Getting Down to Business: Tackling the REAL Issues

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As I was getting ready to publish this blog, I came across THIS article.  My disdain for Mrs. DeVos as the Secretary of Education is clear, but despite the degree of sourness I am learning to accept the final decision which was made.
No, Betsy DeVos doesn’t have experience.  And, yes, vouchers are a horrible ill-thought out idea.  But there comes a time when we need to accept that our ideals are not what the majority decided was best and move forward seeking common ground in another way.
Having said that, after watching Mrs. DeVos’ address to the Education Staff, I stand slightly bit more at ease with her approval vote.  It sounds like she has a bit more understanding of the enormity of her position and that she is merely one person in a team of educators responsible for “making education great again.”  Or, maybe  I’m just too hopeful.  Either way, though, perhaps it was not her that our education system needed to improve but, instead, the firestorm of of passion that resulted that needed to be ignited in order to start a constructive dialogue as to what really needs to happen to better our state of education.  If so, then so be it… let’s get to work now.
We need a plan of action.  (I’d suggest that one of the reasons why MANY people didn’t and still don’t like this new woman in charge is that she didn’t have such a plan, and only regurgitated vague lines ‘passion for change.’)  We need an action plan… to tackle the real problems.  And vouchers, as she dreams,  don’t tackle don’t do that.
In order to create such a plan, we need to identify these REAL problems.  So WHAT are the they??  I ran across this article by a one Jody Stallings that summarized the issues quite succinctly:
  1. Student discipline.
  2. Parental support.
  3. Administrative power and teacher discretion.
I might add another one to the list– teacher support.  We start with this one because it’s really one that the others are rooted in.  Both sides of the divide have made it clear that the students are the focus, but as one teacher-author from Kiddom App put it, “Whoever our next Secretary of Education is, they need to advocate for all of our children and our teachers…” Note the “…and our teachers…”  Nobody knows our students better than those who are boots on the ground with them on a daily basis.
It’s important to listen to the teachers and to take into serious account any and all of their concerns.  If you don’t, then you will end with dire situations like that in Florida… teacher’s burning out due to low pay, under-appreciation, and ridiculous standardized-testing protocol.  And that severely affects the students because they are losing their support systems that are the teachers.

So what does Teacher Support look like?  

The answer to that question comes in one word… resources.  Resources, resources, resources.

  1. Technological Resources.  Teaching is most definitely an art, not a science.  And yet the bombardment of teaching pedagogies and ‘best practices’ is overwhelmingly unreal. Teachers hear a lot about the use of technology (by which they mean computers and iPads and the like) to engage students’ learning.  Truly, there are many amazing games and apps (see: Kahoot! and Socrative as only two examples), but the accessibility to resources is unreliable.  Issues lie in uneven funding to secure equipment for schools, unreliable access to wi-fi, and/or maintenance of computer equipment.  Perhaps a solution to this lies in increased community/business partnerships within education, but I digress… that’s a different soapbox.
  2. Parental Resources. As a teacher myself, I would have to argue that the BIGGEST mode of support you can give teachers is to support the parents.  Teachers hardly plan supportive parents anymore. These “personal student support structures” are hardly home anymore, most specifically in lower socioeconomic areas, due to the fact they are working multiple jobs just to put a roof over their child’s head.  Read more here. Teachers understand this which is why they very often find themselves in the role of teacher AND parent.  THAT.  Is a very much overwhelming responsibility.  How can we help the parents so that they can actually have time to spend with their families… and “parent”??  Answer this question and you may just find the answer to other problems such related to student discipline.  Now, lets get to work and DO THIS!

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Carney, J. (2017, February 07). Franken: DeVos ‘fundamentally incompetent’ to lead Education Dept. Retrieved February 10, 2017, from http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/318198-franken-devos-fundamentally-incompetent-to-lead-education-dept
H. (n.d.). DeVos nomination stands at 50-50. Retrieved February 10, 2017, from http://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/susan-collins-betsy-devos-confirmation-234497
Hertz, M. B. (2014, April 24). Appreciate Teachers By Understanding What They Do. Retrieved February 10, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/appreciate-teachers-by-understanding-mary-beth-hertz?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow
Mista, Y. (2017, February 03). Let’s Not Lose Focus. Retrieved February 10, 2017, from https://blog.kiddom.co/lets-not-lose-focus-4b10ad883b86#.7kzck7a33
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Evidence-based Reasoning & Betsy Devos

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Since our new Commander-in-Chief took office, there’s been whirlwind of buzz going around about the sweeping changes he’s already been making.  Perhaps, none as heated as his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. Mrs. Devos’ advocacy for federally-funded voucher programs is at the center of the maelstrom.  What does this mean for the state of public education?
Many opponents fear that her ideas will divert money away from schools that really need it, and will be detrimental to students.  Consider this viewpoint.  I mean really mull it over before you going on a tirade offering your own thoughts and opinions either way.  Is this woman the best person for the job?
I ask that you make a serious act of discernment.  And if  you consider yourself even remotely learned about the current state of education, then you know the that one of the big themes engaging students and teaching them how to “think critically.”  An art that seems to be lost in this vastly independent and emotionally-charged society.  It’s no wonder students have the hardest time with this concept… they have very few or no examples to model how it looks.  Students need MANY models.
Evidence-based reasoning is a BIG deal right now and is the centerpiece of many, many professional development classes that teachers attend.  So, in line with one of the focii in education today (something DeVos is probably clueless about…), let’s take a look at four hard-to-ignore pieces of evidence to why Betsy Devos is NOT the best person for Secretary of Education.
1. First consider Mrs. Devos’ performance during her confirmation hearing:  Would you actually hire a new employee who performed as poorly in a job interview as she did?
She’s not qualified.  Would YOU hire someone who was ill-qualified, ill-confident, stammering for words, and unable to hold an intelligible conversation regarding the job they were going for.  Her interview clearing demonstrates her inexperience, and is simply not qualified for the job.
2.  Claim:  She has a clear track record of creating schools and improving schools.  
Her track record of school improvement illustrates incompetence.  Evidence in her home state of Michigan would suggest otherwise.  Yes, she has created schools.  However, improvement is not an appropriate adjective to describe those initiatives.  Under the leadership of those schools, student performance has either not gotten better or has fallen.  Read about specific schools under her charge here.  Just because someone is good at securing and allocating funds (or what I refer to as “money shuffling”) does not mean they know how to run a school, let alone increase the desire of us all to increase student performance in an academic setting.
3.  Claim:  Vouchers can save failing schools.
Vouchers are NOT fail-safe.  Tulane University did a study where they found that “High-poverty schools are 22 times less likely to be consistently high-performing as low-poverty schools…”   Well this isn’t exactly new news, but the percentage found here is pretty staggering.  Read the study here.
Keeping that in mind, the notion of providing parents with “free money” and the option of “good schools,” disguised as “school choice, ” to send their children to is a heart-friendly ad populum argument which I caution you to think carefully about.  Please do not fall into the trap that the below Claim #4 offers.
Consider the following.  Money is the silent god that secular society (unwittingly?) worships. It makes the world go ’round.  And having the allotted federal funding that each child possesses and allowing it to follow them to a different school, takes money away from the other school.  Thereby, also punishing the remaining students and without a doubt the biggest issue that teachers have with Devos’ school vouchers.
But money shuffling does nothing to solve the problem of why students are unable to learn.  It only seeks to increase the poverty gap because students naturally gravitate to those “like them.”  The Obama administration invested in a multi-billion dollar school improvement project.  Great.  And yet a study of one of his biggest projects was found to be a massive failure.
Why was this initiative a failure, though?  They don’t really say, but let’s say that the ACCESS to resources wasn’t really a factor in this study.  It’s all about access to resources and the ultimate resource is the teacher.  This Mind/Shift article hits on so many “YASSSSES!” for what really needs to be addressed…give teachers the proper support they need to do their job.  Give them the support they need to provide to each individual student… YOUR student.
The article goes on, “From his work as a teacher and school principal Craig knew that lasting school change comes from teachers, so he focused the regional school improvement work on improving teacher instruction.”  So I urge you to listen.  Please listen.  And support your child’s teacher so that they can support YOUR student!  The teacher is the person who knows your child and their cognitive abilities and what their home-life may/may not be like.  The teacher is the person who knows what needs to be done to reach YOUR student.  And trust me when I say they are have literally gone through or are still going through the #scientificmethod to be able to reach YOUR student.
4.  Claim:  Teachers are against DeVos because the “Union” tells to be.
Ummm… Excu’ me?!!  A claim such as this loaded with fallacy upon fallacy.  By making such a statement, you are assuming that schools (and, by proxy, teachers) don’t care about student achievement.  It can be inferred that you also think that teachers are just chose that profession as one of the “options” to pay their bills.  Now, since I also am not of fan of assumptions, I give people the benefit of the doubt and attribute the lack of knowledge to simply “not being in the know.”  Because, let’s face it, sometimes there are situations where if you are not in the in-crowd, then you just don’t get it.  For a look at what being a teacher really looks like, check out this article on Edutopia.  Teaching has never in its history been one of those fields people choose for the money, but it has changed IMMENSELY in the past 15 or so years, so your experiences with teachers may not (and probably are not) the same as what’s happening currently.  So before you go attacking a teacher, why don’t you try put yourself in their shoes?

Top 6 Reasons Why It’s Time for EE Literacy & State Standards to Unite

 

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Ah yes! Sitting feels good! I finally get a moment to breath.  I haven’t had time to really sit down until now, but am grateful for the opportunity to FINALLY get to share with you some of the amazing fruits that I was able to harvest from a professional conference I attended not too long ago.

Last October, I had the opportunity to attend the NAAEE conference in Madison, WI and it was an incredibly amazing experience to say the least.  Re-inspiring, reinvigorating, refreshing, informative, educational… the list of adjectives could go on, but I won’t.  Anyway, for those who may not be familiar, NAAEE stands for the North American Association for Environmental Educators and, yes, there IS actually an official group for people to sit around and talk about how to save the environment.  But, more importantly YES… it was filled with amazing, encouraging, and fruitful goodness!  And I am the type of person who likes to share GOOD stuff when I find it, so here I go…

One of the first observations that I remember making when I arrived was how all the various circles were talking about the significance of human relationships.  Not just of a human’s relationship with the environment, but (more importantly) with each other… the human community.  That was the moment I knew I was in the right place.  I fell deeper in love with my vocation and humanity.

I experienced some wonderful opportunities to meet some amazing and dedicated people, and learn about what they, theirs organization, or their businesses were doing to further education and inspire people towards environmental literacy and stewardship.  Whether they traveled from within the U.S. or internationally, these global partners fell into 1 of 2 categories:

  1. They were informal educators seeking relationships with formal schools and an entry into their school curriculum; or
  2. School teachers seeking a way to merge environmental education standards into their school curriculum standards.

Realizing such motives that most of the participants fell into was probably the second time I knew that I was in the right place.  I all of a sudden didn’t feel alone; that everything I’ve been thinking wasn’t so crazy after all.  There is an effective way to leverage the power of children to promote sustainability and it is good… so good.  Combining environmental literacy and state education standards in a true, authentic way “…is like a thick steak, a glass of wine, and a good cigar.”  Any Chestertonian worth his lick would be hard-pressed to disagree.  Here are a few of the reasons why:


6.  David Suzuki.  A Canadian Chemist and leading environmental advocate, Mr. Suzuki was the lead-off keynote speaker for the 2016 conference.  Lying within his humorous wit and inspirational anecdotes, were so many little pearls of wisdom.  One of the things that stood out the most to me was when he started talking about how “we are so ignorant of how the world works, we don’t know how to anticipate the consequences.”  It really stuck with me.  I mean this world is SO massive, it’s nearly impossible to know every. Little. Thing.  People truly have good intentions and are doing their best to live a good, responsible life, but sometimes that which we don’t know gets the better of our intentions.  We want better materials, we want convenience, and we don’t want to spend an arm and a leg for it… Now how can we get that which we want with the fewest number of “consequences”?  Mull that chewy little morsel over with a glass of your choice red as you watch his talk here.

5. Research.  img_20161019_091121768_hdrA big component of the conference is all about research… figuring out the best practices in getting people to act with environmentality.  This includes understanding people and why do do/say what they do/say, understanding how zoos/aquariums/environmental centers can effectively communicate conservation messages to guests, understanding the role of an informal education center and how people (both teachers and day guests) view them, and even how informal centers can work together to influence their community.  The list goes on and on, but here are some gems that I found and adore.

  • Beetles Project: This project is based out of California is a network of organizations and individuals dedicated to building relationships between schools and EE centers, as well as incorporating EE literacy standards into state/national curriculum standards.
  • NC State University:  This was one of the first talks I attended and enjoyed thoroughly.  This doctoral candidate is studying the effectiveness of climate literacy using outdoor/informal facilities and using the power of children to influence positive behavior in their parents.
  • Northland College:  Another fabulous individual dedicate to bridging the gap between informal and formal settings.  His talk was on incorporating EE into teacher pre-service training.
  • Dr. Chris Sperry:  This is an individual who dedicates his livelihood to effective EE practices.  Unfortunately, I was in and out of this talk due to volunteer duties, but still a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about the topic.
  • University of Georgia:  Teachers Communicating with Informal Science Educators:  Community Views on Collaboration.  This is an interesting little study on the effectiveness of school/informal education center relationships and how teachers and EE facilitators view each other’s jobs.

4. Human Impact. Sometimes it can be difficult for people, especially children, to really comprehend the impact society has on itself and the Earth.  So here are some organizations that have some great after school and/classroom activities you can utilize to help your students understand.

  • Science Action Club:  A group dedicated to providing schools with quality environmental programs and kits to engage students in inquiry-based, STEM activities.
  • Population Connection:  A resource that contains some great, engaging activities to assist students in visualizing human impact on Earth.
  • ecoRise Youth Innovations:  Offers teachers eco-literacy curriculum to incorporate into the classroom.  It’s all about design/systems-thinking in their programs which prepares them for a life/career in the real world.

3.  Aimee Nezhukumatathil.  This lovely lady is a specialist on environmental literacy and ELA, so pretty much YES english and the outdoors DO have something in common.  She is an English Professor and public educator, as well as a renowned guest speaker.  She talks about the great need for kids to be inspired again.  There is no greater inspiration than the outdoors!  Check out a portion of her talk right here.

“So much of what it means to be a writer [or scientist or design engineer] is just to be curious.  Having a curiosity that demands to be satiated.”

2. Classroom Resources. Classroom resources teachers can use to hone critical skills used in the  process of science (observation, reasoning, and critical thinking).  All of the following resources have specific lessons/curriculum for a variety of topics (or standards, if you will).  Wildcam Gorongoza and Zooniverse are both entities of HHMI

Biointeractive which are SUPERB resources for helping students working on their observation and classification skills as they help real-life scientists to identify species caught on camera traps. iNaturalist is a citizen scientist application in which students can also help to identify plant/animal species, or post their own pictures for identification.  These are great ways to network in real-time with real-scientists.  Teachers can use these tools for a stimulating class discussion, too!

1. Environmental Literacy Models.  And the #1 reason why it’s time to unite EE literacy with state standards?!  Why, of course, it’s already being done!  Not only are there great lessons that school teachers can attach to, but there are also already schools that have caught on to the revolution of changing the ways of formal education!  Check out these awesome models which demonstrate effective incorporation of EE standards in school curriculum standards.  These groups are already working to bridge the gap between the two.

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The Connection to Relevance

The need to make EE (a.k.a. environmental education) relevant is vital.  Relationships are important to accomplish this mission.  And in discerning (for a very long time) how to make it happen and evaluating many different pathways, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s really no better way than to jump directly in the middle of the community where it all happens… in our schools.  In other words, incorporate environmental literacy standards into school curriculum standards.

Students cry for relevance in their learning, and there’s no better relevance than impacts on their way of life.  Environmental literacy through project-based learning is the ultimate interdisciplinary lesson, truly.  In order to solve problems they face in their communities, students must first know the basics (science and math) of how their world operates.  This helps them to articulate and communicate their ideas so that best solutions can be discussed and found.  It should be noted, though, that this notion of environmental literacy as standard school curriculum (what is known to some as a “green school”) is more than a magnet or charter school… it’s just the way it should be.  It’s a way of life.

The Connection to Relevance

Feel a need to make a difference  –>  Civics/Social Studies

In order to do so, you need to gather knowledge of how the world works  –> Science

Finding a solution, you’ll need to engineer a design plan  –> Math & Measurement

Need to articulate/communicate your plan  –>  ELA: Writing & Speaking

Need to be inspired  –> ELA & NATURE

Social Reform: The Next Wave of Education Reform

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This is an open letter to Florida’s Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, as well as other political representatives.  With the election season as it played out from the very beginning, I’d long come to a to terms accepting the outcome for whatever it ended up being regardless of my own voting preferences.  But now with the pending appointment as the Secretary of Education being who it is, it is time to step up and give voice to something that we can more readily control.  

This is an URGENT message requesting you to VOTE NO in approving Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education.  This billionaire woman has NO experience anywhere as an educator and is not a supporter of public education.

Her position in pushing voucher programs and making school’s more competitive is not the next wave in education reform.  While the education system is still not perfect, it is MUCH better than it used to be.  Have you considered that maybe it’s no longer teacher training and school improvement that needs to change?  Well, voucher programs that “make schools more competitive” is not the solution to nation’s educational concerns because teachers are working their butts off and even spending their own money to ensure each child gets what they need to be successful.  Schools are making vast improvements with the limited resources they have, as well.  No tangible results would  be seen  from competition because there are other dire factors that are involved in how we experience new things and in our ability to take in new information.

Instead, the next wave of education reform needs to be focused  social reform.  Teachers can work as hard as they can and schools can provide free/reduced lunch, but that doesn’t solve the problem that kiddos are not getting basic survival necessities AT HOME.  If kids have to worry about taking taking care of their siblings until mom or dad get home at 6 or 7 pm, then that leaves little time for them to clean themselves and finish their own homework before bed time.  Let’s also talk about those same students not having access to wi-fi/computers to finish said homework because mom and dad’s 2-3 jobs barely cover the cost of ensuring a roof over their heads.   And, by the way, that roof (in districts such as Osceola and Orange Counties) is often that of an extended stay hotel.  There are schools, including my own, that are actually nicknamed “the hotel school” because many students (large) families live in such facilities that line corridors like State Road 192.

Many people will argue that it’s up to the teachers to overcome such student adversities.  Well, teachers can only do so much!  And they already work their tails off to the point of exhaustion.  Well, when students are having to worry about concerns like those mentioned above, a teacher can plan the BEST and MOST engaging lesson on the planet but if students’ heads are not in the right place because they have other responsibilities and/or lack the time/resources to do what they need to for school THEN, of course, they will be disengaged. It’s called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and all psychologists AND teachers are more than familiar with it.  People can’t concentrate on the next step unless their most basic needs are met first.  As a teacher who’s worked in and networked with several different districts before, I KNOW teachers are brilliant and creative and doing the best they can, but they need help.  Families need help.  And that’s why the next step in education reform MUST be social reform.  This is truly an urgent matter, and we need someone in leadership that truly understands and gets it.  However, Besty DeVos is NOT that person.