From Our Executive Director, Jacqueline Hicks (February 2017 Newsletter):

Consider:

  • Much has been wrong about our education system, long before DeVos became our Secretary of Education.
  • Less than 10% of the money for public education comes from the federal government.
  • Best to focus on what WE ALL can do to make our local schools great.
  • Start by looking at what teachers, parents, and students know works and do that.
  • Think global and act local – start with your local school board and your school’s PTA.

My time as an education reformer began in 1997 with California’s Charter School Movement well underway. As a parent of a very unhappy 7th grader, my husband and I had to face the fact that our local public school was not meeting our needs or those of our young son. My husband with his lifetime California teaching credential had a very good idea of what makes a classroom a quality learning environment. Fortunately, we found a new, innovative, charter middle school that fit us to a T. I became a very involved parent and I learned what best practices, small class size, project based learning, field work, portfolios, understanding learning style differences, and integrating subjects around a yearlong theme could do for my son’s happiness and success in school.

Taking what I was learning at the charter school and combining it with my knowledge of and experience with the Person-Centered Approach (gained largely at the Center for Studies of the Person founded by Dr. Carl R. Rogers and colleagues), I developed a leadership curriculum for middle and high school students. I then went on to start, with my friend and partner Linda Reed, Cortez Hill Academy charter middle and high school. Our foundation and school culture was Person Centered Approach. We included best practices, small class size, project based learning, field work, portfolios, understanding learning style differences, and integrating subjects around a yearlong theme. The Person-Centered Culture meant all stakeholders mattered – students, teachers, parents, administrators, and concerned community members. Those students who participated with us at Cortez Hill Academy (CHA) were successful with our Expected School-wide Learning Results (ESLRs) – Relational Competency, Academic Mastery, Artistic Expression, Healthy Life Style, World Citizenship, and Lifelong Learning – along with earning their diplomas. Parents still stop me on the street to thank me for the education their student received at CHA. Former students and teachers and reminisce about the freedom to learn they experienced at CHA and its influence on their lives going forward.

We have a new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose ideas seem to be undefined or inarticulated, and perhaps counter to the purpose of education as defined by United States Department of Education: “Our mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” One thing that seems to be clear is that she supports charter schools and school vouchers. Let’s look back to the last time public education faced vouchers in California. The charter school Initiative emerged during a push toward school voucher proposals in the early 1990s. The friction between progressive and conservative initiatives produced an experiment in public education.

The Charter School movement has been growing, first in Minnesota and second in California, for over 25 years, and now it includes 41 other states and the District of Columbia. Charter schools still have the capacity to be independent, innovative, smaller environments, and responsive to the wants and needs of their constituents. The whole notion of charter schools was to become the Research & Development division of the Department of Education. The idea was that experimentation and innovation would mix with the tried and true of traditional schools, for the benefit of all. The California Charter School Act of 1992 holds charter schools accountable to the following goals:

  • Improve pupil learning.
  • Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
  • Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
  • Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
  • Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
  • Hold the schools established under this part accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
  • Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.

So, what are we afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? I hear people in education expressing fears that the new administration will tear down public education: eliminating the teachers’ unions, instituting a voucher system which benefits parochial and private schools, and eliminating funds for special needs and English language learners and the Arts. I agree that our current system of education is at risk. That might not be all bad given that, the last time we measured, the USA ranked 18th among 36 countries in education. Within our own society we admit to being less than pleased with the results we see from the education of our youth. So while DeVos may incite significant change, it may end up being just what is needed to bring our educational system back to its roots: localized instead of nationalized. Sometimes we need to tear things down so we can rebuild them the way we want them to be. To do that, I believe we need to answer the question, “What is the purpose of education?” I imagine that each of us has a different response, which is why it is so difficult to have a one answer fits all education system. When we have answers to that question, we can look at educational models that give the results we feel are important. And we can start to control our education system locally. This may be just the opportunity we need!

My answer to the question is: The purpose of education is to learn how to learn. If I know how to learn, I can learn anything I want to whenever it becomes important for me to know it.

What is your answer? It seems to me there is still a lot of work to do whether using traditional approaches, or trying new things, or a combination of both. Please share your answer to the question in the comment section below.

Education Transformations exists to support teachers with their very huge task of preparing all students for successful participation in, and contribution to, our increasingly complex world.