Juan Williams: Fixing Our Schools

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

If you missed Juan Williams’ news special Fixing Our Schools last night on Fox News (shame on you!) you can catch some of it on the web here. Great feature on Carpe Diem, School of One, digital learning and interviews with Jeb Bush and Joel Klein.

13 Responses to Juan Williams: Fixing Our Schools

  1. Niki Hayes says:

    I tried to watch it. I just couldn’t hang in there when the conclusion was becoming that technology is the basic answer (plus good teachers) to American education. There is simply not enough–if any–reliable and peer-reviewed research to prove that technology is the broad answer for our kids. In fact, the companies that have a stake in digital learning are the ones doing the research that show great successes. You think they will claim that failures exist?

    My parody of James Carville is this: “IT’S THE CURRICULUM, STUPID!!” Educators like to say that curriculum isn’t just about the text materials and that it includes methods of presentation. In truth, most teachers see the “curriculum” as what is in the textbook or teaching tool(s). Put weak teachers with user-friendly, well-explained, and proven content, and kids can learn to proficiency. Put strong teachers with that same content, and kids can zoom. I’ve seen it done as a teacher and I’ve seen it as a principal. The best tools in the box are, therefore, a good teacher and great curricula.

    From Mr. Williams’ written story on the program, he says, “Out of 65 countries around the world measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), students in the United States ranked 30th in Math, 23rd in Science, and 17th in Literacy.”

    Technology is wonderful and I loved it as a teacher and administrator, but are all those countries ahead of us using digital learning? No? Then let’s be honest and say we are being told that technology, or machines, can take the place of absent or deficient adults in our public schools. Do you have any idea how long it will take to convert teachers into techies? You’ve heard that saying that people don’t resist change; they just resist being changed? Do you have any idea how long it would take to change the textbooks/materials so they reflect solid content and no political correctness? That could be done in one year. It’s not politically or financially viable, we’re told.

    Either way, we’re in deep trouble. While we seek examples that work to make us feel better, we can’t prove that they can be replicated. So we keep creating new examples while using our kids as guinea pigs. We’re like a shaken bowl of jello: Lots of movement and no direction.

    • allen says:

      You may want to try to learn to hang in there because technology’s finally gotten to the point where it’s too cheap, too easy, ubiquitous and mundane to hold at arm’s length as the public education system’s been doing with technology till now. Taken together with collapsing public faith in the district model you may have to get used to more then the incursion of technology into education. You may have to get used to changes in education that are as revolutionary as those wrought by moveable type and like that revolution those dependent on the status quo were forced to adapt.

      • Niki Hayes says:

        I embrace technology the same way I embrace the computerized anti-lock brakes on my vehicle and my concealed .9 mm handgun. Each is a marvelous tool to be used with thorough training in its appropriate and judicious use. That being said, I don’t believe tools should be placed in the hands of untrained and immature individuals who automatically think tools, themselves, will give them extra “power.”

        I saw and read about too many folks in Seattle who crashed on I-5 because they thought their brake system would stop a vehicle on ice and wet roads. Over 30 years, I’ve witnessed school districts plunge millions of dollars into technology programs that no one ended up using effectively. And, I know that when I renewed my concealed handgun license in June, now at age 72, my classmates and I were drilled again on range targets and classroom studies about the law and our “non-rights,” as well as our rights, as users of the tool. And, yes, we have to pass a written test that requires paper and pencil.

        It’s an old saying, but tools are only as good as their users. That means humans had best keep tools at arm’s length until they respect the consequences of their use and are willing to train others in those consequences. This is especially true when those tools are used on children–who too often become guinea pigs for adults in their eagerness to make money.

      • allen says:

        Indeed, tools are only as good as their users and the tool-users are only as good at the use of their tools as their motivations require them to be. School districts have no motivation to use technology for its primary value – increasing the productivity of employees.

        In fact, quite the opposite so the funding that was made available by a public unclear on the motivations that drive the public education establishment was wasted.

        School districts, as a moments reflection will reveal, have no motivation to reduce head count. The primary advantage of technology holds no interest to those who administer school districts and no particular interest to those who are elected to govern school districts so it should be no surprise that funding earmarked for the use of technology in education will be wasted.

        The two changes of recent vintage that alter that situation are public schools which are inherently dependent on parental approval – that would be charter schools – and the ubiquity, capability and plunging cost of the technology. Somewhere further down the line that plunging cost should render the case for the ludicrous cost associated with public education unsustainable as private schools taking advantage of that drop in cost flood into the market.

  2. mathwizards says:

    Jeb Bush and Joel Klein?? Why would I waste my time on that? Niki sums it up well. Common Core = NO VENDOR LEFT BEHIND thanks to Bill Gates and Obama.

  3. MOMwithArain says:

    IF the schools are choosing lousy math programs/text books and forcing the teachers to use a dumbed down program, what makes anyone think they will choose quality software?

    IF the school refuses to teach basic grammar, what makes anyone think they will choose software that teaches basic grammar?

    If the school uses history textbooks void of facts, what makes anyone think they will use quality software?

    IF the school pushes political indoctrination instead of actual science, what makes anyone think they will use quality software?

    IT’S THE CURRICULUM; STUPID.

    • Oldschool says:

      Only Kumon Math will work for kids k thru 3rd grade. How can kids doing 5,000 out-of-sequence-confusing math problems a year compete with a system that offers kids 50,000 perfectly written math drill questions a year (besides the regular math curriculum.) Doubters should do their own comparison. Americans don’t know how to write efficient math drills and they’re too arrogant to use those of the Japanese.

  4. Matthew Ladner says:

    When I posted this I said to myself “Despite the fact that this has absolutely nothing to do with Common Core, anti-Common Core comments coming in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….”

    Unfortunately my plane dropped below 10,000 feet and I lost wifi, but you guys did not disappoint once I reached the ground.

  5. Teacher Joe in LA says:

    Amen to Nicki, Wizzard and the Mom-Brain.

  6. […] more here: Juan Williams: Fixing Our Schools august, carpe diem, digital, friends, home, jeb bush, log-nbspout, rick ogston, school of one, […]

  7. Greg Forster says:

    Here’s a question. If schools are currently so bad at choosing curricula, how do you create a system that will choose better curricula? If the current system is liable to prioritize vendors over the educational mission, how do change that? I mean, other than just telling the system to make better choices – the strategy that has flourished so well for fifty years?

    It’s the school choice, stupid! 🙂

    • Oldschool says:

      There’s only one choice for early childhood math–the Japanese system of Kumon Math. The American Society for Engineering Education said the same thing but special interest groups continue to fight it. Same problem with foreign language: American kids should be learning foreign languages beginning in kindergarten but that’s not happening, so our kids fall further and further behind, costing the economy billions while more and more jobs go to bilingual immigrants.

  8. Barry Stern says:

    I’ll have to go with Niki Hayes on this one. A great curriculum makes teachers better. It’s also essential to hire teachers who can relate to students, persist until they learn.and enjoy teaming with students and other teachers to get everybody over the bar.

    Imagine, for example, an educational program called Fast Break that applies the principles of sports teams to learn fundamentals and keeps getting better as the players (instructors and students) coalesce as a team. The program would be a module in the school curriculum, an intensive 5-8 hours a day pre-season training that gets students ready for the “season”. To ensure rapid learning and develop in students a compelling vision of success, courses would be team taught, cross-disciplinary, computer-assisted, highly experiential and applied. Coaches (teachers) would always would be available to counsel and give pointers. Like members of a sports team students would help one another succeed. Indeed, even if they made good academic progress, they wouldn’t graduate unless they demonstrated good teamwork and willingness to exceed expectations.

    Actually, Fast Break exists. This 300-hour model concentrated into 8-12 weeks was developed by Focus:HOPE in Detroit in 1990, replicated in Los Angeles with a National Science Foundation demonstration grant in 1995 and expanded in Michigan and Alabama in 2000 with state funding. Students typically make 2+ grade-level gains in reading and math (1-2 WorkKeys levels) in just 2-3 months, and they obtain employable skills in computer applications, as well as teamwork, customer service, conflict resolution and other job readiness skills. The model has been very successful in helping young adults in Detroit, Los Angeles, Flint and other communities move ahead to career entry positions or college. Employers and colleges are highly satisfied with the graduates, describing them as “self-starters” who learn fast and can collaborate effectively within and across work groups both ‘live’ and virtually.

    Fast Break attracts young people and persuades them to work hard because it operates much like a high performing sports team. The program emphasizes teamwork, daily practice of fundamentals, daily feedback on individual and team performance, effective time management, continual communication among staff and students on how and why to do better the next day, continual opportunities to integrate theory and practice and to apply skills in game-like (“real world”) settings, expectations of helping fellow teammates to improve, and the targeted use of technology to diagnose and improve abilities and communicate results instantly to those professionals who are accountable and to owners (boards and taxpayers) who foot the bill.

    Members of the best teams like the best companies want to be driven, want discipline, want to exceed expectations, and want to be part of a group with a higher purpose and winning mission. Moreover, they want to stay together long enough to produce excellence. Sustained time together in search of a noble cause also helps teenagers and young adults develop what they want most of all—good friends.

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