Education Leaders Are We Behaving Like Washington?

When it comes to shaping education policy and practice, I fear we might be acting more like Washington lawmakers than we know.  Recently in a Bloomberg magazine article, former US Senator Gregg (R-NH) was quoted “No senator of one party expects the senator…of another party to relinquish his or her core beliefs.  It is not necessary.  The key is respect and reasonableness.”  In the same article, US Senator Wyden (D-OR) was quoted: “Treating legislating like a zero-sum game in which both sides try to score points while preventing the other side from gaining anything tends to result in legislation that doesn’t do much for anyone…”

Here is what we can learn from Washington’s non-examples:

1. For State Chiefs, it may seem expedient to bash local school superintendents as “not caring about their kids” but deeper dialogue with those superintendents would probably yield intel on how to better target state resources to help local SUPES solve their issues of leadership and teacher capacity.  It may also be prudent to get out of their way.  There is value in deeper dialogue.

2.  For Local School Superintendents, it may seem expedient to bash local school leaders, and unions as “not caring about kids” but deeper dialogue with those colleagues would probably yield intel on how better to target their needs and interests to help build their capacity to boost the collective work for kids.

3.  For Union leaders, it may seem expedient to politicize everything as teacher bashing, and link not caring about teachers equals “not caring about kids” but deeper dialogue is needed.  There are many policy and advocacy groups who are disgusted with our lack of performance with our kids academically.  Deeper dialogue with these groups would probably yield intel on how to better align your union interests with the interests of our Nation and our Schools.

4.  For School Principals, it may seem expedient to assist others in throwing certain weak teachers under the proverbial bus when discussing unsatisfactory classroom performance with your bosses.  Deeper dialogue with teachers would probably yield intel on supports they need or even help counsel some out of the profession.  Most weak teachers simply need a psychologically-safe person to sort their professional needs for improving classroom performance.

5.  For Teachers, it may seem expedient to speak ill of the accountability movement, the push for measuring and evaluation teacher effectiveness, and the drastic action we must take to move the USA from  17th in Science and 25th in Math among top nations in student performance.  Deeper dialogue with fellow teachers, your leaders, and our politicians could break the stalemate we have going on almost all issues education-related.

What am I missing?  Isn’t all of this solved by deeper dialogue and recommitting to our Nation’s children and the real core interests?  Won’t that take relinquishing certain individual and small group interests?  Further failure to communicate “across the aisle” in our efforts to improve policy and practice will further further erosion in the work we do.


Race, Bias, and Learning

I was with a group of top educational leaders in Oregon yesterday.  (By the way, check out Oregon’s approach to moving to a robust system of PreK-20 education.  In Oregon, they have enacted some of the most sweeping changes to improve their schooling system than I know of in any other state.  Great executive branch, legislative branch and civic leadership going on there.)

The topic of achievement gaps, race, and poverty came up.  I mentioned the incredible work we did with our teachers in Delaware to close achievement gaps along poverty lines.  I also mentioned that when comparing African American students NOT from poverty against the performance data of all students, we did not make progress (compared with the poverty vs. non-poverty groups).  This is in spite of the fact that African American children comprised the overwhelming majority of the students from poverty backgrounds.

What I then mentioned and what I remain to be left with, is that we continue to infuse bias into the work with kids.  Even subconsciously, this is a significant problem.  As much as we want to move beyond race, gender, class, and other differentiators, it does appear that race continues to play a factor in far too many issues in school.  This appears especially true  for African American students-and with boys even more than girls.  New studies show that Black children are disciplined more often, engaged in less-authentic ways, called-upon less often to answer teacher questions, and provided less wait-time when they are called on.

A 2006 study by Duke University revealed that White and Latino/Latina citizens overwhelmingly perceive that Black citizens do not “work hard” and “can[not] be trusted”.    The study was summarized by Paula McClain in The Journal of Politics.  The same study was much more favorable among White citizens perceiving Latino/Latina citizens.

While the study was not conducted in schools, I think this issue is even worse in schools.  CNN’s Anderson Cooper revealed the follow-up on a study with young children and their attitudes on race.  His video footage revealed a very young African American boy who stated that it is too difficult to have a light-skinned (White) friend because “your Mother won’t like it”.  Wow-is this the best we can do in 2012?

Aside from the disturbing societal implications, this has grave consequences for our educational system.

We must solve this in the hearts and minds of all educators to ensure that we create high expectations for all kids and sufficient access to great work and supports for all kids.

I’d appreciate learning from your perspective and reading comments on how we solve these issues.



%d bloggers like this: