Friday, March 25, 2005

The Business Roundtable is Right on Some Things

Disclaimer: This is NOT satire. I've decided this site may need to come with warning labels.

Public education should come clean with a few things. Our expectations HAVE been too low, for too long, for too many of our students. Don't take this wrong teachers, if you are taking the time to read this, you probably aren't the ones we are talking about.

I was in a meeting this week with an elementary teacher I have a great deal of respect for. Not just because he has the courage as a veteran teacher to drop down a few grades and take on a new grade level to stay challenged, but because he tells it like it is. When I want to know as a superintendent, what a current classroom teacher thinks, he tells me.

He let me know a year ago, that a certain "program" the school chose to implement, was not in his mind, appropriate for his grade level. Six months later he has decided that he underestimated the abilities of some of his students, Now granted, the program isn't appropriate for all of his students at this point, but he indicated that he may have underestimated the ability of his top students. He now has students reading three and four grade levels above their current grade, and showing tremendous interest in reading. He isn't totally sold yet, but as a professional he didn't complain, he implemented it under the promise that if it didn't produce results we would change. As a true professional, he can face the facts with an open mind.

Can the rest of our colleagues face the facts with an open mind?

My point is not to discuss any particular program, curriculum or methodology, it is only to bring out a discussion about expectations.

One thing many public schools are finding out, much to their chagrin, is that many students are capable of much more than we expected. While not actually meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) with special education students, we are finding these students are still capable of much more than expected previously. Unfortunately, under the punitive rules of NCLB, their tremendous progress will be labeled "FAILING."

The pressure from the Business Roundtable has been primarily about expectations. I do NOT agree with total dependence on standardized testing, nor do I agree with many of the NCLB requirements, but I have seen so many students rise above what might have been expected of them, that I have to say that raising the expectations for students has been, overall, a good thing. The Business Roundtable isn't all wrong.

I must point out that excellent teachers have always had high expectations. However, in recent years I have seen more and more teachers take on this challenge of raising their expectations. I am proud to say that many of our students (and teachers!) are rising to the occasion.

Our future success will depend on whether or not society will allow us to continue our progress, and it depends on how we handle with care the students who aren't able to meet rising expectations. Will we treat them with dignity and provide them an opportunity to make a living wage in the new economy?

One businessman who posts here from time-to-time said it takes 15-20 years for a business to truly establish it's vision and mission. Will the Business Roundtable and the State Chamber of Commerce groups provide the same time for public schools to rise to our new mission?

Or is the mission of the Roundtable just to break up the public school system no matter what progress is made?


At Saturday, March 26, 2005, Blogger NO said...

I agree. Well said. One other idea, that come from the same and similar sources that has served us well in our district is site councils. Although when they were first set up I believe that they were meant to take some control away from district office and the board, they have not done that. They have however, allowed all the different constituencies a voice in major school decisions, such as staffing. Although I rail against then constantly, some good has indeed come from the BRT. JF


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