"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back to School, Fall 2010

This week my still-working-colleagues returned to the classroom to begin the school year. I had occasion to visit my former school yesterday and I made it a point to go around and talk to some of the teachers. Several things were apparent in just a few visits.

The new curriculum

Last year representatives from all grades in our district spent about 2/3 of the school year writing a curriculum to replace what we have been using. Today, the first student day of the year, is the first day of its implementation.

Many of the teachers are worried about it...concerned that it won't work with their students or it won't do what it's been hyped up to do. Some are confused about how to implement it. Others feel like it's reducing the role of the teacher away to that of a robot, following a list of directions. Time will tell, of course. We'll see how it works.

Larger class sizes

Class sizes have increased.

Research in class size has shown that lower class sizes helps - especially in the primary grades...especially with at risk and minority children. It lowers achievement gaps, reduces retention rates and special education referrals and the best thing, the benefits last for several years.

But we can't reduce class size. It costs money. It requires more teachers and more resources.

This is just one more of the "more with less" circular philosophy which has been dumped on the public schools. Schools are failing, but they need to cut back on spending because there is no money for resources. It means less support for classroom teachers -- support which can offset larger class sizes if used wisely. With no money it, too, has disappeared. Fewer resources means larger classes, less individual help, and growing gaps in achievement. Growing gaps in achievement mean more "failing" schools. More "failing schools" mean more publicity about how the public schools in the country are no good.

It also means more fodder for the so-called reformers who favor charters and more testing (don't forget to include the President and the Secretary of Education in that group). The little bit of money that's being dangled in front of public schools is only for the select few through RttT. The winners who get it have to promise to spend more of it on charter schools and judge teachers on the test scores of their students. The losers don't get that...and they don't get any money, either.

Gandhi said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." Among America's weak are the children...a larger percentage of whom are living in poverty than in most other industrialized societies.

There's a pessimism about the future of public education that permeates schools. Constant bashing from the press and the politicians will eventually wear down even the most positive teacher. Lack of support by society will help the so-called reformers in their quest to weaken and destroy America's public school system.

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