Posted in Education, Teaching

Is Our Public Education System Defunct?

As a product of a public school education, I feel no worse for wear.  However, as I’ve learned much about teaching and education over the years, I do wonder if I could have gotten more from a private school education.  Who knows.  At this point in my life, as a teacher at a private school, I do know that my students are receiving a far better educational program than they would see from our local public schools.  While I think of myself as a good teacher, I’m far from great.  I’m not the only reason my students are gaining a stellar education.  The public school system in our country is broken and in need of a major overhaul.  

Despite seeing the discrepancy between public and private schools for years now, it was made crystal clear to me when I read an article regarding remarks that Nancie Atwell made after receiving a prestigious teaching award.  She said, “If you are a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching.”  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  In order to fix problems, don’t we need innovative problem solvers?  So then why is one of our country’s best educators discouraging students from becoming teachers?  Earlier in the article, Atwell is quoted saying, “Public school teachers are so constrained right now by the Common Core Standards and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them. It’s a movement that’s turned teachers into technicians, not reflective practitioners.”  So clearly, she too believes that our public school system is broken.  Now what?

Prior to the tanking of the economy a few years back, many people were already frustrated with the public school system and started opening Charter Schools.  This caused public schools to decline even more due to the lack of funding, motivated teachers, and students.  Then, following the stock market crash of our generation, those families who had been sending their children to private schools could no longer afford it.  So, for a couple of years, public schools were inundated with more students than ever before.  This proved challenging for many schools and teachers.  The government and people saw this problem as it was manifesting.  They tried to put a Band-Aid on it with the implementation of the Common Core standards.  While the theories and ideas behind the Common Core make complete sense, in practice, they have butchered the public school system even further.  If these trends continue, more students will be failed by the very institution that was created to support and educate the youth of America.

While I’m no expert in the field of fixing broken systems, I have been an educator for 14 years and have generated some creative ideas about how the public school system can bring about the much needed change.

  1. The Common Core State Standards need to be treated as a springboard to a curriculum and not the curriculum itself.  Teachers need to have the flexibility to create a curriculum tailored to the students in their classrooms and not the average Joe or Jane that the CCSS were made for.  Teachers must no longer be judged on their ability to get students through the CCSS each year.  Education is a journey and an experience and not a checklist.  The CCSS treats teachers like record keepers and list checkers, which we are not.
  2. Tenure needs to be considered a four-letter word in schools around the country.  Great teachers will change and evolve each year.  Bad teachers will not.  Why reward those teachers who refuse to change?  Out with the stagnant teacher rulers and in with the student-directed teacher changers.
  3. Grades are inaccurate and false when they are not based on standards or objectives.  Schools need to implement standards-based grading and get rid of the arbitrary lies we call mathematical grading calculations.  If we don’t want our students to lie and plagiarize, then why should we model such poor behavior as their teachers?
  4. While I understand the need for data collection, basing student and teacher achievement on ridiculous standardized testing that uses guessing and trick questions to assess students, needs to be eradicated.  The portfolio system is a good way to fix this problem.  It stays with the student as they progress through the grades.  Data can be extrapolated from the student portfolios as a way of gathering data for schools.
  5. Empower and support teachers across the board.  Administrators need to stand by their teachers at all times, unless laws or major rules are broken.  On many occasions, however, principals or school officials side with the parents or school board regarding teacher or classroom issues.  Teachers need to feel like the ones in charge have their backs.  We’re a family and families take care of each other, is a good motto to live by as a school.
  6. Find ways to not cut programs like the arts or sports.  Be creative when budgeting and planning.  The arts are a way for those outliers to get hooked on learning and growing.  Don’t take that away from them.
  7. Find a way for students to be active during the school day.  Give them recess or inside play of some sort at more than one point during the day.  Hormones and growing create energy and the need to be active and physical.  Create safe ways for this to happen in your schedule.
  8. Be open to flexible grouping.  Rather than group students by age or their “grade-level,” try grouping students by their abilities.  I’ve worked with many sixth graders over the years who should have been grouped with eighth or ninth graders.  Don’t allow past constraints prevent you from trying new ways of creating classes or groups of students.
  9. Rethink homework and its purpose.  Is it necessary?  Should it be graded?  Why do students not do homework outside of school?  These are all questions that need to be discussed when implementing a homework plan for a school.
  10. Create a schedule with students in mind.  Middle School and High School students need a later start to the day.  Their brains and bodies are very different from younger students.  Stagger school starts to embrace this research and support our students.
  11. Have a growth mindset at all times.  This goes for teachers, administrators, and all school staff members.  Change is hard and difficult to bring about and is the only way to fix a broken system that will continue to breed more crime, unemployment, and apathy within our country unless we do something.

We need to do something to bring about change in our schools.  Instead of complaining or telling future generations to not go into the field of education, let’s work together to fix it.  It will take all of us to do it, but it can be done.  We’re not at the bottom of this rabbit hole just yet.  So, let’s start clawing our way out so that students want to become teachers because that’s where all the magic happens.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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