Friday, September 14, 2012

What Do I Think?

I have been very appreciative of this late season nice weather! With the clear skies that we have had, I have gone running early in the morning when I can see the moon, stars, and the sun all at the same time. I know that this won't last, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy it while we have it!

Thanks to all of you who have been able to attend our various Open Houses. It means a lot to your children and our faculty and staff as well. About half of our buildings have had their Open Houses so far, and we will finish up next week. It is always great to see everyone.

Race for Respect: On Sunday, September 23, the 14th Annual Race for Respect will be held at the high school. This event is deeply rooted in our desire to bring a culturally diverse community together for a common event and DOES NOT raise money for any cause. In fact, the race just about breaks even each year. It is meant as a way to bring our community together, have some fun, and be healthy. I am hoping that you can join us this year. Information about the Race for Respect can be found by clicking here.

Questions about Changes in Education: Education as we know it is in the process of undergoing major changes. Several parents and community members have asked me what I think about these changes. I am generally an "adapt and overcome" kind of person so my answers might not be too surprising to you, but I thought I would include a few of the questions with my answers below:

Question 1:  Are the "Common Core Learning Standards" a good thing for my child?

Great question.  The Common Core Learning Standards, or CCLS as you will see in different publications, represent a Federal initiative to even the playing field in terms of what is taught (right now in English, Math, Social Studies, and Science) to each student at each grade level across the country. This initiative is to be implemented by each state.

The Common Core Learning Standards, from my view as a parent and a superintendent, are a good thing. I have a senior who over the summer went on many college visits. At each school the academic diversity among incoming freshman was clearly evident, and that diversity only represented different students within the United States. The CCLS, over time will decrease the academic diversity, at least in the US, and would allow college professors to know exactly what skill sets their incoming students have, which could be very powerful.

I also think that the CCLS will bring about more creative content and curriculum from publishers. With so many states having so many different standards, the publishing companies have to create different material for different locations, eating into time, research, and dollars. Unified standards would mean that those same publishers can concentrate on material development, delivery, and innovations to include technology. I find this to be an exciting possibility for students.

My concern about the CCLS is that there is currently nothing on the radar screen for the arts, electives, or the social sciences. I can't really draw, sing, or play an instrument, and I completely understand that there are far fewer jobs in the arts than the sciences, but I absolutely believe in educating the WHOLE child. My hope would be that these areas are not forgotten over time at the federal, and then the state level.

Question 2:  Are we testing children too much?

Another great question. I think we need to define what a "test" is considered to be. For many, state assessments are the tests that seem to keep coming out of nowhere. The concern would be that this increase in state testing is severely taking a toll on teacher creativity (they have to teach to the test, essentially), and that whatever a child scores on the assessments paints the picture of that child. Good or bad, that is how the child is perceived through the eyes of the state, school, and peers, throughout their school experience.

My oldest son was halfway through his Kindergarten year when I became a superintendent. I have watched both him and his younger brother progress through each grade as a parent and as the educational leader of the District. I think from this experience I have learned that the state tests have changed greatly. They more accurately reflect "real life" situations and experiences than ever before.

I would also say that due to the physical number of state assessments, teachers have had to cut out certain units of study along the way. For instance, the "model rocket" unit (for those readers around my age). That extra time allows teachers to teach all of the testing material before the test, which is actually given well before the end of the school year. This does frustrate me both as a parent and as a superintendent, and if I was Commissioner of Education and all of these assessments were proven to be necessary, I would give them all at the end of the year which is similar to what happens in high schools today.

On the flip side, I am a fan of a concept called "Data Driven Instruction" which means teachers use data collected from any assessment we give a child to change how individual children are taught. To collect data, teachers would use a variety of instruments like online exercises, quick quizzes, projects that can be graded, etc... and evaluate the data to see if an entire unit needs to be taught, or if concepts within a unit need to be stressed. This decreases boredom in the classroom, and allows the teacher to provide additional assistance to those who need it, along with additional instruction to those who demonstrate they are ready to move ahead.

This is a blog and not a book, so I am going to hold off until the next blog to write answers to a couple of other frequently asked questions regarding educational changes. If you would like me to explain my answers more fully or you would like to have a conversation, please feel free to contact me. Thanks to the 6,000 or so of you that read my blog each week and have a great weekend!