their employees and the community.


Believe it or not, there are many definitions of what is meant by a school’s curriculum.  For some it includes all experiences that a student has in a school; for others it is a much more narrow matter:  the content or subject matter students are expected to learn.  The conventional wisdom supports the latter interpretation among school people as well as laypersons.  Still it is important to acknowledge that the pedagogical strategies employed and the views regarding how a student learns (as well as many contextual matters and the general conditions) affect what the real curriculum is in a school.

Experts and laypersons debate what content should be learned in school.  On the one hand, some emphasize lists of precise skills and facts as they are known within the major academic disciplines.  They believe students should learn such things as the people and actions that have been most important in our history, scientific laws, great works of literature, and fundamental mathematical operations.  For them the body of knowledge students should master is relatively fixed, slowly changing. 

In contrast, others argue that the emphasis should be on how people in the various disciplines learn – the processes they use.  For example, they would argue that learning the methods used by the scientist is more important than being able to recall the results of past experiments; they would emphasize critical analysis over the recall of plots of various classical works of literature; they would emphasize knowing how to inquire as an historian is more important than remembering the dates of certain battles, or even the names of famous people.

As what is known continues to expand, schools have difficult choices to make regarding what is to be included in the curriculum.  For the most part schools organize the curriculum around traditional academic disciplines borrowed from the way the 19th century universities divided knowledge.  Critics challenge, so far unsuccessfully, this division, suggesting other ways to organize learning that are more closely related to the experiences of people in the world.  These challenges range from suggestions for integrating (combining) several fields of study, to development of new category systems.  Many critics of traditional approaches to curriculum may be found in Brand X schools.

Brand X schools expect and obtain high levels of performance from their students.  While they believe in the importance of children mastering the skills, attitudes, and knowledge associated with the traditional disciplines of the fine and applied arts, sciences, and humanities, they often structure student learning in unconventional ways.  Such practices as project-based learning, constructivist approaches that are developmentally appropriate, interdisciplinary studies, and inquiry based approaches are characteristic of these schools and practices such as lecturing and rote learning are deemphasized.   


Brand X schools are not opposed to the “use” of tests; they are opposed to the “abuse” of tests.  Properly used externally prepared tests that are favored by “reformers” as noted in the first posting in this series are but a small part of a sound overall assessment program.

ASCD’s “whole child” project describes the qualities present in a Brand X school approach to assessment thusly:

“Through a combination of assessments of and for learning, such as growth models; portfolios; criterion-referenced tests; norm-referenced tests; computer adaptive assessments; diagnostic evaluations; and formative, interim, and summative assessments; we get a more comprehensive and continuous picture of student achievement and long-term success.” (The Whole Child Newsletter, January 26, 2012)


Good teachers are essential and one of the important characteristics of Brand X schools is that they have established management-employee relationships that promote good working conditions for teachers and learning environments for students.

Union-Management Relations

Administrators associated with Brand X schools are well informed regarding school finance and data systems.  These schools have constructive oversight by politically independent school boards, and expert financial auditing by states along with better definition of standards for information gathering. 

Since the 1960’s some progress has been made in improving the skills of the people who engage in collective bargaining for both unions and management.  However, the continued bashing of unions and the bargaining process during the first decade of the 21st century and the continued usurpation of local power by state and federal officials, increases the need for skilled negotiators for both sides of the table.  Brand X schools have recognized this and have people in place who know how to engage productively in the bargaining process.

While Brand X schools have well qualified participants, the different interests of the parties involved inevitably lead to conflicts that require help from outsiders.  These schools use mediation and new approaches to work stoppages as means of ultimate achieving resolution of such disputes.

Mediation:  Most states that have collective bargaining processes for teachers include mediation as one means of resolving conflicts but do not always have competent people to provide such services.  Brand X schools have access to a cadre of skilled mediators who know how to nudge people toward agreement and understand the consequences of bargaining decisions for the educational enterprise.

Strikes and lockouts with consequences:  Within the private sector the union’s right to strike – to withhold services— and management’s right to lock out employees are recognized parts of the process that legitimates each party’s power at the table. 

Offsetting those rights for unions is the loss of income and benefits that employees can experience during a strike.  Management’s power is limited by its willingness or ability to continue its production without striking employees or to take whatever financial losses may come from being closed during a strike or its counter-part the management lock-out. 

For most schools these equalizing powers are not present.  For teachers, because of laws requiring set numbers of days of instruction for students, there is seldom a significant loss of pay from a strike and school districts seldom lose money from either the state or local funding sources.  The loss tends to fall on the community and its students who are at least inconvenienced by the schedule changes.  At worst parents are out additional expenses such as those for child care and students may be hindered in their pursuit of possible rewards such as scholarships.

Brand X schools operate under an alternative set of rules that legalize strikes and prescribe that those striking may not have their lost salary or benefits made up and districts may not receive funding for days in which school is closed during a strike.  Under such provisions both union and districts still have to provide the full number of days of schooling required by state law but they do so without funds for days lost due to job actions.

Arbitration:  Finally, because schooling for the young should not be disrupted long term while adults settle differences, if a strike, lock-out, or other job action (work-to-rules, slow down, etc.) lasts more than two weeks, an impasse at a Brand X school is referred to a specially trained arbitrator who is required to approve the last best offer from either the union or the school district (much the same way special arbitrators decide on salary proposals in professional baseball).

Collaboration:  A Major Change

Ultimately, the largest change in employee relations found in Brand X schools is the movement to replace the abrasive, win-lose approach of traditional management-labor relations with a collaborative process that engages educational employees, the community they serve, and the policy makers elected to oversee public school systems in ways that ensure fairness and quality in decision making.

For years, with leadership from forward thinking management and union negotiators, school systems have been experimenting with such approaches. In February 2011, with funding from the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education convened teams from 150 school districts in Denver at a meeting it called:  “Advancing Student Achievement through Labor-Management Collaboration.” Co-sponsors and facilitators included the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and management and labor groups: AASA, AFT, CGCS, NEA, and NSBA.

In a proposed “compact” shared at the meeting, conveners suggested:

“Successful labor-management relations in public education should enable school boards, district administrators, principals, and teachers – each in their own roles – to design and enact policies that optimize the academic success of their students. To do this, districts and teachers' unions must forge new compacts – compacts in which school boards, district and building administrators, and teachers' union leaders acknowledge their shared responsibility to establish a strong and stable school environment, and give educators resources and tools to transform all schools so that all students receive a genuine opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.

The fundamental strength of a constructive labor-management relationship is its reciprocal nature. Through the new compact, boards, administrators, and teachers can build on this strength and use it as a vehicle to uphold rigorous academic standards, elevate the teaching profession by advancing teacher quality, drive school and instructional improvement, and make student achievement the heart of their relationship.” ( )

This statement and the stories shared during the meeting fall short of the ideal that Brand X schools are seeking in revised legislation by the states only in that they continue to view the collaboration in the conventional “management-labor” duality.  The critical voice of community interest groups including parents is missing.  In that regard, for example, Helena, Montana described to conference attendees its progress in collaboration between its teachers union and those representing the school board. 

Perhaps the greatest strength of the approach as outlined is the clear linking of the union-management relationship with the function of the school system. While such collaborative efforts are promising, other districts, such as Casper, Wyoming have developed broader collaborative processes that engage community members, school board and administration representatives, and union officials in problem solving conversations that, while difficult at times, successfully involve a broader range of voices in resolving problems.  As former Casper Superintendent, Jim Lowham explains, “several concerned and informed community members, a few superintendents, some teachers, a few other district staff members and a few staff members from the NEA formed the Collaborative Leadership Trust.  The group has expanded to include schools and individuals from Colorado, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Maryland.  They meet annually to learn and assist others who are interested in collaboration.”   

Brand X schools are also reviewing school-based initiatives and considering whether some combination of them with centralized bargaining processes would provide better for the adults and students in a school district.


As a consequence of the enlightened approach that Brand X schools take to employee-management relationships, employees are compensated fairly.  Compensation is based on employee performance, responsibilities, training, experience, and economic conditions within their communities. 

Collaborative behaviors are encouraged by compensation structures and leadership responsibilities are rewarded as hierarchical teams work to develop new teachers and recognize the different talents of various teachers and other members of the teams.

Teacher education

Brand X schools recognize that good employee relations and compensation programs are important but that initial preparation and continuous learning of the educators they employee is of equal of perhaps greater importance.  Sound teacher evaluation policies and practices are central to the successful teacher preparation and continuing growth.

Brand X schools make sure that for them the education of teachers and other educators begins before students leave high school and continues until after they have retired and are no longer engaged with schools.

In high school students who have an interest in education careers are helped to take courses of study that will ensure they have a good general education and are taking the prerequisite courses that will help them with college. Brand X schools do this for many of their students who have interest in other career fields such as science, engineering, fine arts, and various applied vocations.

Teachers preparing to work in Brand X schools enroll in colleges where they are part of a cohort of students with whom faculty from arts and sciences and colleges of education work beginning with their selection of courses as freshmen.  During the first two years of their college experiences members of this cohort have opportunities to work with young people in various P-12 Brand X school settings that are partners with the university as well as engaging in a carefully crafted general education program that, among other things, helps them understand the central role of schooling in a democratic society.

As they complete their undergraduate degrees, still working as part of a cohort of students and with faculty from the Brand X school and the university’s colleges of arts and sciences and education, these prospective teachers participate in increasing time in the Brand X partner school.  After graduation and while they are beginning work on an advanced degree, these teachers-to-be work as paid junior members of teaching teams in a Brand X school as well as continuing formal course work through the university. During this year these teachers are evaluated jointly by the university and Brand X school using criteria mutually agreed upon by the two institutions.  Initial licensure as a teacher by the state depends on successful ratings from these evaluations.

During the next three or four years these novice teachers complete advanced degrees while working as members of the teaching teams at the Brand X schools.  Full licensure is granted based on successful completion of these years of combined study and teaching. Licensure is structured so that teaches are protected from arbitrary or politically driven firings but those teachers who do not perform well and are not able to correct deficiencies discovered during annual evaluations are removed from teaching and their licenses revoked.

At this point, career plans for continuing learning are established and with compensation from the employing P-12 Brand X school, these teachers continue to grow in the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for successful performance.  Adjustments to these plans are made periodically based on evidence from ongoing evaluation of their work as educators.  Every 7 to 10 years teachers are given an opportunity, fully compensated, to engage full-time in formal study that enables them to gain greater depth and breadth in their teaching fields.

The concept of “lifelong learning” doesn’t end when educators retire.  Former teachers are encouraged to continue their education by working with new teachers and with members of the community to further the aims of education in the Brand X schools.

Role of community

Brand X schools are well aware that as a society we are not educating our children well enough to ensure we have a sound democratic society so we need educational renewal. As we act we need to realize that renewing education and improving schooling are not the same. A person’s education is a product of many learning experiences, not just schooling. Other parts of our culture that educate include families, the media, religious communities, peer relationships, community cultural institutions such as museums and libraries, youth organizations such as boy’s and girl’s clubs, and private lessons developing talents in areas such as the performing arts and athletics. Additionally, each person participates uniquely in the learning process and thus no two will learn the same thing from an identical experience. This does not suggest schools have little responsibility for learning. Rather it requires school people and others in the public to work together to renew the whole of education.

Brand X schools create conversations that engage community members giving particular attention to those voices that are often not heard such as new immigrants and individuals who are poor or are excluded because of such factors as race, religion, and sexual orientation.  In these conversations attention is given to what schools can do but the role of other institutions and groups within the community is also considered as groups seek to ensure equity and access to quality educational opportunities for all children.


In brief, Brand X schools are continually renewing endeavors that work with their communities to provide a broad, personalized, challenging education for all children.  They are populated by educators who understand that their work is critical to the individual student’s development and to the common good of the democratic society of which they are a part. They are the kinds of schools I want for my grandchildren and for all children of our nation.  What about you?  If you were designing a Brand X school would you add to or modify the ideas proposed here?

Friday, January 27, 2012

How should we educate kids? Third part coming

In the next 24 hours I will be posting an extended description of "Brand X schools" as the third part of a series that has so far talked about what "reformers" are saying and doing and what schools I have labeled as Teacher Knows Best of TKB schools advocate.

Each of these parts have been briefly sketched because I believe they are familiar to most people who are paying attention to what is happening in education.  I have not had much in the way of responses suggesting whether these descriptions are accurate so I am not sure whether to assume they are or that they are so far of base readers didn't think it is worth their time to comment.

The next posting will cover many of the same elements (such as purpose of education, curriculum, and community involvement) that I mentioned in the first two parts but I will do so in a little more depth because while I believe there are examples of many schools in the country that feature much of what I have included in the discussion of the Brand X schools, some of the ideas are a little further from the main stream schools of the day.

I hope readers will take time to read through the coming discussion and share their own views about schools such as those I have labeled as Brand X

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Teacher Knows Best -- Second of three part series

This is the second part of a three part series – the first one dealt with Reformers who seek to shape education along the lines of corporate entities.

Teacher knows best (TKB’s)

This second group may best be described as those individuals, mostly, but not solely, professional educators, who oppose the Reformers.  They are confident that children will be best served if key decisions about how to educate our children are left in the hands of teachers rather than politicians.

Purpose of education

When TKB’s talk about the purposes of education they use a variety of ways of saying whatever is best for the students, although there are times when it appears that what they really mean is whatever is best for teachers.


TKB’s favor a broad curriculum built around the traditional disciplines.  For that reason they are often heard complaining about the lack of attention in Reformer-influenced schools to the fine and practical arts, social sciences and physical education.  They also tend to emphasize the importance of student’s emotional and physical development.  Learning processes that are age and ability appropriate are also important to this group. 


Generally, TKB’s are strong union supporters.  They like to point out that students in states where unions are strong outperform students in states where unions have little clout.  They credit unions with supporting school improvement efforts and protecting teachers from arbitrary and discriminatory employment practices. 

They believe that team work is essential in a good school and thus support uniform salary schedules that reward teachers based on seniority and training rather than on competitive performance measures.

Teacher education

TKB’s like to criticize their college preparation as teaches but staunchly defend the traditional approach against alternatives such as Teach for America.  They see clinical experiences as the most important part of their pre-service training and generally support innovations in teacher education that expand the length of such experiences.

Role of community

TKB’s believe that parents are very important in the education of their children.  Generally speaking, they want parents to support them, to see that children do the school work they assign, and that parents listen to the teacher because they truly believe the teacher knows what is best for students.


TKB’s believe tests are something that teachers should use to evaluate student progress, not something that should be used to reward or punish teachers.  Standardized tests are seen as having limited value because often the results are not provided to teachers in a timely fashion or in a form that is helpful to them in designing instruction.

Frequently TKB’s express the belief that their daily observations of student progress are more useful to them than tests that are constructed by outsiders.

What’s new?

Simply put, TKB’s defend the status quo (or at least the way things were before the last 20 years or so of influence by the Reformers.)  Their position on most things can best be stated by saying they oppose what the Reformer’s are for.


In the third part of this series I will look at Brand X. 

Meanwhile, please add your own thoughts about the first two descriptions of what some people think we should do about educating our young.  Would you describe either group differently?  Is there something that needs to be added, deleted?

Friday, January 6, 2012

More on Teacher Evaluation

See Huffington Post article for a report from Gates Foundation concerning teacher evaluation a discussion of the challenges associated with such evaluations.

I encourage you to take a look at my extended remarks on this subject posted on the Essays page of this blog on September 13th, 2010.  It includes some of the ideas identified by Gates and goes beyond them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Washington Supreme Court Says Legislature Not Doing Duty

Hearing an appeal on a case described earlier on this Blog, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide ample support to K-12 schooling.  Here is an early report on that ruling  and here is another one from the Seattle Times quoting one source as saying "it looks like a total win for the plaintiffs" [the schoool districts suing]

Monday, January 2, 2012

Japan's Jukus and inequity: New Soder Post

In a new blog entry Roger Soder is critical of the Economist and that magazine's glorification of the Japan't Jukus.

Go to Roger's page by clicking on the link on the right hand side of this page and then return here to share your reactions.

Note in particular the difference between the Japanese approach and that taken by Finland as described in the prior blog posting.

Does Finland have the answer

Finland has drawn much attention because of its success in educating all its students.
Check out the following link to see a recent example of commentary on the success in this country.

What would happen in this country if all students were expected to attend public school and there were almost no standardized tests?