I have now been working in the world of education for nearly a quarter century. During that time, I have watched the court of public opinion and politicians wreck havoc on the education system. What frustrates me most is that yesterdays solutions are now becoming the fuel for today’s problems. I am frustrated, as I believe many in education are, that nothing will ever satisfy the insatiable appetites of some to tear down free public education. What do you want to do, return to 1960?
When I started teaching in 1991 the master and commander of any classroom was the teacher. I set the learning direction, outcomes, and for many we decided on what materials to use to achieve those goals. That sounds wonderful doesn’t it? It was a wonderful time and I enjoyed teaching my 5th graders all that I thought that was important for them to know. The problem was, “What I thought was important” is that what was really important. This was before the inception of the first curriculum standards. Many schools suffered from classrooms that lacked cohesion of instruction from grade to grade or section to section. I remember a staff meeting when we realized that several of us, in different grades, were all teaching about the planets. We were running our kids, unknowingly, through the same content just because it was each teacher’s pet unit. We all liked planets and space. In Reading I personally, loved to use novels at that time. So I had my students read “Charlotte’s Web”. This is a great book, but I know now I had no guide to insure I instructed on all the core reading and language skills necessary. We just read the book and enjoyed it. I was leaving big gaps in my students instruction. Across the nation parents and communities noticed the problems of gaps in instruction as families became more mobile. Students that moved had big gaps in instruction which would cause learning issues later in their educational careers. So, we needed a solution…..
The solution was the development of state wide instructional standards. To ensure, and prove to our patrons, what was being taught at each and every grade level we needed to create a list of skills. My first experience with content standards was in Ellendale. We then took the ND State Standards for grades 4th, 8th, and 10th and broke them down to build educational standards for each and every grade. This way every teacher in our building would know exactly what was expected of them to teach. This was a tough time for some teachers as they had to dump their pet projects and units. Teachers and administrators however, now became more in tune to what they were expected to do and what a child was expected to know to move onto the next level. Teachers began to use the standards to evaluate a student’s performance instead of a subjective grade alone. As a profession we became more scientific and detailed in our processes, which was good. However, at that time parents wanted more. If their child was not performing up to the standard, then why?
Why, was the next shift to come to my profession. No longer could we simply buffalo a parent with educationese and speak to them about what we believed was the problem. We were asked to provide proof to a child’s learning needs. To provide proof teachers had to become more clinical. Just as doctors no longer said “I think you have a heart problem” they now used a test to prove it, so did education. Teachers were asked to use scientifically based tools to evaluate students and scientifically based methods to instruct them. The Mr. Fastnacht of old was out for good. The new generation of classroom teachers could not just dabble in the profession they had to use strategies and tools that were proven to be effective. The profession was becoming more uniform and it brought about the opportunities to teach students based on their individual needs. The art of teaching was diminishing and the science of teaching was taking over.
– Now somewhere in here came NCLB and the world began to turn upside down — I will not berate the goal that 100% of kids should be proficient in Reading and Math, however the accountability requirements and the notion of identifying failing schools, not so good. But honestly where did that come from? This came from politicians and the public who were demanding better from their schools. Parents in failing schools wanted to know they were failing and be able to choose better schools for their children. I can hardly blame them. However, I think we can all look back on this legislation and see some repercussions that we are all still dealing with today.
Finally, since the end of the NCLB era, the present administration and political leaders have been unable to come to agreement on a new direction for the US education system. In the absence of a new path the administration and Dept of Ed. have come up with their own program “Race to the Top”. I will applaud my state for not taking part in this program. I believe it was the right choice. However, the news is dominated with stories from states that are all racing somewhere. In Ellendale the era brought forth demands to make our students ready for a post-secondary education. Governors, politicians, the business community, parents all wanted their children ready for the new generation of jobs. This started with the idea of P-16. P-16 outlined skills and an education format for students in PreK through grade 16. To reach that goal the Common Core was brought forth as the new set of standards to follow. Almost every school already had a set of standards, it was not a new concept, and it is necessary to ensure quality instruction. So many teachers began to make the conversion. I embraced some of the aspects of the core which asked students to think more critically and demonstrate they understood concepts. A show-me attitude versus one where the students were simply asked to fill in a bubble. Asking students to demonstrate their knowledge was a good thing.
But something happened… recently the political climate has taken the concept of standards, technology, federal authority, and teacher/principal accountability and just mixed them all up into a soup of discontent. I am not saying I agree/disagree with each of these items. In fact I can assuredly find pros/cons to each and I tend to think that I am a man that can use good common sense to see what is best for my students. I am not, will not, follow blindly any new initiative. However, I am frustrated. Their are those that want to eliminate standards, or maybe just the common core. Either way, we have to have standards.. however we craft them. We need them because going back to the era when every teachers does whatever they want cannot work. The use of scientifically based diagnostics is not going to go away. Time is way to precious of a commodity not to give teachers the very best tools to determine the individual learning needs of every child in their classroom. By doing this we save time, and instruction is more fine tuned. We can’t afford to just teach a lesson to everyone and hope they get it. Lastly, using one test to determine if a child, teacher, or school is successful….. Well I agree that one must go. However, that does not mean progress monitoring must go. We will always need some suite of evaluations or diagnostics to prove to parents their child is learning. How, if at all, this information is used to prove a teacher or school is successful, well that needs more debate.
I hope you get a sense of my frustration. Many of the changes in education that we have today, in my opinion, were driven by the desires of the past. Today’s problems were yesterdays solutions and for some reason we don’t like what we have. Would anyone want to turn our classrooms back to the ones from 1960. We may want to have 1960 back, but lets be honest, we don’t want to turn our education system back to that time. Our kids are different, our society is different, the educational needs of our children are different, and our school are different. In my opinion we may have an imperfect system, but it is much better than in 1960.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with a group of home school families recently as part of a joint venture to build a better relationship between home education families and the public school. This meeting was the joint brainchild of a home education parent and I and was derived during a meeting we had over the summer. Home Education and Public Education can appear to be at odds often by those inside and outside of education. I believe often this is due to misunderstanding of what each is striving to accomplish along with being clouded by peoples own viewpoints of each.
At our first meeting which included parents from over a half dozen home education families we started by just getting to know each other. It was a very informative time for me, personally, as it was good to hear specifically why each family choose to home educate. As a person on the inside of the school I must admit it is difficult to understand each and every families desire to educate at home. In fact, the reality, proven by the families own testimony was that each family had a unique reason. It is not that each is a religious zealot, which some believe is the reason. It is not that they hate the public school. It is more often than not because the parents think this form of education meets the unique needs of their child.
Their reasons for choosing home education made me think about how public school strives to do the same thing, only to a much larger scale. Realizing we have nearly 35 instructional faculty, not including all the support staff, you can easily see individualizing instruction down to each and every child is near impossible. I freely admit that a teacher in a classroom of 20 students is challenged to meet the unique learning needs of each student. However, instruction has improved greatly over the past decade to now use tiered instructional groups, high quality timely assessments to drive instruction, 1:1 technology to enable individualized instruction, and additional support to assist students that are struggling (ex Read180) to help teachers accomplish this task. It is hard to argue that the home education way is wrong, and public education is right, or conversely, solely on this point. Each will face challenges to meet the unique needs of their students. In the end, I took away from this first meeting that we really do have the same goals. We are both striving to provide our children with the best opportunities to learn and achieve greatness. Neither is perfect, but neither is either wrong.
I do believe that public education has unique opportunities to offer children and when needed we will supply these tools and resources to any child or family. I believe public education is an essential element in our community and in our country, as it allows for a fundamental education for all citizens. I believe that public education is strong and not even close to as bad as some portray it to be. I believe the education of our youth is vital. I also believe that home education vs public education is not a South vs North fight. Both, are striving to meet the unique needs of the children they have responsibility to educate and by working together maybe we can build bridges between both institutions to a point where neither feels contempt or alienation by the other. By doing this, working together, we can educate our children for the future. This really should be our focus.
We are planning a second meeting later in the year, and look forward to continuing to build these bridges of understanding and acceptance.
To help explain the issues of finances and spending at Ellendale Public School I have created a series of infographics to explain the following:
and to attempt to explain the states funding formula for schools I have created…
After the taxation public meeting last week it has become very apparent that more is needed to help inform everyone of where the money goes, and comes from, in regard to school finances. So in an effort to accomplish this task this is the first of a multi-part post on the finances of EPS. The first will focus on expenses, particularly the General Fund (this is the main fund). Later I will post about revenue and taxation and possibly other areas if interest and time allows.
Please follow this link to an INFOGRAPHIC that may help start a discussion about WHERE THE MONEY GOES.
Sorry FB officials I put this post in the wrong blog. Here is a link to the correct one
The start of school and now a vote for a post Labor Day start many are asking what my views are on this topic. So I thought I would share a few of my personal thoughts.
- Summer is a fleeting commodity that in all totals hopefully 12 glorious weeks. I also agree that I wish it could last longer.
- School starting on Aug 19th could be pushed back some to accommodate another summer weekend, but…
- Regardless athletes will be starting around mid August. This year football started Aug 13; and Cross Country on Aug 11th. These dates will not change.
- Heat is not an issue for Ellendale, since we are now fully air conditioned.
- For my kids… they are ready for school by mid August. They want to return to that routine and see their friends. I believe many are the same.
- Lastly, and most importantly, I believe the start time of any school should be decided locally, by you and the school board.
I do appreciate how quickly August returns and all of us are dreading the end of summer and the looming winter season approaching. I also believe EPS should move our start back a small amount, but this is more to accommodate the increasing demands on professional development and training time for our employees. I do not support moving the start date back to after Labor Day as I think this is an arbitrary date that is not appropriate or convenient each and every year. In the case of this year the start date would be Sept 2nd, but other years it could be as late as Sept 8th. If it was Sept 8th some of our athletes could be in practice for as much as 3 to 4 weeks before school would start. Some have stated.. wouldn’t these dates change if the law was passed? My response is no. The start of football is directly tied to the events in the Fargo Dome… NDHSAA event, respectfully, are not the most important events in that facility (GO BISON!). Again, most importantly, I feel this is a local control issue. If you have discontentment over the school start date you can share your concerns with me or any board member. Together the school board, teachers, and I work to put together a workable school calendar each year.
In this image what is more important…
- The skills and talents of the student?
- The skills and talents of the teacher?
- The quality of the materials around them?
- Or the relationship between the teacher and the student?
For the past decade American education has been dominated by quality materials and even more dramatically quality tests. Everything has been predicated on the test and there results. If we only had better diagnostics so teachers knew exactly what elements of a course were missing we could ensure every child achieved identically. Some would have had us believe that it was as simple as just monitoring the end product and adjusting the assembly line accordingly.
I never believed in this principle completely. I will admit the quality of assessments has improved greatly over the past decade and using them in schools, conservatively, can improve teaching and learning. But something was always missing!
The other day the Ellendale faculty, staff, and I had the privilege of listening to Mr. Dave Weber (@dave_weber). Mr. Weber spoke about “Sticks & Stones” and the concept of Kiononia. ”Koinonia is a transliterated form of the Greek word, κοινωνία, which means communion, joint participation; the share which one has in anything, participation, a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, etc. It identifies the idealized state of fellowship and unity that should exist within the Christian church, the Body of Christ.” (Wikipedia, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinonia). He hit the mark! Kiononia is FAMILY, COMMUNITY, it is the concept of the RELATIONSHIP we have with those close to us. We all experience Kiononia in our family, at church, and possibly at work. Kiononia put a name on what we had been searching for.
Starting as early as three years ago EPS teachers and administration knew there was a growing disconnect between students & students, teachers & students, even teachers & teachers. We all rushed around the school doing our jobs but did we have the time and energy to make long lasting significant connections. Bullying, social media, and simply the pressures of being a young person were appearing to fragment our students. One example of this was the decline in students participating in extra-curricular activities and clubs. In the classroom some teachers noticed a greater level of student apathy toward learning and a disconnect between learning and a child’s future. The creation of an RtI period for students in grades 7-12 seemed to help some, but not all. Some students, who needed the help, were not taking advantage of it. Lastly, teachers last winter asked for additional time to meet and collaborate as they were feeling isolated and disconnected from their peers. All these things were additionally reinforced by parents as part of surveys done through the AdvancEd process last spring. You were seeing similar issues.
KOINONIA gave a name to what we need! I believe that education can be filled with facts, busy work and at times can be boring. We all learned our multiplication tables, don’t lie, it was boring and on occasion some things are just boring work. But this is not all the time. What propels individuals to get past that state and learn? It is RELATIONSHIPS. It is the power that the heart has on our mind. When we feel we are part of a FAMILY, COMMUNITY, or in a RELATIONSHIP where our hearts are engaged learning becomes more meaningful. The learning becomes easier.
Can the concept of KOINONIA be what our students are missing that would benefit their personal lives as well? If students had a stronger sense of KOINONIA would bullying and harassment decrease? If they had a stronger sense of KOINONIA would that translate to more club participation and stronger bonds between our students? We believe it can.
During this year be watching for aspects of KIONONIA at Ellendale Public School. It is a focus of many efforts at the student level, inside and outside teacher’s classroom, and even will be extending outside of the walls to you.
It is now only a few days before the start of the 2014-2015 school year. I do hope that everyone had a wonderful summer that included a few days of fun and relaxation.
I want to begin by welcoming back all those returning to EPS. It will be wonderful to reconnect with each of you next week. You may not believe it but it can get awfully lonely around these halls during the summer so it is always fun to see our students return.
I would next like to welcome all those that are new to EPS. This year we are expecting to see 25 new faces in the student body. This is a wonderful thing for not only the school but our student body as each of you will assuredly bring new talents, experiences, and personality to our hallways. If at any time you have questions or concerns please do not hesitate to ask a teacher, office staff, or other adult as we are ready and waiting to help.
Lastly, I would like to introduce the new faculty and staff for this year. Similarly to the students we have a significant number of new faces on the faculty.
- Mr. Dan Girard, Elementary Principal
- Mrs. Nancy Anderson, 4th Grade Teacher
- Mrs. Jasmine Smith, 1st Grade Teacher
- Mrs. Becky Middlestead, 6th Grade Teacher
- Mrs. Sharon Langley, Music
- Mr. Austin Flynn, SPED Aide
- Mrs. Tosha Fuher, SPED Aide
- Ms. Chrissy Hammer, SPED Aide
- Mrs. Norma Trautman, Head Cook
After much distress earlier in the year it would appear that the EEK Thunder are solidly in the 11A division for football for the 2015 and 2016 years.