I have been in the field of education for more than a few years. And, there’s a resounding sense of change that has begun to happen beyond the constant talk about the need for change and then the multiple voices calling out to “come this way” only to find that “this way” wasn’t the solution.
To state the problem succinctly: public education has failed to teach everyone. To state three of the most pertinent issues surrounding this statement: 1) many teachers (far too many) want to teach the way they have always taught (which is primarily the sit and get model, particularly on the secondary level), 2) when hard to reach (low socio-economic-- primariliy generational povery--, English language learners, learning handicapped students) students fail to learn we arrange blame rather than take responsibility and change, 3) teaching hard to reach students (particularly on the secondary level) is tragically difficult and onerous-- to the point that most professionals avoid the challenge.
Nothing about the problem is particularly new, and nothing about the pertinent issues is particularly new. What is new is our response. First, I have to say that, regardless of what anyone thinks or says, what No Child Left Behind did for public education is nothing short of the most momentous educational legislation ever passed. Every school has had hard to reach students since... hmm... forever. NCLB evened the playing field and let us take a look at how the hard to reach students performed in the glowing schools that boasted incredible results with their incredible students; and oftentimes, the picture painted of the hard to reach students’ progress there was not pretty--- just the same as the performance of those students (whose numbers were far greater) in those schools that were “terrible.” Essentially, pretty much everyone was doing a terrible job with hard to reach/teach students.
But, the remarkable thing that came of NCLB is that suddenly the greatest thinkers in public education began to address how we could reach and teach all the children regardless of what overwhelming odds that existed against the children. This weekend I went to Washington, DC for a Symposium for School Improvement presented by the ASCD. For two days we talked and explored research proven strategies for reaching and teaching the most difficult to teach children. Popham engaged us in a meaningful dialogue on formative assessment and how to use it to guide us reaching/teaching all children, Addison helped us refocus on RtI. Gene Carter talked to us about Marzano’s work and challenged us to reform education using his three platforms of most effective ways to reach/teach: 1) formative assessment, 2) effective instructional strategies, and 3) academic vocabulary. Research proves these techniques; we only need listen and act.
As I worked with other educators from around the United States and Canada (there were only 40 of us), it became clear to me that the answer is just now emerging on the FIX. And, I realized as George Bush leaves the ranks of our leadership that he did far more than any other president has ever done to reach all the children and improve the brain capital of our country. So, as he leaves a country rife with problems, it is still appropriate to thank the man who might just have started the turn around. Thank you, George Bush.
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