Better Schools for a Better Society

TNTP New Orleans

Reposted from the TNTP Blog:

We come to our work at TNTP with the belief that schools can and must be a powerful lever of change in this country. We know how much of a difference schools can make in the lives of children, especially children living in poverty. I know it because I’ve lived it personally, growing up as the child of immigrants in California. That’s why we do what we do.

But as we’ve been reminded all too frequently these days, improving schools alone is not enough. Those of us working for better schools aren’t doing so as an end in itself. We are not naïve enough to think that a better education alone for kids of color is going to bring equity and justice. My friend Bryonn Bain, a fellow Columbia graduate, has written about the different rules men of color live by every day. Like Bain, we know that an education does not guarantee you will be afforded equal rights. That is why we see our work as part of a larger effort to promote opportunity, equality, justice and democracy. As long as these injustices continue, and wherever communities are torn apart by mistrust and lives are lost, then this larger effort is failing too. We all have so much more work to do.

And so we can’t stay silent when we see other institutions in this country sending the message that some lives matter less than others. The right response to institutional indifference of any kind—in our education system, our justice system, or in any other institution that is supposed to serve and protect us as citizens—is outrage. Outrage, and a call to action: We need the Justice Department to investigate and right these miscarriages of justice. We need to change how our law enforcement officers are trained and the cultures they work in. We need to examine the legal standards for the use of force. And we need to continue the national dialogue that’s been sparked by these events, about the very real consequences of racism and inequality in the lives of so many Americans. These may not be “education issues” per se, but for all of us who work to build a more just, more equal nation, they are our issues.

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We Don’t Have An Ed Problem, We Have A Class Problem

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Reposted from Quartz:

The US became increasingly unequal in decades ahead of the Civil War in the 1860s. But at the dawn of the the 20th century it remained more egalitarian than European nations like Britain and France. Inequality rose sharply in during the Jazz Age, and collapsed in the Great Depression, staying pretty much stable until the early 1980s. Since then American inequality has climbed sharply—so much so that the US is now a more unequal society than Europe was during the last days of aristocracy ahead of World War I, according to French economist Thomas Piketty in his massive study of the topic, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Not only is the US now less equal than Europe, it’s less mobile than many European countries. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Americans had a much easier time rising above the station into which they were born than their counterparts in Britain, according to economic historian Joseph Ferrie. Now, a poor Moroccan kid in France is much more likely to move into the middle class than a child born into a poor family in Mississippi. (The US and Britain are usually seen as having the lowest intergenerational social mobility of the countries of Europe and North America. That means our ultimate earnings are now heavily correlated with those of our parents. Here’s another study on the topic.)

Few would argue that this is a healthy development. And almost all would agree that if a change is going to be made, it must be driven in part by the American education system. But here’s the catch: the American education system is itself only an offshoot of an increasingly class-driven society.

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Seriously, Why Are You Still In Education?

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This past week I shared “The Silence of Education Reformers on Ferguson is Deafening” on my blog, Actualization. In this piece, Rishawn Biddle provides insight I don’t have, and it’s kept me thinking throughout Thanksgiving weekend. The issues are ours for the advocating: poverty, equity, access, opportunity. Why are our reform voices not being heard above the clamor and strife of recent events? Not that it’s pleasant or easy. No one relishes staring down racism, confronting poverty and calling out injustice. But this is the cancer eating away at society. Either we fight it aggressively or accept a terminal diagnosis.

To beat it, we need a new kind of leadership in education; educators who have a seriousness of mind and commitment of purpose to push the profession past where it’s stuck. Not the ed-celebrities currently beating their drums in the name of education reform; they are neither leaders nor reformers. Their primary interest is self-interest…keeping their following coming back for more. Sure they are willing to rabble rouse against popular targets like government policy and state spending. But where are their calls to take down poverty, instead of politicians and programs? The reality is they have no incentive to speak up on behalf of society’s powerless and disenfranchised.

You and I, on the other hand, are invested in people: children, parents, extended families, communities and countries. We got into this profession to touch individual lives and to touch the future. We believe in making a difference, not just by what we say but by what we do. It’s time to take this to the next level and expand teacher roles. Meet students on their turf instead of waiting for them to come to us. Work with community agencies to provide for children’s needs. Make a difference before they ever enter the classroom.

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If our current leaders are silent on race, poverty and injustice, where are they leading us…and is it where we want to go? This is our mission in today’s quickly-changing world: preparing successive generations for a future they can’t see and we won’t know. Our efforts to accomplish this in a culture of fear, ignorance, poverty and hatred have been, and will continue to be, less than successful.

Within education, issues like standards, assessment, achievement, technology and funding can be defined and addressed. But the challenges of the society we serve are deep-seated and not so easily contained. They require the kind of faith in humanity that got us into education in the first place. Here’s what we can do:

  • Speak up and be heard on the issue of poverty and how it permeates every major challenge we face in education and in society.
  • Support one another in addressing poverty in our schools so that all children can learn and be successful.
  • Upgrade our schools to be centers of hope in every community, no matter where students and families come from or how well-prepared they are to walk into our classrooms.

The past year, a group of committed New York educator-leaders initiated a statewide conversation on poverty, with tremendous interest and participation by empire state educators. I have watched first-hand as they’ve brought educators together to immerse them in simulations, share experiences and insights, and identify strategies that help children from poverty succeed. If these educator-leaders can make this happen in a state weighed down in bureaucracy and politics, surely the rest of us can, too.

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What if we craft one national agenda, without all the politics and prejudice, where everyone cares and contributes, and all the fears and excuses and labels and cop-outs are eradicated instead of people’s hopes and dreams, so that the only thing no longer tolerated is intolerance? We’ll need to leave our fears and frustrations behind and devote our energy to deeper thinking and courageous action to make it happen.

There are no curricula, tests, technologies or instructional innovations that can accomplish this. There are no ed-celebs or politician-reformers who can do the work for us. And there are all kinds of forces working against us, most notably racism, fear and ignorance. If these facts are all you need to know to walk away, then walk. Seriously, why are you still in education? On the other hand, if you know in your heart that nothing is going to get better until you step up, then we need you to lead from wherever you find yourself in your current position.

A month ago there was a huge outcry from educators reacting to a Time magazine story on “the war on teacher tenure” including a cover image of a gavel coming down on a perceived “rotten apple.” Anger and indignation flowed for weeks about the disrespect the magazine showed our profession….all directed at a story written to sell copies. Are we that conditioned by the media that we believe that anything that is said, good or bad, deserves our energy and attention? The story was inconsequential: those who agreed with what it had to say had formed their opinions long before they began reading, and those who know better weren’t swayed.

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Let’s get real. If we focus that kind of passion on the fight against racism, poverty and injustice, Time and everyone else will stop and take notice. The only people worthy of our time and energy are those who roll up their sleeves and work with us. And the more people who join us us in our mission, the more influence and capacity we will have to make change. Can we make it happen? Is it within us? I believe it is. Can we afford to fail?

The challenges we face are not insurmountable. These social conflicts and divides have been put in place fairly recently in history. We have the wherewithal to level the landscape and build new pathways and connections, understanding that there are no shortcuts. It’s going to be messy and it’s going to be hard, but we can do this. We must do this, for children everywhere.

The work begins with open, honest dialog; our voices resonating with those who live in poverty and despair. And from that dialog, we can begin isolating and destroying the pathologies that have allowed this societal cancer to become so pervasive and so resistant to treatment. Access. Equity. Opportunity. We have to get started.

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No One Right Answers Anywhere

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Today I’m announcing a game-changer. And once you let it sink in you won’t be able to look back. Ready? Here it is: there is no one right answer. And I’m not just talking about in classroom instruction and achievement assessments. This is bigger than that. There are no one right answers anywhere, at any time, in life.

How can I say this? The dawn of our global society is shining light in every corner of every culture, every context, every preconceived assumption, and forcing us to think beyond traditional ideals and values.

You can have one right answers in isolation…in a silo…in a vacuum. You can control the variables there. One right answers can still exist in algebraic equations, but they no longer apply in everyday life…and they no longer apply in education.

This means standardization is a false premise for any education policy or practice. Standardization was an industrial-aged ideal that aspired to a specific profile of student success. And in the process we labeled and marginalized anyone and everyone who didn’t fit that profile.

Intelligence quotients are no longer acceptable in quantifying human potential. A century ago the IQ was formulated to identify an entire class of bean counters and paper pushers. There is a much fuller, richer spectrum of human ability which our global society seeks to tap into today.

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The profession of education is no longer one class of workers who can be led along like sheep. The decentralization of education to meet the unique needs of all teachers, students and families is the strongest force for true reform of education as an institution.

Traditional formulas for success are also becoming irrelevant. Policies set by elected officials stand like paper tigers, and students today are poking holes through the arbitrary expectations that have no basis in how they learn, grow, and contribute to a global society.

There are no traditional career paths moving forward, either. Students will have multiple careers. So will teachers. No one will prepare for one profession. Everyone will create their own opportunities to contribute to the global economy, and no one will be thinking of “job security” as experience, seniority or tenure.

When there is no one right answer for anything, all the handicaps and obstacles fall away, and everything becomes possible. It pushes us past our physical and mechanical limitations to redefine our world, our work, and our worth. It will no longer matter where we are on this planet, we will all matter. We will all make a difference. And finally and for the first time, we will begin to make progress on all of the unresolvable problems of every age that has preceded ours: war, famine, disease and good stewardship of the earth.

As a member of the last wave of the baby boomer generation, I am resigned to the fact that we have the hardest time letting go of the one right answer mentality we inherited from our parents and grandparents. I have also come to accept that this transformation to a global society probably won’t hit critical mass until my generation is no longer in power to reinforce the outdated value of the one right answer.

But I am bound and determined not to fade away without speaking strongly in support of our progeny and the steps they are taking towards that global society they see so clearly within their grasp. They do not limit themselves to one right answer. They do not accept preconceived notions of what is possible. They ask questions. They seek answers. And they solve problems. Who can be opposed to that?

As uncomfortable and uncertain as it may be to let go of the world we once knew, it is time to acknowledge there is no one right answer anymore. Creativity. Innovation. Transformation. Buckle up, baby boomers. It’s going to be a wild ride.

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Take Back Teaching Now

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Reposted from Educational Leadership:

“Over the past two decades, there’s been a great deal of thinking and writing about teacher leadership. Administrators have been encouraged to nurture teacher leadership as a means of delegating responsibility for reaching schoolwide achievement goals. National alternate-entry programs are built around the concept of developing lifelong education leaders rather than superb classroom practitioners.

To be sure, teacher leaders share their good ideas, mentor novices, and build learning communities. Sometimes they’re selected for special hybrid roles. But what they don’t always have is control over their own work—and that’s the mark of a profession.

It will take a reconceptualization of our beliefs about teachers and teaching to accomplish the goal of creating a professional teaching force—a real sea change. Although such a shift may seem idealistic, other nations have been able to transform societal perspectives on what good teaching looks like, with skillful teachers taking professional responsibility for their students.”

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What Business Are You In?

ImageWe are in education. We aren’t in the happiness business or the customer service business or the product development business. We’re in the human potential business. We are so NOT one-size-fits-all, standardized assembly-line, profit-driven bottom line, nine-to-five clock punchers. We are people-centric, in-the-moment, altruistic, roll-up-our-sleeves, touch-the-future, idealists who support children as they learn and grow into thriving, vibrant, happy successful contributors to a quickly-changing world.

No two days are alike. We are constantly learning and living new experiences. Anytime we start to get comfortable there’s a new challenge or opportunity that shakes us up and pushes our thinking. Human potential is not a commodity or a market or a destination; it’s a journey. And each of us can tell the story of the many lives we have influenced along the way…and the way those lives have influenced us. We may not always see the long-term impact of our efforts on these young lives, but that’s the understanding we have working with human potential…it’s a promise…yet to be fulfilled.

While we’re not business-people, the human potential business is…well…a business. Dedicating our lives to the education of the future leaders of our country requires resources. We see it as in investment. We don’t expect to make a killing at it…we aren’t in it for the money…but as the caretakers of the next generation, we do ask to be supported in this important work: compensation, training and materials. And it doesn’t have to be completely in cash. In kind support and security go a long way in allowing us to get the job done. Nothing makes our work more rewarding than a thoughtful thank you, a vote of confidence, or the assurance that we can continue to count on our work to be there.

ImageThe human potential business is as old as Aristotle. The times may change, but the work goes on. We are in the middle of a significant shift…individualized information and entertainment and communication on a global scale. Everything is available all the time…access is assumed…equity is emerging…community is connections…and connections are everything…to ideas…to people…to opportunities. It’s all about personal empowerment…and no two people are alike in how they want and need to be empowered. This is a huge challenge, because human potential today has endless, unforeseen paths to success. There is no one right answer…standardization is dead on arrival.

In a time of uncertainty and soul-searching, human potential professionals need to keep our focus on who we are and what we are about. It isn’t about the politics or the contracts, the texts, the tech or other tools. Those are distractions from who we are and what we do. If you want to be a public official or a union spokesperson or a regional sales rep, maybe the human potential business isn’t your true calling. These are all fine pursuits, but their bottom lines are measured by polls and profits. Move on. Do what you have to do. But for those of us satisfied making a difference in the lives of children, we need to focus on living our ideals…reaching every learner…connecting them to their futures. It’s not a career…it’s a vocation…helping each child fully realize their potential…their promise.

So the next time someone asks you what you do…tell them you’re a human potential professional…with a pride and a confidence that transcends all the current controversy surrounding public education. That controversy is not about you and me. Remember those times in the past you’ve ended up responsible for someone else’s mess?  Why make that mistake again? We didn’t get into this to respond to polarizing political posturing or fighting over taxpayer funding. If society values our roles as caretakers of the future, it needs to find the ways to keep us in business. As soon as we put ourselves in the position where we feel the need to justify our role…our value…our worth to society…we have lost our calling. It isn’t about us. It’s about the children…and society’s stake in their future…which is ultimately society’s self-interest…not ours.

Don’t let anyone demean your value as a human potential professional…it’s what we do…it’s who we are… it’s the most admirable, laudable, fulfilling work there is. It’s the reason why we got into education in the first place. Everything else is part of a larger, collective communal responsibility. Don’t make it your own.

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