Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Same End In Mind...Different Means To Get There?

By Peter DeWitt — November 05, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It’s interesting how we can have the same end in mind, but the means to get there are different.

We have all seen the funny cards that say things like this one that says, “I wish a politician with no teaching experience would just come in and tell me how to teach, said no teacher ever.” There are so many it’s hard to count, even after all of our Common Core math training. At Education Nation, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush came up with his own...even though I don’t think he meant to.

In a one-on-one discussion with NBC’s Brian Williams, Bush said that “there are people on the right who want a great deal of accountability and everyone on the left doesn’t want any accountability at all.” Watch the full interview here. We didn’t have time for questions, so I didn’t get a chance to ask him if he has personally spoken to every person on the left.

It made me think of my own card...”I don’t want to be accountable,” said no teacher ever.

Jeb Bush was wrong. I’ve never met a teacher or principal who said they do not want to be held accountable for the learning of their students. They believe they are accountable, but also believe parents are as well. In fact, many educators have shifted their thinking from the belief they are solely responsible for the learning of students to firmly believing it takes a village to educate a child, and they engage more parents in the educational process.

Education is Complicated

The truth is, I agreed with Jeb Bush on a few of his points. Let me say that again...I agreed with Jeb Bush on a few of the points he made. I strongly disagree with most of his stances on educational issues and believe that they lead to a bad place. Most of them are documented here in this August Politico article.

However, the part I agree with is that we can better educate children in America. It’s interesting how we can have the same end in mind, but the means to get there are different. Providing a better education to students depends on the student, their academic level, and what their lifelong goal is as well. Unfortunately, it also depends on their zip code.

We can stretch the learning of all students, help bring struggling students up to a new level, and help engage more students so they can maximize their full potential. But here’s the thing...many educators have always believed that. Former Governor Bush made blanket statements that we should really not be making anymore. Education is not about absolutes and one-size-fits-all programs.

Bush mentioned, with a bit of arrogance, how they raised the standards in third grade because a large percentage of third graders were “functionally illiterate.” Sounds great. He went on to say that they stopped using social promotion and took a tougher stance with their expectations. They began retaining kids. He never mentioned how many of those students ultimately dropped out of school before they hit ninth grade.

Many educators don’t like social promotion, but they don’t like retention either, because statistics have shown that 50% of students who are retained can be retained the very next year, and that students who have been retained twice are more likely to drop out of school. Even with the best intentions, extreme rules result in collateral damage, and that damage is done to kids.

How Do We Get There?

It really doesn’t matter which “side” you are on when it comes to the education debate. What matters is when we let our “side” prevent us from listening to someone based on what “side” they are on. Educators know what they need to strengthen our educational system, and we have talked about those things over and over again. We need:

  • High quality preschool
  • High quality daycares
  • Higher expectations - I do believe this one. Sometimes we do not stretch the thinking of the child because we don’t want them to struggle too much. Find a common sense approach to maximize self-esteem and learning. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
  • Literacy-rich environments in every home
  • High quality literacy practices in the classroom
  • High quality pre-service teaching programs
  • High quality school leaders who know what they are doing and want to work together with teachers, parents and students.
  • High quality teachers who feel respected and earn that respect
  • Involved parents
  • Politicians who walk their talk
  • Proper funding for schools, and for schools to use that funding properly
  • Professional development that is practical and not a waste of time because it’s more about compliance and less about creativity
  • High quality student engagement
  • Testing that isn’t tied to teacher and administrator evaluation because that sets up a bad dynamic. We already know who is responsible for whom
  • Formative assessment that helps the teacher and student facilitate better learning
  • Summative assessment that provides teachers with an item-analysis on where students went wrong and what they did right
  • Rotations to maximize individual learning
  • Proper health care
  • Good nutrition
  • Increased use of technological tools

People need to compromise a bit, stop worrying about which political party is right, and begin to actually implement some intelligent changes and work together. We need only to look to
Congress to see what it is like to point fingers and not do anything productive.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.