The essentials for good schools are willing learners, a safe and supportive environment, excellent teachers, fine administrators, quality support staff, small classes, adequate facilities, the necessary tools, involved parents, and strong community support. Stephen Blum
Posting another article I just read. The excerpt above, taken from the article below, captures the essence of what it takes to have effective schools. Addressing each of these is not easy, especially across our immense and diverse country. It takes commitment, common sense, capital, and courage to ensure each of these elements are contributing what is required of them. As political creatures, we tend to reach for the expedient, easily identified, and popular (to whichever segment is behind the politician) measures regardless of whether they address these essential elements or not. Sadly, President Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, while advocates for improving the sad status quo of education today, fall into the same trap where catering to constituents (with the most money or influence) ends up skipping over the harder work that is necessary for effective, impactful, and lasting improvement to take root.
Obama’s good intentions have led to simplistic solutions
By Stephen Blum
Last week on “The Today Show,” President Obama expressed his thoughts concerning public education and his reform notions. The President is probably well intentioned when it comes to education reform. He is correct on some issues and almost sounds as if he knows what he is talking about. The problem is, he is not well versed on the nuts and bolts of how to improve America’s schools. Many of his simplistic solutions and micromanagement mandates are not helpful.
President Obama’s basic message was that education is very important and that radical reforms are needed. He pushed for a longer school year, more charter schools, working with teachers, merit pay, and his Race to the Top program. He took his usual jabs by commenting how “bad teachers” are the problem and that teachers unions are unwilling to change. He praised charter schools that have “figured out” how to educate.
Education is not rocket science. The ingredients that create good schools are not classified information. The essentials for good schools are willing learners, a safe and supportive environment, excellent teachers, fine administrators, quality support staff, small classes, adequate facilities, the necessary tools, involved parents, and strong community support.
Very little in Obama’s Race to the Top program addresses what schools really need. Closing underperforming schools, firing the principal and at least half the staff, converting a school to a charter, sending children from low-performing schools to high-performing schools, or awarding merit pay does not address the needed reforms. They are misguided, simplistic solutions that mistake activity for achievement.
My thirty-plus years in education have shown me that teachers, board members, teachers unions, education support personnel, and administrators are very eager and willing to embrace positive solutions and reforms. These same groups are generally opposed to reforms that will not help or will make matters worse.
A more intelligent plan would address how to foster more willing learners and create safer schools. True education reform must address the recruitment, training, and retention of teachers, administrators, and support staff by making the jobs more appealing and less stressful. A superior plan would discuss how to achieve smaller classes and provide the necessary tools. Lastly, the plan would facilitate increased parental and community support for our nation’s public schools.
President Obama did get one thing correct when he said if we are going to improve public education, we must work together to make it happen. However, thus far, this is merely talk. His idea of “working with” people seems to be dependent upon them agreeing with his naive notions.
Effective leadership requires the ability to take divergent opinions from different people and forge agreed-upon solutions. Effective leaders do not try to force their ill-conceived ideas upon others. This president seems more concerned about being right than doing right.
Stephen P. Blum is the president of the Ventura Unified Education Association and a member of the Ventura County Community College Board of Trustees. He served as a high school teacher for 25 years and as the cross-country and track coach at Buena High School for 22 years. He has a Juris Doctorate degree, a Master’s degree in education, and a Bachelor’s degree in history. His wife has been a teacher for 30-plus years. Their daughter is a student at California State University at Channel Islands.