Vote to Support Public Education

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A to F Grading Makes No More Sense for Our Children than It Does for Public Schools!

When we grade schools “A to F” on the basis of standardized test scores like ISTEP+ in Indiana it is as “Absurd” at one end of the grading continuum as it is “Farcical” at the other. This is especially true when the powers that implemented the “A to F” measure envisioned that so-called “failing schools” would be gradually shut down with the kids shuttled off to charter schools from which they could expect immediate turnaround.

If that logic is not “Absurd” I do not know what is and most professional educators concur.

It was also envisioned that the failing schools could be transformed by getting rid of bad teachers and their unions, replacing them with less-educated teachers trained to embrace the use of more sophisticated technologies that would, again, transform the quality of education.

If that logic is not “Farcical” I do not know what is and most professional educators agree.

Most of those same educators would be just as critical of “A to F” grading for the students in their classrooms but the “A to F” mindset has been in place for so long that it has become engrained. It has become one of those fundamental assumptions that defy logic.

Many schools corporations have experimented with other grading methodologies, particularly at the primary level. As far back as the early 1950s, my local school district began using a “V to U” grading system which was essentially the same.

Today, the overwhelming majority of report cards that are sent home to parents throughout the U.S. utilize “A to F”. Is it our intention that we will shut down the children who are given “Fs” and are considered failing?

Of course it is not, but what we are asked to do with these kids is not much more effective. As they move from grade to grade (the word “grade” has become part of our lexicon and subtly shapes our thinking even here) we struggle to know what to do with “F” students. Holding them back is believed to have negative emotional and psychological consequences but moving them along with their classmates is just as problematic.

For generations, most of these children would become drop outs before high school graduation and enter the society as adults poorly prepared to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. In more recent times, our schools have worked hard to keep these young people in school but the ultimate outcome of being poorly prepared is still the norm for far too many of these kids.

This is the reality that the critics of public education point out, with great passion, and it is the driving motivation behind the corporate reform movement that began in the business community and has been aggressively sold to federal and state government through one of the most powerful and effective “lobbying” strategies in history.

The problem is that it is all based upon an erroneous, rarely challenged assumption about what it is that kids need, today. Whether poverty, hopelessness on the part of parents, diluted values, the unprecedented power of the 21st Century peer group, or some combination of the above what these kids need cannot be provided by privatized schools with teachers who are trained rather than educated, and using the wonders of modern technology.

Modern technology can play a powerful role in the hands of a qualified teacher if we took the time to understand what we need it to do for us. Simply distributing tablets and IPads and using digital learning tools will not magically cure what ails 21st Century education.

What kids need are more time and attention from people who care and who have the time to develop trusting and nurturing relations with them. They need us to treat them as unique individuals coming to us at a unique point on their physical, emotional, and intellectual developmental continuum. They need us to teach them how to learn, successfully, which takes longer for some than others, and they need our protection against the failure and humiliation that diminish self-esteem.

And, they need even more from us. The absolute best chance a child can have is when parents and teachers work together as partners on a child’s behalf. When parents do not embrace such relationships with their children’s teachers it is not sufficient to put our heads down and think we can do it on our own.

We must do more to close the distance between our teachers and schools and parents and their communities. We need to sell them on the idea that their child can grow up in a world where they have a menu of positive choices from which to choose that will not only provide a good life for them but will also help them fulfill their civic responsibilities.

Reaching out to the disenfranchised to pull them in is a formidable challenge, indeed, but it is nothing more than a human engineering problem that has a solution that is within our power to achieve.

In the interim, we cannot allow a single child to fail on a single lesson.

We have no expectation that every child that enters kindergarten will arrive at the same destination at the end of their thirteen years of schooling but yet public school teachers are asked to work within a structured educational process that forces them to move students down comparable paths at relative speeds. Our job must be to make certain that students learn as much as they are able within the time they are under our protective wings and that they can use what they learn effectively on the next lesson module and as they face the challenges of citizenship.

Many teachers cannot envision how this could happen within the current structure and they are correct; the structure of the educational process must be altered if we wish to alter its outcomes. Making such alterations is not all that difficult if we are willing to step back and view the process objectively. The truth is, particularly at the primary level, we could start doing things differently, almost immediately; with little or no cost.

Forget “A to F” and shift our focus to an expectation that nothing less than an A or B is acceptable (85 percent or better mastery of subject matter). Let us remember that intellectual development is only one aspect of a child’s development and it works interdependently with their emotional and physical development. Public education must not degenerate into force-feeding content into a child’s brain like they are a computer that just needs more data to process; which is pretty much where we seem to be heading.

What our children and their parents need is that special relationship that many of us had with a favorite teacher whose care and affection we could trust, absolutely.

The educational reforms that are sweeping the nation will destroy us as surely as Mother Nature will punish us if we continue to abuse our environment. Current educational reforms are like a powerful tug boat pulling a safe harbor ever farther away from a dock that has broken loose and is drifting from shore. It is a dock that is full of people who have become separate and apart from the whole and who have become hopeless and powerless. Every time we send a child out into this sea, unprepared, what is left for them but to scramble on to that already over-crowded dock?

The one thing of which we can be sure is that the farther apart we drift the more tragic will be the consequences for the future of our society.

Reject “A to F” for schools, teachers, and children and reinvent our educational process. My book. Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, will show exactly how this can be accomplished.

Giving Hope to Our Public School Teachers

Last evening, when three members of the leadership team of the Bad Ass Teachers Association made a guest visit to Justin Oakley’s “Just let me Teach” on the IndianaTalks internet radio network there was discussion about getting more public school teachers to join the BATs and to stay active in their unions. It was suggested that many teachers are losing faith in their unions and are not remaining active.

No one knows better than the Bad Ass Teachers Association that American teachers are more discouraged than ever. Everywhere they turn they are under attack and it is easy to understand that they are losing hope that what they are doing for their students is making a difference and that their efforts are appreciated. That many teachers in Indiana and throughout the U.S. live in fear of losing their jobs if ISTEP+ and other standardized test results do not improve borders on criminal, particularly since most educators know that the infamous A to F grading system for Indiana’s schools really stands for “Absurd to Farcical.”

It is difficult to maintain a positive frame of mind when teachers are being blamed for problems over which have little or no control and when they are asked to work in environments in which they are as much victims of a system as their students.

What teachers need more than anything is hope that a better day is coming but to whom do they turn for hope and leadership?

They cannot look to their state and federal governments or the business community because these seemingly unassailable forces are linked together in what can only be perceived by the teaching profession as a relentless quest to destroy public education.

Many are losing hope that their unions and associations can withstand the withering assault on basic purposes that unions were created to serve.

Even the wonderful organization that we know as the Bad Ass Teachers Association and their rallying cry that “we’re not going to take it anymore,” are viewed with skepticism by some. What good does it do, some teachers ask, to stand up and shout that we’re not going to take it when, the reality is that teachers feel such a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness that anything they say can make a difference.

As appealing as the mantra of the BATs may be, I hear some teachers saying that no one wants to hear us complain, they want answers!

Teachers can rally around candidates for public office, whether local school boards, or state or federal executive or legislative offices but almost always find themselves supporting candidates who are as short on experience in public office, or in building a successful election campaign strategies as they are short on funding. And, almost always, these candidates for office find themselves running against opponents with strong support of mainstream political parties, powerful political action committees, and a movement that professes to be working to save American children from the shortcomings or our public school corporations.

We live in hope that the miracle of Glenda Ritz’s election to Indiana’s office of Superintendent of Public Instruction was a turning point but how often can we expect the stars to be so perfectly aligned as they were on that election night that we recall with such fondness? Are we to be content to celebrate candidate Zephyr Teachout’s recent primary election defeat in New York City because she won 34 percent of the vote and raised awareness?

We listen with rapt attention to the celebrated champions of public education like Diane Ravitch and Linda Darling Hammond who stand for teachers and other educators and who speak with eloquence. Sadly, these few heroic champions must somehow offset the power and momentum of the corporate reformers like Bill Gates, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and the legions of multi-billion dollar businesses and foundations who line up in support to the demise of public education.

The problem is that the champions of the cause for public education and our public schools and their teachers offer so little upon which we can all take hope. These champions cry out that the problems of public education are nothing more than a myth and that our public schools are performing better each year, even if in small increments.

The problem is that such protestations, no matter how eloquent the appeal, ring hollow to the overwhelming number of Americans and even to an overwhelming number of the teachers on behalf of whom such advocacy is offered. It is a message that has precious little credibility.

Advocacy Groups for the support of Public Education can be found in States all over the U.S. with Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education; Indiana Coalition for Public Education just two examples here in Indiana.

Why don’t these advocates and the leadership of our various unions, associations, and other organizations working on behalf of public schools and their students and teachers shout loudly that,

Yes! Public Education in America is in crisis but it is a crisis that exists in spite of the valiant efforts of teachers not because of those efforts.

Why do they not stand and proclaim that:

Professional educators are the only ones who truly understand what needs to be done to return the status of public education to its rightful place as one of the essential components of a democratic society and a healthy economy.

Why do they not shout out that they have:

a real solution to the challenges of public education that will protect rather than damage the all-important relationships between our public schools and their communities, not to mention our students.

Why do they not:

develop an action strategy to transform the educational process and present it to the professional educators to enlist their support and commitment to a real and achievable solution?

And, most importantly, why do they not begin:

the process of selling that solution to the American people?

In recent posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and in a recent tweet on Twitter I shared a message from a poster of Michael J. Fox that read:

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.

Our teachers know exactly what must be done to turn our schools around so they meet the needs of all American children and not just those who have an affinity for academic endeavors.

Our teachers know that the educational process is flawed when we don’t assess where a child is when they report for their first day of school and then expect them to move down the same path with a diverse classroom of other children on the same chronological schedule.

Our teachers know that the educational process is flawed when they are unable to give children enough time to learn and instead are told that their job on that lesson is done and then give the student a “C,” “D,” or “F” and ask them to move on to the next lesson; a lesson at which they are even less prepared to succeed.

Our teachers know that the solution is to give children the time they need to learn and that, in the final analysis, what matters is not how long it took a child to learn but rather than they did learn and can now apply what they learned to future subject matter and eventually to solve the everyday problems of living in a complex democratic society.

Our teachers know that standardized testing is not a measure of a child’s level of knowledge or understanding any more that it is a measure of a teacher or school’s effectiveness. A test is snapshot of a student’s grasp of given subject matter at a fixed point of time and is useful only if it determines first, whether or not a student needs more time and assistance from his or her teachers, and second; where that attention should be directed if, indeed, it is needed.

Our teachers know that the most important determinant of a child’s success in school is the level of support and participation of the child’s parents or guardians working as partners with the teacher on behalf of the student. Teachers know the system is flawed when so many young parents have no faith or trust in our schools because they are, themselves, victims of an educational process that did not give them what they so desperately needed when they were kids.

Our teachers understand that we need to reach out to these parents and pull them in as partners in the educational process, to help them learn to trust that the school and teacher are there to help them help their child prepare for the rest of their lives.

Our teachers know that each child needs to feel that they are special and have relationships with people in their lives whom they can both love and trust. Teachers understand that the child who is hardest to love and demands the most attention is the child that needs it the most. Our teachers understand that every child needs to have experienced what many of us recall when we think back to our most favorite teachers. Our teachers understand that the educational process is flawed when it is not structured to support the development of the vital relationships between our children, their parents, and teachers.

Our teachers know the educational process is flawed when children have given up on learning and are no longer willing to try; choosing to act out instead. Our teachers understand that the solution to keep children engaged in learning as a natural, fun, and exciting adventure is to teach them that they can learn. Teachers understand that kids must experience the joy of success rather than repeated failure and humiliation.

Our teachers understand that our educational process is flawed when they lack the resources to spend their time and energy where it can do the most good rather than be bogged down in meaningless record-keeping, bureaucratic demands, and political interference. Teachers know that they need technology that empowers teachers rather than limit their freedom and creativity and mitigate their value.

Our teachers know all of these things so when are we going to empower them to do that which only they can do?

If we want to give teachers hope that they can live out their careers as a professional involved in the noble and loving act of giving of themselves to their students and families we must rethink what it is that we want to accomplish in education and reinvent the educational process to support that purpose.

These are ideas around which teachers can rally. It is something that they can reach out and touch and feel and that they can sell to the parents of their students and to their communities. It is something that is real and achievable and about which they can be enthusiastic and energetic and then be re-energized and re-enthused with every celebrated accomplishment.

The sad reality is that the educational process in place throughout our system of schools, both public and private, is flawed and that everyone knows it. Every time we shout out in loud denial all we accomplish is to confirm that that the assertions and allegations that public education is failing are frightfully and inarguably true.

Employers all over the U.S. know it when they struggle to find capable employees who can not only do good work but can also accept responsibility for doing their best. They know it when they must spend millions upon millions of dollars screening applicants to find a precious few who can do the job right from the get go and must also spend millions more to re-train and re-educate those who cannot.

The corporate reformers and the government officials who pander to them and who are laboring to privatize education did not wake up one morning having experienced an epiphany that there were huge profits to be earned by taking over America’s schools. They discovered that little truth only after they were compelled by their anger and frustration to address what they considered to be the monumental failure of public education in America because no one else seemed prepared to step up and accept responsibility for taking action.

Our military services know the educational process is flawed when a full quarter of the young men and women who are candidates for enlistment into the Armed Services cannot meet the minimum qualifications for enlistment and when many more are unable to score high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to qualify for the increasingly more skilled and technical jobs that need to be done at a high level of proficiency.

Our communities of the poor and minorities who live separate and apart from mainstream American society know that the performance gap that exist between their children and white, middleclass students is staggering in its breadth and scope and, most of all, in its consequences. The growing cultural disdain for the importance of education in the lives of their children is nothing more than a consequence of a prolonged case of hopelessness and powerlessness on the part of these parents that anything they do will make a difference for their children.

Most of all, as I have pointed out in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America and in articles published in my blog Education, Hope and the American Dream, and elsewhere, our teachers know in their hearts and minds that the educational process is, indeed, failing in spite of their labor and sacrifices. They know that the warn-out insistence that the failure of our public schools is a myth is, itself, a myth the perpetuation of which can only have tragic consequences for our nation’s and our children’s futures.

We must open our hearts and minds to the idea that our professional educators are the only people who can solve the problems of public education. They are waiting for their leaders and advocates to stand up an offer a solution in which teachers and the American people can both believe and trust.

American teachers, the unsung heroes in the battle for the future of our way of life, are at the edge of desperation waiting for their leaders to stand up for the truth.

What are we waiting for?

The November 2014 elections may be the most important election in the history of public education in America.

If you did not see the wonderful editorial, in Sunday’s edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette by Tony Lux, who recently retired as the Superintendent of Merrillville, Indiana Public Schools take a moment and check it out at

Never before has there been so much at stake for our public school teachers and other educators who devote their hearts and souls for the benefit of our nation’s children. Teachers and parents everywhere need to draw upon the election of Glenda Ritz for inspiration. Thanks to the ardent support of teachers and parents, the voters of the State of Indiana rejected the policies of former State Superintendent Tony Bennett and elected award winning teacher, Glenda Ritz to this important office.

Superintendent Ritz garnered more votes than Indiana Governor Mike Pence who, like his predecessor Mitch Daniels, has gone to great lengths to destroy public education and the vital connections between our public schools and the communities they serve.

Voters in Indiana and in states across the nation are encourage to reject candidates who support privatization of education, charter schools, vouchers, the reliance on standardized testing as a measure of teacher and school performance, Common Core, and the other “cars” that make up the “Runaway Train of Misguided Educational Reforms” that have been sweeping the nation.

This is one time when party allegiance must not matter as we pull the curtains and exercise our constitutional right to vote.

Beware of candidates who claim that education is at the top of their priority list but go on to advocate “choice” as if they are protecting the rights of American parents. In the United States of America, parents already have the right to choose a school for their children. Candidates who are advocates of “choice” are really talking about the use of our tax dollars to subsidize with vouchers those parents who want their child to attend charter, private, or parochial schools.

This practice drains critical tax dollars away from our public school corporations on which the overwhelming majority of American children depend. These candidates for public office blame teachers and their schools for all of the problems in education and make no provisions to help the public schools that are left to deal with our nation’s most vulnerable children. What these candidates really support are what I call “the politics of abandonment” and they must be rejected.

Whether you are voting for candidates for the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, your state legislature, or local school boards take the time to find out where these candidates stand on the issues of public education, not “tax-payer subsidized privatization” of education in America.

The one thing we learned in Indiana is that teachers and parents have the power to reject all those who threaten the future of our nation’s young people. All we have to do is go to the polls and ask our friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers to do the same.

Never before have we had an opportunity to make such a monumental difference on behalf of our nation’s children!

Public schools our best hope to strengthen communities

I wrote the following article for today’s edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (October 3, 2014).

Published: October 3, 2014 3:00 a.m.
Public schools our best hope to strengthen communities

Supporting the emergence of charter schools as an alternative to public education is one thing. Subsidizing, with vouchers, a family’s choice to transfer their child to a charter or other private or parochial school is another.

“Choice” is one of the key components of the educational reform movement being pushed by the federal government, by the Pence administration and by corporate America. Candidates who support such reforms announce with great passion that education is at the top of their priority list. Voters need to understand that these candidates are not talking about “public education.”

Advocates of “choice,” holding teachers and schools accountable on the basis of ISTEP+ scores, Common Core, taking control of schools out of the hands of communities, and diminishing the influence of teachers unions are what might be called “the politics of abandonment.” These reform initiatives include no provision to help the public schools that are being abandoned and that are losing much-needed revenue.

The sad reality is that charter schools are not the solution to the challenges of public education, if for no other reason than because there will never be enough private classrooms to hold all of our nation’s public school students.

This movement away from strong public schools can only aggravate what is already a two-tiered society of haves and have-nots in which the latter is made up of our nation’s poor and the disadvantaged. It is a burgeoning population that includes the majority of our nation’s minorities and also those for whom English is not their language of birth.

This population is separate and apart from main-stream society. By weakening our public schools and the relationships between those schools and their communities, we are burning the bridges between us; a practice that will have tragic consequences for our future.

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri are but one example of what happens when the ties that bind us are weakened. What kind of future can we expect when more and more Americans are unable to trust the agencies of government charged with public safety; officials who look on certain neighborhoods and their populations with inherent suspicion? If we want to be a healthy society, we must all be willing to trust one another.

The only way we can begin closing the gap and tearing down the barriers that separate us is to strengthen our public schools and the relationship between those schools and their communities.

We must come together to support our public schools and the educators who do their important work under the most adverse circumstances.

We must return control of our public schools to the communities they serve and to the professional educators upon whom our children depend.

We must restructure our educational process to focus on learning not test preparation. We must create an environment in which our children have time to learn and in which our teachers have time to teach.

Advocates for public education are coming together here in Indiana and all over the U.S. to counter the “politics of abandonment.” Those readers who were unable to attend the Oct. 4 viewing of the video “Rise Above the Mark” are encouraged to check it out and even host another viewing.

Our public schoolchildren and their teachers and schools need Americans to take a stand for public education.

“Rise Above the Mark” viewing on Saturday, Oct 4th at IPFW

If you have not seen the video Rise Above the Mark, take the time to go to the Rhinehart Recital Hall on the IPFW campus at 2101 E. Coliseum Blvd in Fort Wayne, this Saturday, October 4th at 2:00 PM.

This is a video that should be seen by all citizens interested in public education from any perspective.

It is vital that people understand the truth about the current wave of “corporate reforms” being pushed by the federal government, Governor Pence, and leaders of corporate America.

These reform initiatives place our nation’s children at risk and voters cannot make an informed decision about which candidates to support until they have heard the rest of the story.

Check out the following link on the website of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Educaton at the following link:


It’s all about the Kids!!!