Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No Barriers ...



I loved this...I needed it today. Hope you enjoy this as well. So long as we are always willing to listen & talk, there are endless possibilities!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Armed Guards?

Today is a first for me as a school administrator. Today, a well intended - and obviously concerned parent took the time to hand write a letter requesting that I do more to ensure her children's safety within my schools. Her plea was that we employee an armed guard (or guards) at every school location and that they search everyone entering the building to make sure the children are safe.

As a parent and educator considering the horror in Newton, CT and elsewhere I can lose myself in that idea. I allow myself to dwell there in that thought - imagining a new world where schools become fortresses protected by trained law enforcement personnel...but while I am dwelling there in thought, I can't stop with armed guards at the front entrance because I imagine all of the other areas of vulnerability. Such as, we must replace glass windows in each classroom with fortified bullet-proof glass so that someone can't open fire on a classroom window...my mind continues to imagine that while even the bullet proof glass isn't adequate, I start to think about lunch recess or simply classroom teachers who decide their children need some fresh air and exercise - what about them? If I am going to allow children that basic necessity  I will need additional trained officers - like a SWAT Team - to escort the children from the school building to the playground...while I continue dwelling in this dark thought I now turn to the next imaginable vulnerable point - dismissal and arrival - how can we protect every child in their parent's care - after all they drive them to school without the protection of armed guards - some even stopping at the local Wawa to buy a last minute snack because the night before was too hectic with soccer practice and homework - who will protect the children (and parent for that matter) exposed in the open air between their car and the convenience store? For those children who must ride a bus to school, like my own, the current busses are not acceptable - we need to outfit them with bullet resistant steal and windows - we should probably put an armed guard on the bus as well and at the bus stops too... see if I allow myself to dwell in this darkness there will never be light. Once we start trying to protect against the evil that was present in Newton we might as well bunker down and never again live our lives.

Instead, I chose to stand as exposed as all of you - with my children as exposed - and simply say that living life is too joyous to surrender it to evil. And while I completely understand this parent's dispair, an armed guard at an elementary school is not the answer (in my humble opinion) as it isn't enough. I imagine an armed guard would have done his/her best to stop the killer but would have likely been in the wrong part of the building attending to some concern or worse yet - would have been among the first of the heroic victims. It is my opinion that while we must prepare and hold our drills in case the worst of humankind is present at one of our schools (malls, movie theaters, convenience stores, homes) we can never be 100% secure without being 100% isolated.

Monday, December 10, 2012

One Gate-Keeper's Story

Webinar


Opening the Gate to Leadership 2.0: One Gate-Keeper's Story
Presenter: David Gentile, Ed. D., Chief Education Officer for Millville Public Schools in NJ


The Link above will take you to my recent experience with the edWeb.net team. I was asked to present a webinar and share my story as a leader relative to Leadership 2.0. I enjoyed the experience and hope you will to.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Hate School But Love Education





(source Huffington Post)
English rapper-poet Suli Breaks is out with a video that's taking the Internet by storm, and young people are loving it. I would guess, however, that many educators are hating it. Or rather, fearing it. Fearing it because a part of us relate to the reality of pieces of his poem. For the best educators, this will not upset them, but rather serve as a question mark along the journey to realize how to make our schools better. For me, I identify with much of what Suli says, for example, when he says that educators start with a checklist when they create their lesson plan - and assessments, anything outside that checklist is marked with an 'x'. This is true, we start with the common core standards and push our students to meet those standards - perhaps we are missing out on some amazing discoveries which are found in the 'wrong answers'. I feel it is at least worth considering.
I also connect with the young poet's passion for urging the world's youth to "understand your motives and reassess your aims." Students must connect to their learning - why are they pursuing an education? If it is simply to make your teachers proud or parents happy you will likely find the experience to be somewhat empty. If, however, you identify your strengths and learning goals regardless of the lesson you will be able to find meaning in it. 
Suli urges us, "Let's look at the statistics," pointing to moguls worth billions of dollars as examples of those who succeeded without graduating from an institution of higher learning: the late Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Jackson. (We won't harp too much on the fact that he misspells both Zuckerberg and Jackson's names.) Does Suli have a point? Perhaps -- school might not be for everyone, but an education is crucial, and students should assess whether they're really in school to learn. 
The "statistics" he points to in fact show, time and time again, that degree-holders have more opportunities and earn more than non-degree holders over a lifetime. The top dogs he cites as examples are exceptions to the rule, and have generally had some level of formal schooling.
While both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are Harvard University dropouts, their companies are products of their time spent in school. And Oprah Winfrey, as a matter of fact, graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in speech and drama. Jobs, it's also important to note, credited his school teachers for his success.
"Redefine how you view education, understand its true meaning," Suli Breaks says. "Education is not just about regurgitating facts from a book on someone else's opinion on a subject to pass an exam. Look at it. Picasso was educated in creating art. Shakespeare was educated in the art of all that was written. Colonel Harland Sanders was educated in the art of creating Kentucky fried chicken."
While he's right that education does not equate to rote memorization, the examples given are all of specialists in a field -- and all come from a time when industries and individual careers were more stable.
Nowadays, a handful of sectors struggle to fill more than 3 million open positions, according to CBS News. Despite the more than 20 million people who are unemployed in the United States, companies can't find workers to fill positions in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and manufacturing, due to a lack of skilled workers.
And without general schooling across practices, moving from one field to another can be difficult. Jamie Pacheco was a commercial painter until the downturn in construction forced him out of a job. For Pacheco to get a job in another field he needed more official schooling, CBS News reports.
We must give our students an opportunity both to learn and to be prepared for the workforce.
Emmeline Zhol, from the Huffington Post, writes that Suli Breaks is indisputably correct when he says, "There's more than one way in this world to be an educated man." But there are alternatives to stepping away from proper schooling because it's too rigid or too expensive, as he suggests.
The question is not whether education is "still worth" the cost, but how to reform education (via campus culture, course curriculum, learning standards, etc.) so that it is still worth it on a practical level -- and how to make formal education more affordable and accessible to all.
Over the years, American students have fallen behind foreign peers on performance in core subjects, and are failing to catch up. Young adults who excel academically and intellectually come from countries where education is deeply embedded in society and culture. For those countries, schooling and education is a given, an "underlying moral purpose" that would never be questioned. While we foster that very inquisition in America by cultivating a backwards debate, instead of creating our own culture of education, our foreign competitors are gaining the global advantage.
Studies have shown that students say they don't learn anything in the first two years of college -- pointing to a broader concern within U.S. higher education that universities are being run more like corporations than educational institutions. When students treat college as a stepping stone to a job, colleges treat them as consumers who attend for a degree and then move on.
The numbers speak for themselves: 34 percent of young Americans don't believe that education matters for their future, and 40 percent of those "too cool" for school are unemployed, while another 33 percent are in "interim" positions, according to a recent report by McKinsey, a consulting firm.
Of American young adults with bachelor's degrees, 7 percent were unemployed in October, compared with 20 percent of high school graduates with no college experience, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One Tumblr user, identified on his blog as 19-year-old Michael Gallagher, has written a lengthy but insightful response to Suli Breaks's video. The McMaster University student writes:
I have always believed that the best people will rise to the top regardless of what stands in their way. What I mean by this is just because certain people were successful without university does in my mind not prove any point. All it proves is the extraordinary amounts of talent, luck, and hard work these people possess.
It's unfortunate because most people aren't special. They aren't going to be the next billionaire, and yet somehow I don't see that as a bad thing.
But why not tell people not to avoid "wasting money" on an education but focusing on the real issue at hand? The whole problem with this video is that it works under the assumption that people know what they want to do with their lives and are instead wasting money in College/University. Isn't it possible that some people go to College or University because it is a safe way to not only increase their employability but to find themselves?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Day 2 Team-teaching experience

My second day included a visit from the local reporter and his photographer. They learned of my experience joining Mrs. Cotton's class and thought it would be an interesting story. What was remarkable to me was that the students did not pay any attention to the strangers in the room and were instead consumed with the material. We were having a literary discussion about the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The students - each and every single one of them - love this book. The depth of their story analysis was impressive.

During this class period, I felt as though the students accepted me as part of their community. I did my best to interject and participate in this literary analysis but truthfully, Mrs. Cotton is awesome and it is probably best if I just assist her. It is evident to me that she has a well thought out plan in her mind which includes all of the various details she knows AP English students need to master before the semester's end. After the round robin review of Chapter 23 of the Kite Runner we transitioned into Othello. There is a stark contrast between the two and this is not lost on the students. Many expressed their love for Hosseini's work and the style of Shakespeare is challenging in comparison. Despite their initial grumblings, once they are engaged in Othello, the same level of enthusiasm and insight surfaces immediately. The students dissected the various characters and identified that Shakespeare's Othello is a bit volger. I watched as they handled mature story elements with ease - they did not get lost in uncomfortableness but rather identified why Shakespeare would chose to shock his audience that way.

This group of students (and Mrs. Cotton) are truly impressive. I am glad to be along for the ride. I am diligently preparing for the next book we will discuss, A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. I will lead some of the chapter discussions (and take a more active teaching role) - and as I watch how Mrs. Cotton handles Kite Runner I know I have my work cut out for me. Therefore, I am preparing so that I don't disappoint the students (or worse yet, not meet Mrs. Cotton's expectations).

Stay tuned ...

For the story in the local newspaper see the link below
Daily Journal

Monday, December 3, 2012

Othello, Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns

Imagine your superintendent arrives in your classroom one random day and asks, "Would you be interested in team-teaching a unit with me?". How do you think you would respond? This exact scenario took place when I asked our recent teacher of the year recipient, Mrs. Tara Cotton, that exact question. Without hesitation, she said "yes". I was thrilled that she was so willing but feared perhaps because I am the superintendent she felt she could not say no. I went on to explain my motives and assured her that my visit is strictly so that I can accomplish three things:

1. Selfishly, I flat out miss the classroom
2. I was anxious to learn from her, after all she is exceptional
3. I wanted to see my district through the students' eyes; I wanted to experience what the students experience

Friday, this experience began. We have set aside several dates in December where I will team up with Mrs. Cotton during her AP English 2nd Block. I would like to share my experience and hopefully get the students to share as well on my blog.

My initial thoughts following today's first class are as follows:
1. This group of students are truly impressive
2. I left the experience energized, teaching is the greatest career in the world.
3. I am definitely a little rusty; although I have observed hundreds of lessons over the years I was reminded today just how much effort goes into preparing an exceptional learning experience. Kudos to Mrs. Cotton, her plans for this Unit are awesome - she incorporates technology & media, forces the students to think critically, and her students are challenged by the level of rigor. After today's block ended, Mrs. Cotton shared with me that this was the first time she taught this particular unit on Othello! Can you imagine the feelings of trying out a new unit of study with your superintendent as your teaching partner? I can see why she was our district teacher of the year.

I will keep you posted...


Friday, November 30, 2012

#mpswc

Excited to share our new hash tag for the Millville Public Schools Quest to become World Class-


Friday, November 16, 2012

Podcast 101

Yesterday, 5th graders at the RM Bacon School (the Bacon Bears) got a lesson from Jeffery Bradbury (aka Teachercast) on Podcasting. RM Bacon School was the elementary school I attended from kindergarten through sixth grade. The class spend time preparing for the Podcast interview by conducting research on their scheduled guests: Dr. Pamm Moore, assistant superintendent of curriculum & instruction MPS, Dr. Spike Cook, elementary principal RM Bacon School, and myself. Jeffery spent the morning teaching the class the ins and outs of conducting a podcast, filming, recording, broadcasting, interviewing...and by 2pm it was "Show Time".

I entered the classroom a little before 2pm and could feel the students' energy in the air. They all looked like they were bursting with enthusiasm to begin. Jeff spent a few minutes going over last minute directions with the class and much to my surprise he then turned the entire production over to the 5th grade class. Students ran the entire interview-the camera 'men/women', the interviewer, the rest of the students all prepared questions for their guests. I was hit with my first question "Dr. Gentile, tell us a little about your small business?"....I realized these kids did their homework by reading this blog. The students had great questions for each of the guests. After the interview, the students "flipped" the session and asked, "Do you have any questions for us?" So, Dr. Moore, Dr. Cook, and I began asking the students about what they learned from this Podcast experience. The students shared their love for their own blogs - that's right, 5th graders are blogging, as well as what they felt was important about the experience of Podcasting. One answer stood out most...this experience allowed us (the students) to understand why your jobs are important to us. Wow, 5th graders articulated the value of each of our positions. They continued that the decisions we make impact the quality of their school day. They also boasted that their classroom blog has had over 10,000 visitors - that is more than my blog. I am so impressed with the students and the teacher involved in this project. Thank you for inviting me. Jeffery Bradbury, Teachercast, also did a great job - I would highly recommend other districts have him come in to teach their staff and students about Podcasting.

Also, the principal of this building, Dr. Spike Cook is encouraging his teachers to take risks and try new things in their classrooms. I appreciate his leadership-

Once a Bacon Bear - always a Bacon Bear-



Monday, November 12, 2012

A Day of Firsts; Dads and Lads

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon (amazing weather I might add) outside with a group of fathers and sons during what has been dubbed "Dads & Lads" by the creator, my friend Steve. The day is dedicated to doing 'manly' things like: firing bee-bee guns, sling shots, motorcycle rides, building a fire and eating meat. For my 7 year old son, it was a day of firsts as he has never done any of these things before. I was amazed as I watched and enjoyed his curiosity, nervousness at times, and sense of adventure as he tried each new experience. Living on a one street looping 'cul-de-sac', it is safe to say my son has not experienced many of the things I did growing up in a home that backed up to railroad tracks and woods for miles. I loved exploring the woods and tracks as a kid with my father. One of my all time favorite childhood memories was riding 'dirt bikes (motorcycles)' with my father on Sundays. We would ride for miles and although we did not talk much during these days, we communicated over the roughness of the day. We had a bond. Yesterday, my son and I experienced a glimpse of my childhood and as the day grew on my son grew to enjoy many of the same things I did as a kid. He overcame his initial fears and awkwardness with each new experience. By the end of the day, he wasn't even worried about the mud and dirt that covered us- which earlier in the day upset him. As bedtime approached last night, he and I communicated as two men often do, by exchanging phrases and words that his mother and sister could not possibly understand because they were not in the woods with us all day. Right before he fell asleep he said, "I can't wait for Dads & Lads next year".  Try something different, get out of your comfort zone-


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Assessment

I spotted this image on Justin Tarte's Blog and lifted it to make a point - we must re-think the standardization of education. Visualize the fish trying to take this standardized assessment and know what it feels like to watch students on standardized state testing day. In this image, who would be the clear "stand-out student'? The monkey, correct? What if the exam demanded flight? The bird, right. See, like the cartoon suggests, everyone has different attributes - why then do we mandate the same assessment for our students?


Friday, October 12, 2012

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM

I have shared before, that in my district we are "systems thinkers". As such, we follow a problem solving model - IDEAS (*PEG, LLC). Identify the problem, Determine the root cause, explore possible solutions, assess the results, standardize the improvement.

Recently, the NJ Department of Education has set out on a new quest. They are determined to shift from a compliance mindset to one of support, so they say. While I do not question their intentions, these are good people who are up against a monumental task- educating every student to the same standard. I've written extensively about my vexation with that so I will spare you here. Despite their intentions, what follows is still compliance oriented.

For example, under the new RAC's or Regional Achievement Centers, designed to help the neediest districts (*based on NJASK scores), RAC states that all Priority Schools must make several new positions. One is a "Data Specialist". Without following any model of problem solving that I'm familiar with, they determined if you are a Priority School - meaning your students did not all pass the NJASK at the level they deemed appropriate, you must have a data management problem. They have not presented any data that supports that my district needs a data specialist, actually the RAC Director has applauded us for our systems approach; nonetheless we are told to hire a 'Data Specialist' for that school. Where's the process here? They identified a problem, students are not proficient, but they have missed the root cause analysis piece where they search for the cause of the problem and leaped to standardizing by mandating that we must hire a data specialist. Their model would be IS instead of IDEAS.

Just think if NASA solved problems this way...Houston we have a booster problem, ok, hire a data person...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Four Score & 7 High Stakes Tests Later...

Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, I was moved to think about what life might have been like for President Lincoln. I wondered, how did he handle the pressures of leadership? Specifically, I wondered if he had people saying, "come on Mr. President, we have always done it this way, why change it?" Perhaps the "it" was slavery. Can you imagine his emotions knowing something so deeply in his heart, "that people should never be owned" and then having others try to convince him that he was wrong?

I admire that he led our divided Nation through the conflict and Civil War in order to have a more unified Nation today. I draw strength from history - my belief that education must be un-standardized and instead it should be customized to include much more than just the tested subjects is not going away. Everyday, it actually grows! It is absurd to believe we can put every student into a 'mold'. 

We must decide in our hearts that a child's achievement level cannot be measured during one week out of the year in a test that is largely 'fill in the bubble'. We must be strong in our quest to change the policies that are designed otherwise. Student achievement is not something that should be measured to determine the value of the child, the teacher, the school or the district but rather student achievement should be nurtured in accordance with the child's passions and gifts. The 'test' of his/her success will come later in whether they can live a fulfilled life.







Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Two Times Tabled to Death" (figuratively speaking)

While out to dinner with our good friends this weekend, the conversation, as it often does, turned to education. Our friends have two children about the same ages as ours. He works in the private sector and wants the best for his kids like most parents. Knowing that I am a school superintendent, he values my opinions and thoughts around education. He will often ask questions about school and his kids' education. He usually begins by saying, "hey, let me run this by you and see if this makes sense to you". We do not always agree on educational issues but I find him to be very thoughtful around the issues. Sometimes I find myself being the defender of public education in some of our conversations, but this one - I could not defend or understand.

He shared that his son,who is now in 4th grade, must write his 2x's tables every night of the week five times each - and has needed to do this for weeks. I naturally asked, "does he not know them?" and he answered that he absolutely knows them - but when it comes to the "timed" written fact test of them he can't write fast enough. His son struggles with some anxiety around performance but truthfully, I find him to be smarter than most adults I know. I asked, "so did you speak with his teacher about this? Specifically, did you explain that he knows the 2x's tables and simply can't write fast enough?" To which he said yes, and the teacher's response to us was, "Oh, I know he knows them, but he has to past the written fact check test to move on. It is a school policy".

Ok, I am not sure if the teacher got this policy right - or if it is an actual policy- maybe she just heard that somewhere, but, if that is a policy we are in deep trouble. *This school (and district) is considered a high achieving district under the current NJ/Federal definitions of high achieving, meaning-our kids all pass the NJASK. Also, in all fairness to the school there are some excellent educators there. Most likely, this is some rule that became 'law' and has taken on a life of its own. It is time to end it.

While it is still important for children to be able to memorize the multiplication facts so they can have them on easy recall, more importantly is that they understand the actual mathematics behind multiplication. I spent the next 10 minutes at our dinner quizzing their son - he knew all of his 2x's table facts as well as what it means to multiply. If the teacher were to just think about what learning outcome she hoped to achieve I think she could see how absurd it is that he is forced to continue writing his 2x's tables every night. Let's move on already, the 3's are waiting.

Education is NOT linear, I do not understand why we feel we must gate-keep - "you can't have the next bit of knowledge until you master the current bits"... hypothetically, their son could spend the rest of his education writing the 2x's tables.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Taylor Mali; "Like, ya know?"




Taylor Mali, one of the greatest voices in education, uses his gift of poetry to shed light on education. Enjoy

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Distinguished Teacher Certification Program
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Distinguished Teacher Practice:
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Rowan University College of Graduate and Continuing Education, in partnership with the Educational Information Resource Center and Dr. David Gentile, announce the new academy program leading to a New Jersey Teacher Leader Certificate in Distinguished Teacher Practice. This learner focused experience has been developed by master teachers, seasoned supervisors, experienced principals, and superintendents grounded in teaching and learning.

The target audience includes teachers of all levels and content areas who aspire toward excellence in their craft, taking responsibility for their students’ learning, collaborating to ensure student growth, and who might serve as informal leaders, role models and specialists in pedagogy, curriculum, technology resources and data analysis to advance the honorable profession of teaching. Principals and supervisors are encouraged to participate (see special pricing incentives) to support best practices and technology resources.

New Jersey is on the forefront of dramatic revisions to the teacher evaluation process. These new requirements are being field tested now in several pilot school districts throughout the state. Pending legislation will establish a standardized teacher evaluation system with a universal vision of highly effective teaching practices, based on common language and clear expectations. Personnel decisions, such as tenure and compensation, will be based on teacher effectiveness rather than seniority and advanced degrees.

NJ school districts are required to select a teaching practice observation instrument that meets certain DOE criteria. This certificate program will prepare you to understand the expectations for highly effective and distinguished teaching and is aligned with any and all of the EE4NJ teacher observation models. Success in the academy will also demonstrate skills, aptitudes and dispositions of distinguished teaching that hiring principals and superintendents are seeking.

With the support and guidance of seasoned educators, you will design your personal roadmap toward teaching excellence and establish a networked community of distinguished teachers. Based on your personal vision for your classroom, your personal assets and values, and timely data driven feedback, you will learn exactly what distinguished, highly effective teaching looks like and how to make it happen in your classroom.

During Session One, participants will "unpack" the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards which serve as the basis for the EE4NJ initiative and each of the DOE approved models. This session is designed to stand alone; it will also serve as the foundation for the remaining four sessions. During the subsequent sessions, participants will design, implement, and monitor their personal, individualized action plans to become a Highly Effective, Distinguished Teacher.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Carrot and Stick; Rewards Work, Right?


After watching the YouTube RSA Animate (below), which I found on Justin Tarte's Blog
@justintarte shout out!), I was left with new insights that I want to share with you.

The carrot and the stick work to motivate behavior - just reward the desired outcome and punish the wrong outcome- right?

The Carrot and Stick Experiment

A study at MIT took a whole group of students and gave them a series of tasks to do (from memorizing a series of words to shooting a ball through a hoop) - they placed financial incentives in 3 levels of rewards. If you did pretty well, you got a small monetary reward, if you did exceptionally well you got a larger reward. Typical motivation system for the private sector - the results of their study were as follows: if the task was only a mechanical skill the incentives worked i.e. participants performance increased congruently with the increased dollar reward - BUT once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skills, the incentives failed to improve performance and actually higher reward incentives resulted in poorer performance. The incentive experiment was conducted by top economists (who were baffled and in disbelief) and their findings frightened them - so they repeated the experiments multiple times in multiple different environments. The results did NOT change. The higher the financial reward for cognitive taks the poorer the performance. Why?

Pink states that money is a motivator - fact - so you have to pay people enough to take the question of money off the table. This means that we all desire to have fair wage for the preparation (schooling) required to get the job, and fair for what the job requires us to do. Once we get the base salary to a fair level, the research suggests that financial rewards (bonuses) for mechanical tasks (do x then y) will work, but when the task calls for people to use even the smallest amount of cognitive skill, financial incentives back fire. Scientists believe this is because, above all, people want Purpose (meaning in life), Mastery (we want to grow and become good at stuff), and to be able to be self-directed or at least have some say so in the how we do things. To really highlight what Pink means as far as pay people enough to take money out of the equation - if you were asked to be a teacher in 2012 and told the salary would be $25,000 a year - you would feel grossly underpaid based on market conditions, right? This is starkly different that if you were a first year teacher at $45,000 (plus medical benefits), yes of course you may still wish you had more or find a district where first year teachers make a little more or less, but you are in the market range. The researchers determined that so long as you are within the market range, money stops being a top motivator for performance.

Purpose - Mastery - Autonomy

In education, it is easy to connect with the Purpose - at least it should be as we want to make a difference for kids. That is an awesome purpose. We want to master our craft so we learn new instructional techniques and try to stay current on the various federal and state mandated reforms that are put upon us. Unfortunately, with the demand associated with the reforms, such as high stakes testing, the consequences of being labeled failures can easily shake us from our purpose and ultimately leave us with a feeling of failed mastery. Further complicating matters, once a school has been labeled as a failure, the federal and state departments of education take away our autonomy, change the game so we can never really gain mastery (example- new instructional programs designed to be the cure are forced upon district leaders). There are actually schools across the country where teachers literally have to read a scripted lesson - and every teacher in every classroom is doing the exact same thing. That is degrading and humiliating and it flies in the face of what the research says motivates people.


Leadership Take - A-way

As a leader, I hope to help my staff stay connected to their sense of purpose - our kids. I want  to make sure they have what they need to do their job. I want them to have a plan for developing mastery of their craft. To me, this means that I don't change our 'plan' or strategy every year. Constant 'reform' leaves staff exhausted and unmotivated - not to mention if you keep changing the target you can never master the performance. Lastly I lead in a way that offers my staff defined autonomy. Defined autonomy is a collaborative autonomy where I respect their input, passion, individual talents and use them to set expectations. Visualize a football field, my expectations is that you get the ball across the endzone without stepping out of bounds - I leave it up to the professional to determine how to get the ball (or students) across the endzone (or achieve at a rigorous level).

Un-standardize

This idea that we can standardize education is absurd - we must customize the educational experience by allowing our teachers to connect to their purpose (or calling), become the masters of their craft, and have autonomy (defined) in how they inspire our children. There are no simple answers to improving our schools - there is no magic program that can be dropped in - what will work is building the capacity of your staff by maintaining a focus on our purpose, using an instructional model (or approaches that are proven to be effective i.e. Blooms Taxonomy), and lastly let teachers have autonomy to inspire our children to be life long learners. This can be directly transferred by the teachers to our students - help them realize their purpose in life, help them achieve mastery, and also give them defined autonomy. Students should be able to have input into how they will 'show evidence' of mastery.

Something to think about- Watch below





Friday, September 7, 2012

"Engage Me"





This is powerful! The students are capable of so much, if we just don't limit them. Check this out-

Racing To The Top Of The Wrong Mountain


Recently, I read a response to Obama's Education Grade of A- by Will Richardson of Flemington, NJ. If you are thinking, 'boy, Dr. G has mentioned this Will Richardson guy an awful lot lately' you are right - I reference him a lot because I believe he is a premiere voice of reason in education these days when it appears all policy makers are lost. You should get familiar with his work too.

Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times ( NY Times - Obama's 1st Term (Will Richardson's comments at bottom) cited Race to the Top as a 'cost effective way to create nationwide change'. For those of us in education reality, we recognize that the great race has made education decidedly worse by placing an ever growing emphasis on test scores as a measure of just about everything under the sun. According to policy makers and politicians, high stakes test scores can tell us everything from the value of the teacher, the principal, the school, the district, heck it can even predict winning lottery numbers. When if fact, educators know that these tests kill student's passion to learn. Now, these tests, will place the burden of a teacher maintaing a job or getting a raise squarely on the shoulders of kids (no pressure), they are used to grade schools and even education preparation schools. Tests that ask questions that can be answered by a Google search. Tests that discount the literacies required to live in an age flooded with technology. (See the National Council of Teachers reading and writing literacies at National Council of Teachers Reading/Writing. Your kids literate by that definition?)

All high stakes testing is really good for is telling us the obvious, how a child scored on a narrow assessment of knowledge at that moment, on that day - they can't tell us if the child was given breakfast that morning, or was recovering from a nasty cold, or if they were stressed out over the fact that their teacher can't sleep at night worrying about how their students will score on the state test - Poverty is consistently left out of the discussion of high stakes testing. The students who do not meet the proficient mark have some common traits - largely all come from low socio-economic status (free & / or reduced lunch), are special needs (either special education or english language learners).

Reforming Education is a billion dollar industry. Unfortunately these reforms are focused on the continued quantifying, ranking, sorting, scoring and comparing of learners, teachers, schools and are actually no reforms at all. They are reforms driven by policy makers catering to a growing number of businesses who see literally billions in profits through privatization as long as learning is easy to measure.

But, what do these measures tell us about creativity? About a child's ability to cooperate, to solve real world problems, to think entrepreneurially, to continue to learn? The test prep mania that we are in the midst of is creating a generation of kids destined for unemployment because the emphasis of schools remains drumming answers into kids heads most of which they will never use. That's especially dangerous at this moment of huge change.

Please, please, inform yourself as a parent and community member of the dangers of believing a school or district is what the high stakes testing companies say they are. Instead, judge them based on the environment that create for their kids - is it a welcoming place, where children are free to explore their passions and ideas with support from caring adults trained to support learning...lastly, are they fun? As a parent, these are the traits I am concerned about. I propose we start a Bill that would give parents the right to 'opt their child out' of the high stakes - high stress tests. Who is with me????

DR. G.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012




This is a must see, Will Richardson discusses the future of schooling - if we want a future, we should listen to his thoughts!

The Extravaganza in Review

If you have been paying attention to the MPS you know we just celebrated the start of a new school year in style! The "Main Street Band" performed throughout the morning and did an outstanding job of  keeping everyone's toes tapping and hands clapping. Main Street Band is a local band featuring a MPS teacher, Wally Maines and his brother Chuck. When asked to perform for our 'top secret' opening day extravaganza we told them, "we can't pay you, we can't feed you, (thanks to NJ code), but we will appreciate 'the daylights' out of you". They said yes without hesitation. If you aren't familiar with Millville, this may seem odd that they would agree to the terms but what makes this city great is that people around here will go out of their way to help each other. I greatly appreciate their willingness to keep everyone's spirits high with their talent.

Respecting the dreams and talents of our staff and students is a central theme this year. Sir Kenneth Robinson said it best, "education is not linear - its a great lie really, to think you start in kindergarten and march straight through college until you land in a great career. Those days are history". Instead, Robinson suggests that the arts and creativity are keys to the future. MPS is on a mission to become a world class school district. We believe to do so, we must create the environment for our students to learn to learn - so they can become 'life long learners'. We will embrace the creativity and respect our students' dreams!

Our opening day Extravaganza was awesome by most accounts. I am so happy that our risk to try something different paid off with good time had by all.

In my address, I shared the W.B. Yeats Poem “He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven”

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Inwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)

I ended my address with "Very soon, our students are going to come into your schools and lay their dreams beneath your feet – please tread softly!"

I wish everyone a great new school year!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Summarizing Opening Day 2012

"Aspire to serve like the great Gandhi"
This year, I really wanted to do something outrageous and different to start the school year to emphasize a fresh start. I feel we have accomplished that. Just watch the two clips below this post (in order: the Extravaganza then watch my YouTube "Captive Post, Extravaganza Gone Too Far Spoof). We had fun, used the latest technology to generate interest around our Tuesday open day event.

David Tilton, CEO Atlanticare
This year, more than any other, my approach to leading is simple - Service. I read a book recently entitled "The Servant" by James Hunter. This book was given to me by the senior leadership team at Atlanticare (Hospital System). Atlanticare was recently awarded the Baldrige Quality Award and as such are experts in quality. Dr. Moore and I were able to get an hour meeting with their CEO, David Tilton and his senior leaders. During this meeting we asked questions but more importantly listened to their story. For all involved on their side, this journey started back in the 80's. At that time, David ? said a successful day was not being fined by the health department for a violation. As they put it, it was not a lot of fun to work for Atlanticare during that time. Despite their early challenges, there was something about this group of leaders that was determined to improve their reputation and more importantly the quality of care for their patience. Together, they embarked on a journey to become world class - sound similar? Yes, MPS is on a similar journey to become a world class school district. Similarly to Atlanticare, our challenges are great but so is our resolve to become the best.

I mentioned earlier, my approach is based in service - the book which was given to me by Atlanticare, helped guide their journey and I feel strongly it can help ours as well. To serve means that as superintendent, I make sure my senior leaders have everything they need to get the job done - they in turn make sure the building leaders have what they need - the building leaders do the same for the teachers - and the teachers for the students. The primary point I learned in this book is that in order to lead one must serve. And serving does not mean giving  your employees or customers everything the 'want' but rather what they 'NEED'. Hunter makes the clear point, that it is not the leaders role to give employees everything they want, like 50$ an hour wages - although that may seem nice, what they really need is sustained long-term employment at a fair wage - giving them what they want would actually put our organization out of business and not respect their real needs. I am committed, more than ever before, to serve my employees' needs and therefore serve our customers' needs. A want is a wish without regard to the physical or psychological consequence. A need on the other-hand is a legitimate physical or psychological requirement.

This year, in whatever you do, think about serving your customers' needs well.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Part 2 of Fun; Building Suspense Around Opening Day

Before Watching the webcam video of August 31, 2012, see the post below and watch the Extravaganza Movie. Both were filmed in fun as we created a buzz around our 'top secret' opening day celebration. *No administrators, educators, staff or students were harmed in the filming. This is in noway meant to offend those who have been real victims of kidnapping or terrorism. We were just having some fun...





Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How do you generate a positive Opening Day?

Earlier this summer, while I was doing a little research online about motivating your staff, I stumbled upon a Tony Robbins video from one of his latest motivational retreats. It was at this moment, I realized that if I wanted to get unusual results that I would need to do the unusual. Motivation comes from working at a place where people feel connected to something bigger than themselves, a place where they can grow and evolve, and lastly when they are providing a service to others. This combination is the perfect storm for motivation. Truth be told, while we all expect to be paid for our employment, money alone is insignificant to motivate people for the long haul. Ultimately, it is never enough. So to feel motivated, positive, and alive everyday people want to work in an environment that affords them an opportunity to grow professionally - take new risks - try new ideas out without worry of ridicule. Additionally, they want to know that the work they do matters - that they are somehow making the world a better place. By providing a service to others we can see that we matter. This year, I wanted to make the point that every single member of this school district is as important as the next. In order to truly achieve a world class level of service, everyone must connect with their purpose in the organization. Our back to school opening "Event" includes EVERY member of the staff. No exceptions. Yes, this means we will close buildings temporarily so that everyone can attend.

The power in this message could not be conveyed without taking such a drastic step. From the moment I stated that every employee must report on opening day their has been a buzz. What is this all about? Does he mean me? I wonder what we will do? Will it have meaning to me? I wanted to keep people in suspense, so I only included a few key people in the planning at first. People generally like surprises, especially ones that are fun. We have such a morning planned for the staff at Millville Public Schools. The movie clip below is part of generating and adding to the buzz about the opening day. Those who are in the video were willing to have fun, and sort of make fun of themselves, for the greater cause of getting everyone excited about a new school year. The film is about the "Quest for opening day information" and the actors, staff members, involved are great sports. Truthfully, they do not have the details of the opening day either. Only Dr. Moore, assistant superintendent, and myself have the full agenda. I hope we deliver a fun, exciting, opening day kick-off that will be talked about positively by all. Spoiler alert - if you are expecting Oprah to show up and give away some of her favorite things - you will be disappointed. I am sure we will all have fun.

I am looking forward to beginning a new with all of you in an effort to move us one step closer to world class.
 Special thank you to those involved with the filming-
Stephanie DeRose, Spike Cook, Kathy Procopio, Kelly Crawford, David LaGamba, Chris Finney, Tom Denning, Larry Perry, and Pamm Moore
& special thank you to Millville Police Sergeant Deckert


Power of Connected Educators




What started with a simple tweet at 1:30 yesterday resulted in the long list of tips, ideas, and resources all tailored for the New Teachers & Staff members at Millville Public Schools. Some, offered simple statements while others pointed the group to links with deep resources. All were offered out of good faith for trying to help other educators starting a career by others who have been there - done that. Did I mention, all of the professional support was FREE. It is an amazing time we live in. I am hopeful that we will start the revolution that will abandon the concept of linear education (standardization) to a customized era of education that allows students to explore, through their talents, the world around them. My hope is we will see an era free of standardized assessment which is used primarily to label schools and teachers as failures, where we learn that children (no different than adults) learn at different rates of speed and in different modalities. Our schools should become learning labs, where students can freely apply their learning in a way that is respectful of their dreams. Some day...


Resources -

Michele Mislevy @pashell
4h
Don't reinvent the wheel. Check out Livebinders for resources. bit.ly/H1JNQz . Free to use and make. #ntmps
BethRitterGuth @BethRitterGuth
5h
Best of luck to #ntmps!! Have a sensational year! Advice: Your facial expressions can make or break a student. Be kind. Be fair. Smile.
Andy Fogg @foggandy
7h
@drgentile_mps #ntmps ensure students work harder than you during lessons
 in reply to @drgentile_mps
Chris Curtis @Xris32
8h
RT @syded06: #ntmps Twitter allows for collaboration, conversation and confidence building. Plus someone out there can help #edchat
Jennie Snyder, Ed.D. @POUSDSupt
10h
RT @tomwhitby: A Simple Comprehensive Guide on The use of Personal Learning Networks in Education zite.to/OCCYuY #Edchat #ntmps
Jamie Heard @jamieheard
11h
@drgentile_mps Always show students that you care about them and never stop being a student yourself. #ntmps
Dr. David Gentile @drgentile_mps
13h
Thank all of you! Great tips and insights #ntmps I want them to see the power of connectedness! #suptchat #njed #edchat #ntmps
Jimmy V @jimmygunner
14h
RT @WHS_Principal: Twitter to me = learning anytime, anywhere with anyone that wants to share their knowledge and experiences. #ntmps
Kevin Carroll @WHS_Principal
14h
I created a school twitter account @WaldwickWHS to keep my school community informed #ntmps
Kevin Carroll @WHS_Principal
14h
I use twitter everyday to connect with other educators, share ideas & gather info that can help my school & teachers #ntmps
Kevin Carroll @WHS_Principal
14h
Twitter to me = learning anytime, anywhere with anyone that wants to share their knowledge and experiences. #ntmps
Kevin Carroll @WHS_Principal
14h
Welcome to Twitter from Waldwick HS in New Jersey #ntmps
Alicia Discepola @AliciaDiscepola
15h
RT @drgentile_mps: Cont'd call for help. Tweet a tip/resource 4 my new tchers to #ntmps I want them to see the power of connectedness! # ...
Steve Constantino @smconstantino
15h
RT @jleib75: Don't forget to listen and be sensitive to parents anxiety, it maybe greater than kids #ntmps. Use your mentors!
Jesse Leib @jleib75
15h
Don't forget to listen and be sensitive to parents anxiety, it maybe greater than kids #ntmps. Use your mentors!
Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal
16h
@drgentile_mps The motto of connected educators - "Together we are better." What better way to learn/grow than from each other #ntmps
 in reply to @drgentile_mps
Dr. David Gentile @drgentile_mps
16h
Cont'd call for help. Tweet a tip/resource 4 my new tchers to #ntmps I want them to see the power of connectedness! #suptchat #njed #edchat
Pilar Pamblanco @englishteach8
16h
RT @syded06: #ntmps Twitter allows for collaboration, conversation and confidence building. Plus someone out there can help #edchat
Beth Gryczewski @Gryczewski
17h
@drgentile_mps #ntmps Some of my favorite history sites for connected history learning: tinyurl.com/9uur9kc. Enjoy, and welcome!
 in reply to @drgentile_mps
Jo Neale @jmpneale
19h
@drgentile_mps #ntmps dramaresource.com Fab resource for drama. Love your idea.
Anthony Fitzpatrick @antfitz
20h
FREE resources from dozens of TAH grants in one place! ow.ly/1Ot7uJ professor ppts and teaching strategies! #sschat #ntmps
Chris Chivers @ChrisChivers2
20h
RT @syded06: #ntmps Twitter allows for collaboration, conversation and confidence building. Plus someone out there can help #edchat
ELP @ElearningProf
20h
RT @verenanz: #ntmps I love MightyBell 2053a95d1c8b5dbe- Gives students a way to create ePortfolios and Edmodo for social networking in "secure" enviro
Lisa Jane Ashes @lisajaneashes
20h
RT @syded06: #ntmps Twitter allows for collaboration, conversation and confidence building. Plus someone out there can help #edchat
Alex Anemone @HTSSupt
20h
@drgentile_mps #ntmps Arrive early; stay late; communicate with parents; volunteer for activities.
Alicia Discepola @AliciaDiscepola
21h
My #ntmps tip: We have tons of awesome educators at #millvilleboe! Ask for help- especially from your district's ed tech specialist! :)~
Helen Wilson @hmw239
21h
@drgentile_mps #ntmps get organised in your life - use a good to do list (tech or otherwise) and set aside time in week for YOU and work.
 in reply to @drgentile_mps
Alicia Discepola @AliciaDiscepola
21h
Tweet new teacher tips to @drgentile_mps using #ntmps. Will share at staff orientation tom! #cpchat #edchat #elemchat #edtech #njed
Sandra Bornstein @SandraBornstein
21h
RT @drgentile_mps: drgentile.blogspot.com/2012/08/callin… #ntmps Teachers interested in multicultural picture book reviews- ow.ly/dilhm
Alicia Discepola @AliciaDiscepola
21h
HELP! Tweet new teacher tips to @drgentile_mps. Use hastag #ntmps drgentile.blogspot.com/2012/08/callin… #edchat #njed #suptchat #edtech
Verena Roberts @verenanz
21h
#ntmps I love MightyBell 2053a95d1c8b5dbe- Gives students a way to create ePortfolios and Edmodo for social networking in "secure" enviro
ulimasao @vanschaijik
21h
@drgentile_mps #ntmps pamhook.com/solo-taxonomy/ @arti_choke from New Zealand A connected Educator from New Zealand #SOLOtaxonomy
Tanya @Tanya_ISE_MN
21h
#ntmps Helpful for WL teachers who travel with students to develop 21st Century skills. isebeyondtheclassroom.wikispaces.com/Home+Page
PJ Caposey @PrincipalPC
21h
@drgentile_mps #ntmps Being connected and wanting to improve are choices! Make that leap today and reap the benefits each day forward
 in reply to @drgentile_mps
Daniel Edwards @syded06
21h
#ntmps Twitter allows for collaboration, conversation and confidence building. Plus someone out there can help #edchat
Jerry Blumengarten @cybraryman1
21h
Hi from Florida! Twitter connects great global educators to collaborate & share ideas. My Twitter page: bit.ly/z4p9o #ntmps
Dr. David Gentile @drgentile_mps
21h
changed the hashtag Calling all TwitterEducators #ntmps drgentile.blogspot.com/2012/08/callin… #edchat #njed #suptchat #ntmps
Dr. David Gentile @drgentile_mps
   ·More
sorry for any confusion this causes…but PLEASE use #ntmps as the other #nt is already being used. THANK YOU #njed #edchat #suptchat

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Calling all TwitterEducators #ntmps

I have the awesome responsibility to meet with our new teachers/staff members tomorrow during the morning session of the orientation program. I really want to show them in real time, the power of being a connected educator: Here is what I need from you

"tweet your best tip or words of advice to hashtag #ntmps. This can include useful links or other resources that you feel all new teachers/educators should know about"

I am confident that with your help, by tomorrow morning, I will have a long list of awesome resources for the new staff members. This will show them, that by tweeting your network at 1:30 pm on a Tuesday, by 7:00 am Wednesday your support network will come through.

Please don't let me down!

Dr.G

changed hashtag to:
#ntmps (new teachers millville public schools)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Flipped Classroom

This is the term being used for a new way of thinking in education. For many, it marks a new paradigm and will forever change the way they approach teaching. I believe this is the reform education needs to ensure we prepare our children for the uncharted future ahead. In a Flipped Classroom, the teacher's lecture or guided instruction is given to the students as homework in the form of watching youtube videos or video clips (there are many applications for teachers who wish to Flip) which allows the student to watch, pause, rewind, fast-forward the lecture as they require. Students use their personal learning devices, such as smartphones or Ipods, to do so - think about how this increases the likelihood that a student would be willing to admit they didn't understand something, and rewind it until they did... there are no other classmates watching so the student would not worry about their appearance. Once the student has viewed the lecture as often as necessary the night before, they enter the classroom the next day ready to apply their understanding. What might have been homework or a lab assignment can now be the center point of the class time. The teacher is free to observe, assist, and coach the students at various levels of readiness. We learn by doing, the power of a Flipped Classroom is the doing is center stage under the watchful eye of a professional teacher. Using various technologies, the student can watch the lecture or background knowledge at their own pace and many teachers are allowing students to ask questions about the pre-recorded lecture through free applications like Twitter. Watch the link below to see the President Award Winning teacher in action:
The Flipped Classroom

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How do you engage your Board of Education?



Every positive change starts with MVVG. More specifically, Mission - Vision - Values - Goals are the keys to transforming an organization. As I have written about before, in MPS, I was hired July 2010 and from that moment I began cultivating the Mission, Vision, clarified the collective values of the organization, and began developing strategic Smart Goals in order to deliver a quality education to every single Millville student. The road to excellence, is always under construction (as the title of my blog illustrates) but it is important there is a clear plan that is driving the work. 

Thankfully, I was able to engage the board of education leaders from the start of my time here in the planning process. It was critically important to me that they understood their role in the process. Absent clearly defined board roles, even the well intentioned board member can get pulled down into the 'weeds' or into micro-management. I fully believe boards are partners in setting the Vision of the district, and from there, the mission becomes clear - it is the superintendent's job to help the organization establish a common set of values by which everyone will operate. In MPS, we came to consensus that our operating values are - Competence, Accountability, and Honesty. From there, it is everyone's responsibility to hold their colleague to this standard. Following this process, we begin to identify the problems keeping us from achieving our vision. For MPS, our vision is to be world class and since setting this vision we have spent hours operationally defining what exactly 'world class' would look like, sound like, and feel like. Once we identify a set of critical problems we set out on the daunting task of determining the root cause of the problem. Too often in education, we identify a problem - a cause - and a solution all in the same breath. This results in the district resources being allocated to so-called solutions, such as a new program, only to later realize the problem still exists because the root cause was never addressed. This takes fanatic discipline to make sure as a leader I do not let the cart get put ahead of the horse. Root cause analysis is a long - painstaking process; when done properly though, root cause analysis will save an organization time on the back end. 

We are now entering year 3 of our strategic plan. This is the brief I delivered recently to my board of education during a work session. Although, many of the indicators may not mean much to you - or you may say "so what", the metrics displayed in the chart are critical to our long-term success. What is on your dashboard as indicators of success? What we measure gets done and we must ensure it is aligned to a strategic vision. As a superintendent, I must keep the board informed at the monitor level to ensure alignment to our vision. What's on your dashboard?



































Thursday, August 16, 2012

From the ISTE-Conference -
Thought Provoking, Will Richardson

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

8 Problems with Common Core Standards


Hello,
I very rarely - if ever - simply read someone's work, copy it, and past it to my blog. For two reasons, 1st - it is rare that I ever completely agree with everything the author has written and 2nd - this is the place for my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs and if I'm simply pastiing someone else's thoughts this is not my blog. Today, however, is different. Marion Brady has captured the problem with the 'new' common core - which eventually will get replaced countless times in my lifetime with the 'new' common core. Please enjoy her writing...


Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 08/13/2012
Eight problems with Common Core Standards
This was written by Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.

By Marion Brady

E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s book, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” was published March 1, 1987.

So it was probably in March of that year when, sitting at a dining room table in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, my host — a
Third grade teachers learn how to teach common core mathematics in Tennessee. (Mark A Large/AP) publishing executive, friend, and fellow West Virginian — said he’d just bought the book. He hadn’t read it yet, but wondered how Hirsch’s list of 5,000 things he thought every American should know differed from a list we Appalachians might write.

I don’t remember what I said, but it was probably some version of what I’ve long taken for granted: Most people think that whatever they and the people they like happen to know, everybody else should be required to know.

In education, of course, what it’s assumed that everybody should be required to know is called “the core.” Responsibility for teaching the core is divvied up between teachers of math, science, language arts, and social studies.

Variously motivated corporate interests, arguing that the core was being sloppily taught, organized a behind-the-scenes campaign to super-standardize it. They named their handiwork the Common Core State Standards to hide the fact that it was driven by policymakers in Washington D.C., who have thus far shoved it into every state except Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia.

This was done with no public dialogue, no feedback from experienced educators, no research, no pilot or experimental programs — no evidence at all that a floor-length list created by unnamed people attempting to standardize what’s taught is a good idea.

It’s a bad idea. Ignore the fact that specific Common Core State Standards will open up enough cans of worms to keep subject-matter specialists arguing among themselves forever. Consider instead the merit of Standards from a general perspective:

One: Standards shouldn’t be attached to school subjects, but to the qualities of mind it’s hoped the study of school subjects promotes. Subjects are mere tools, just as scalpels, acetylene torches, and transits are tools. Surgeons, welders, surveyors — and teachers — should be held accountable for the quality of what they produce, not how they produce it.

Two: The world changes. The future is indiscernible. Clinging to a static strategy in a dynamic world may be comfortable, even comforting, but it’s a Titanic-deck-chair exercise.

Three: The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact, the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields of study is vast, expands by the hour, and will go in directions no one can predict.

Four: So much orchestrated attention is being showered on the Common Core Standards, the main reason for poor student performance is being ignored—a level of childhood poverty the consequences of which no amount of schooling can effectively counter.

Five: The Common Core kills innovation. When it’s the only game in town, it’s the only game in town.

Six: The Common Core Standards are a set-up for national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).

Seven: The word “standards” gets an approving nod from the public (and from most educators) because it means “performance that meets a standard.” However, the word also means “like everybody else,” and standardizing minds is what the Standards try to do. Common Core Standards fans sell the first meaning; the Standards deliver the second meaning. Standardized minds are about as far out of sync with deep-seated American values as it’s possible to get.

Eight: The Common Core Standards’ stated aim — “success in college and careers”— is at best pedestrian, at worst an affront. The young should be exploring the potentials of humanness.

I’ve more beefs, but like these eight, they have to do with the quality of education, and the pursuit of educational quality isn’t what’s driving the present education reform farce.

An illustration: As I write, my wife is in the kitchen. She calls me for lunch. The small television suspended under the kitchen cabinets is tuned to CNN, and Time cover girl Michelle Rhee is being interviewed.

“On international tests,” she says, “the U.S. ranks 27th from the top.”

Michelle Rhee, three-year teacher, education reactionary, mainstream media star, fired authoritarian head of a school system being investigated for cheating on standardized tests, is given a national platform to misinform. She doesn’t explain that, at the insistence of policymakers, and unlike other countries, America tests every kid — the mentally disabled, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the transient, the troubled, those for whom English is a second language. That done, the scores are lumped together. She doesn’t even hint that when the scores of the disadvantaged aren’t counted, American students are at the top.

If Michelle Rhee doesn’t know that, she shouldn’t be on CNN. If she knows it but fails to point it out, she shouldn’t be on CNN.

It’s hard not to compare Rhee with Jennifer, a friend of my oldest son. He wrote me recently:

…I asked Jenn if she was ready for school.

“I’m waiting for an email from my principal to find out if I can get into my classroom a week early.”

“Why a whole week?”

“To get my room ready.”

She teaches second graders. I ask her why she loves that grade. She laughs and says, “Because they haven’t learned to roll their eyes yet.”

But I know it’s much more than that. Her sister was down from Ohio for Jenn’s birthday, and when she asked her what she wanted, Jenn said she needed 18 sets of colored pencils, 18 boxes of #2 pencils, 18 boxes of crayons, construction paper, name tags and so on — $346 dollars total.

She’s been doing this for 25 years. I’m sure she makes less than I do, but they could probably cut her salary 25 or 30% and she’d still want to get into her room early.”


Rhee gets $50,000 a pop plus first-class travel and accommodations for putting in an appearance to tell her audiences what’s wrong with the Jennifers in America’s schools, and what clubs should be swung or held over their heads to scare them into shaping up.

Future historians (if there are any) are going to shake their heads in disbelief. They’ll wonder how, in a single generation, the world’s oldest democracy dismantled its engine — free, public, locally controlled, democratic education.

If they dig into the secretive process that produced the Common Core State Standards, most of their questions will be answered

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Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet .

By Valerie Strauss  |  06:00 AM ET, 08/13/2012