What are you thankful for in education?


In a recent tweet, I wondered aloud about what we should be thankful for in education (a similar discussion happened before Thanksgiving on the Learning Matters website). I got a variety of responses, including:

  • Students who are hungry to learn;
  • Parents and other family members who work in concert with teachers to support effective learning;
  • Growing collaboration between School Boards and Unions, often made possible by foundation grants;
  • Teacher collaboratives, like Barnett Berry’s Teacher Leader Network and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards;
  • A rich and broad variety of well-written blogs that assist in solving problems;
  • Research and documentation of pedagogy and materials that have a positive impact on learning; and
  • The Internet itself, which allows teachers to connect and support each other.

That’s a nice list. However, although I am basically a ‘glass half-full’ personality, it’s hard to be cheerful given what we are doing in public education. While I was in California last week, a friend in Palo Alto told me that his daughter was one of 40 students in her high school math class, one of 38 in her history class. In Palo Alto, one of the state’s richest communities! Our 2005 documentary history of California education, “First to Worst,” is due for a sequel, “First to Burst.”

Or take the U.S. Department of Education. It seems to me that the push for higher standards, the emphasis on early education, and the support for developing common tests are all positive. But, with its other hand, the Department is supporting more cheap and dumbed-down testing when it encourages grading teachers based on bubble test scores. Now, I know someone will tell me that I am misrepresenting Arne Duncan and send me quotes from his speeches, but I think we are past listening to what’s being said, and into actually watching what’s being done.

What should inspire this reaction in education?

I would be happier if the Department supported policies that rewarded entire schools, not individual teachers, because education is a team sport. After all, federal legislation punishes entire schools for not making ‘adequate yearly progress.’ So why not create some carrots to go along with the stick? How about ‘OYP’ for ‘Outstanding Yearly Progress?’

In California last week at a 1-day meeting about “next generation” assessments, I was struck by the richness of what’s being developed in New York, Ohio, California and elsewhere. In these approaches, project-based learning leads to complex and comprehensive assessments. The logic is clear: kids will dig deep into subjects, and the assessment that follows will respect their efforts. In this (future) world, simple bubble tests will be trumped by assessments that are also learning experiences.

Right now, however, bubble tests rule. Teachers spend as much as one-sixth of their time getting kids ready for the test, administering the test and test makeups, or going over the test. Imagine that: 30 out of 180 days on testing stuff, days that could be spent on learning and teaching. New York State just announced plans to expand testing, so that third graders will now take a 3-hour reading test, and Washington, DC, has announced its intention to give standardized exams to second graders!

We won’t get to a brighter future until we figure out ways to turn our backs on the idiocy of the current system–while keeping our focus on achievement and accountability.

A final note of thanks: Learning Matters has received a challenge grant that will give us $100,000 if we can raise $100,000. Right now we are about $40,000 shy of the goal. If you want to help, click here. Invest $20 or $100 or an amount of your choice, and I promise you will get that back tenfold in quality reporting.

12 thoughts on “What are you thankful for in education?

  1. Hi John–

    Happy Holidays and thank you for publishing the “glass half-full” types.

    I am not an educator but I am grateful for the fact that our daughter is devoting her career to education and that she is one of more and more young(ish) people I hear about who are doing so despite the poor pay and frustrating state of our system.

    I am also grateful for the dedication of members of the “boomer generation” such as my sister, her husband and my friends (including your wife) who have spent their working lives teaching and who, again despite the frustrations, have stuck with it, keeping their eye on the prize: the welfare and futures of children. Apples for them all!!


  2. I am thankful that I work at a preschool that values its teachers and pays better than most, that there are still a few places that continue to fight the uphill battle against a sole emphasis on academics for three year old children (who should be learning social skills and self-help skills) and that I have a strong team of professional teachers. However, I despair that such a place is a dinosaur who will soon be extinct.


  3. I loved the video, which I hadn’t seen before.

    I was in California from 1967 to 1972. I stayed current on things there, and I am well aware of Prop 13. I’m inclined to blame it for the decline in California schools, but in researching Jo’s and my intended relocation to the wine country north of SF I have one nagging question. How is it that California property taxes for homes that are not all that much more expensive than our Bloomington house are several times what we pay here, yet our schools are okay and our state functions–indeed has recently showed a surplus–while California schools went have gone down the tubes and the state is nearing bankruptcy?

    Besides wanting to know the answer to that question, I’m thinking about the bully pulpit you occupy. As you doubtless know, a majority of California property tax payers today believe that Prop 13 was, on balance, a good thing. As you also certainly know, one goal of the Republicans’ “Red State” strategy is to impose similar property tax caps. I think that any danger from property tax caps is out of sight and out of mind. Without a kick from the bully pulpit, the Republicans and their fellow travelers will continue to control the message.

    Being in a state whose legislature and governorship have been victims of the Red State strategy, we have some recent experience with property tax caps. We have a Republican-installed property tax cap in Indiana now. Promptly upon its implementation, Governor Daniels pleaded economic necessity and cut the state’s share of funding–the lion’s share–substantially. In Bloomington the schools were able to get a referendum passed to make up the state shortfall, but statewide those initiatives were not very successful. As well, the tax increase sunsets in seven years and the schools have to go back to the voters to keep the money. I think that some similar compilation of the history of Prop 13 as it has affected California schools would be valuable. We have fewer than 30 months to look at here in Indiana, but with California can analyze the dynamics over a period of more than 30 years. That would be a great context in which to place the present drive for similar property tax caps.

    At some point I’ll put in the required time and research my own answer to my question, but if you have any insight that would inform me on the early end, I’d be grateful to learn it.


  4. I teach undergraduate students studying to be teachers I am very, very thankful for the quality, sincerity, honesty, intelligence and dedication of the next generation of teachers!! The children will be in good hands!


  5. Update: We are closer to our goal of raising $100,000 by 12/31, which we have to do to get another $100,000 in that challenge grant. You’ve donated $68,000+, meaning we need $32,000. Spread the word please


  6. John, would you be interested in doing a piece about Save Our Schools (SOS)? This is the grassroots movement that staged a rally and march in Washington, D.C. July 30th, 2011. We are planning for 2012.


    • I think this is amazing! It just goes to show that our youth do unedrstand teachers and they know how to pick a bad teacher out of a crowd. I wish I could send this to every bad teacher I knew, I bet it would open their eyes. Too often I see these bad teachers say things such as oh they’re kids, they don’t know any better but I’d say that right there is proof that they DO know better. Thanks for sharing!Shana


  7. In case anyone hasn’t heard the good news, we made it….with 11 hours to spare! Many thanks to the hundreds of friends of our brand of independent journalism at Learning Matters. By reaching $100,000, we will receive an additional $100,000 from the Brin/Wojcicki Foundation.

    So Happy New Year!!!!


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