Maybe you’ve heard the now famous “blueberries story” about education. That story comes from this book. So, I have an idea. As I’m reading this, I don’t want to be the only one hearing its message which we ALL should be hearing in this current educational and political climate.
So, here’s what I’m going to do: As I read each chapter I’m going to summarize its main points and important quotes/ideas. I think once you start reading you’re going to want to hear the rest. As we go through the book, I hope it sparks discussion and, at the very least, makes you feel more understood and appreciated like it has for me. Furthermore, I firmly believe that the message of this book needs to be our central mission as we go forward at the local, state, and federal level as we take the lead in the direction of education and its reform.
You can read the rest of Scott’s proposal here.
FROM CRITIC TO ALLY
The Ever-Increasing Burden
I had no background in education, which made for a steep learning curve, but it turned out to be a huge asset. I had no vested interest in any program.
I had little understanding of just how much America’s public school students had changed.
Like so many outsiders, I had little understanding of just how much America’s public school students had changed. I was shocked to learn that twenty-two percent lived in poverty, the highest rate in the industrial world. And hundreds of thousands had no permanent address. I had no idea that forty percent of all students were minorities. The special education legislation of the 1970s had added to the school rolls millions of kids with special needs, some requiring intense intervention. Weak, incompetent parenting was forcing teachers and administrators to devote time and energy to rude and unruly children — children who were socialized by watching thousands of hours of television, children who were manipulated by a predatory commercial culture that skewed their values and instilled a dangerously overdeveloped sense of entitlement.
My growing understanding of the students led me to consider how much we had added to the curriculum since the first schools were established.
My growing understanding of the students led me to consider how much we had added to the curriculum since the first schools were established. In order to keep track of the additions, I was forced to develop a decade-by-decade list of all the academic, social, and health responsibilities that have been heaped upon our schools. I called my work product the “Increasing Buren On America’s Schools.”
At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, politicians, academics, members of the clergy, and business leaders saw public schools as a logical site for the assimilation of immigrants and the social engineering of the citizen — and workers — of the new industrial age. They began to expand the curriculum and assign additional duties. That trend has accelerated ever since.
The truth is that we have added these responsibilities without adding a single minute to the school calendar in six decades. No generation of teachers and administrators in the history of the world has been told to fulfill this mandate: not just teach children, but raise them!
. . .we have added these responsibilities without adding a single minute to the school calendar in six decades.
As shocking as the list is, no discovery about our public schools was more surprising or had a greater impact on my thinking than the amazing record of their success.
Contrary to public opinion, most of the traditional indicators of student success were not down, but up. Since the 1960s, enrollment and attendance were up. The average number of courses taken in high school and their degree of difficulty were up, as were the number of Advanced Placement courses taken and passed. Graduation rates were steady to slightly up. The number of graduates going on to college and the percentage of those who graduated with a degree were up — remarkably so for minorities. It was true that the average scores — what the media reported — were down, but this was because more kids from the middle and the bottom of the class were taking the tests. Even in the international arena, where public schools are much maligned, contrary to everything I had read and heard (and said), America’s children were performing at high levels.
. . .contrary to everything I had read and heard (and said), America’s children were performing at high levels.
All things considered, the record showed that every year since the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk, the people working in the vast majority of public schools had raised student achievement. Unfortunately, the record also showed that every year, America’s students fell further behind; the gap grew between what our kids knew and what they needed to know to succeed in a post-industrial society.
But we were never going to close the knowledge gap by continuing to assume that the system was sound and forcing an already overburdened workforce to work harder, not just over the short run, but forever. The Quality Movement to know that the top-down imposition of accountability measures that emphasized extrinsic rewards, sanctions, ridicule, and threats was not the path to excellence. At a bare minimum, we had to prepare almost every child for advanced learning in some post-secondary program, a feat that no society in the history of the world had even contemplated, let alone accomplished. A strategy of blaming, demonizing, and intimidating educators was no only futile, it was counterproductive.
And then, out of the blue, I read something that caused everything to fall into place.
My catastrophic moment was triggered by a single sentence written in the eighteenth century by one of our Founding Fathers. There was a major flaw in the system, and I knew what it was.
AMAZON SITE: If you want to get the book, you can go to http://www.amazon.com/Schools-
BOOK WEBSITE: http://www.jamievollmer.com/