"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

Friday, January 1, 2021

Another set of New Year's Resolutions

The New Year is a time for reflection and planning. Many people enjoy reading top ten lists from the past year as well as making New Year’s Resolutions. Last year I suggested some New Year’s Resolutions for teachers. This year I have a few more to suggest...only this year they're resolutions for legislators and education policymakers (and even billionaires who think their money qualifies them to pontificate on education).


#1 Learn Something About Education, Standardized Testing and Teaching
...more than 50% of the state budget goes to education!
The first and most important is to take some time this year to learn something about education before you start making laws, pronouncements, or restrictions for public schools. Indiana politicians -- especially those who don't know anything about public schools -- love telling us that "more than 50% of the state budget goes to education" though I've never heard any add that the "more than 50%" includes ever-increasing amounts for religious and private school vouchers as well as money for privately run charter schools. If we're spending that much money on education, then shouldn't the people who are passing out the cash know something about what it's going to be used for?

Since 2011, a lot of the legislation passed in the Indiana General Assembly and signed by Indiana Governors has had the side-effect of changing what goes on in Indiana's public school classrooms. If you, as a policymaker, are going to continue to change classrooms and the job descriptions for educators it would be helpful if you learned just what it is that goes on in a public school classroom and how Indiana's professional educators make it happen (and no, just because you WENT to school when you were younger doesn't mean you know how education works!).

...because I'm sure that you, dear legislator or policymaker, wouldn't want someone to tell you how to do YOUR job, right? I'm not talking about your job as a public servant [sic]...I'm referring to the job that's listed as your occupation on your official bio page.
For example, if you used to be a corporate executive at a company with several billion dollars in annual sales, you probably wouldn't appreciate a group of primary grade teachers telling you how to increase profits. Or perhaps you're a financial planner. Would you want a bunch of middle school English teachers telling you how to choose investments for your clients? Or how would you feel, as a furniture store owner, if the P.E. teachers and coaching staff from the local high school came into your store and took over your ordering and inventory? The same goes for those of you who are auctioneers, attorneys, career politicians, and former florists.

No one likes someone else telling them how to do their job...especially if someone else doesn't know what they're doing.

So, now that you've resolved to learn something about education, where can you go to do that learning? That's Resolution #2...

#2 Invest Time in Your Local Indiana Public Schools

How about if, along with talking about how much money is spent on education, you...
...spend more than 50% of your legislative (or policy based) research time on education.
If the state spends that much money in one area, isn't it worth the time to learn about it?

Sure, I know that quite a few politicians make appearances at one or another local school and some, like former Governor Mike Pence, love to visit private schools. Since the vast majority of Indiana kids attend district public schools, maybe you ought to see how things are going in those schools

...the public schools...

...the ones that are mandated by the Indiana Constitution.

When you spend time in a school, make sure you give yourself enough time to really get to know something about the students, teachers, and the community. Don't just drop in for an hour and a photo op with the administration. Spend a week in one school...several hours a day.

Sit in the teachers' lounge and talk to the teachers about how things are going. Ask them how much time they spend on their job outside of contracted hours. Ask them how testing has impacted their classroom.

Visit the parent workroom -- if there isn't one, why not? -- and ask the parents about the school. What do they think about the administration? Ask them how they like their child's teacher. Ask how testing has affected their child.

Most of all, sit in classrooms and watch the teachers teach. Help them out. Volunteer to teach a lesson. Take the daily quiz. Take cafeteria duty...recess duty...bus duty...

It might be nice to spend some time in public schools on special days to really get a feel for the teaching experience. Try the day before Christmas vacation in a fourth or fifth-grade classroom. Halloween in Kindergarten or first grade. Testing week in third grade (I'm an elementary teacher...perhaps some secondary teachers have suggestions for days special in high school or middle school).

Repeat the same experience in more than one school. Make sure you choose one of the schools in your local district with a low A-F score. Why do you think the students in school A, for example, score higher on state tests than the students in school B? See if you can figure it out. How can you help increase learning?

Before you leave the district, have a talk with the business manager and see if there's anything you could do to make their job easier and improve the district.

#3 Help Your Local Schools, Don't Punish Them

Once you finish goals #1 and #2 you'll have a pretty good idea of what's behind student test scores, teachers' frustrations, and administrator/school board headaches.

Now, go to Indianapolis and spend more than 50% of the rest of your career doing what career teachers do...help to improve public education in Indiana.


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