Articles

Robert Rubinstein
Storyteller    Actor    Writer    Teacher
rrubinsteinstorytelling@gmail.com

THE BUSINESS OF EDUCATION

 BY: Robert Rubinstein

The education mantra is: "Let’s run the public schools as we would a business.” 

Public education is a very big business with 14,343 public schools in our nation. Any business this size must re-invent and re-tool itself at least every ten years to stay current. Schools are about teaching and learning skills for the future, not the present. Yet, the average age of schools in this country is 42 years old. The oldest, most deteriorated and technologically out-dated schools can be found, as expected, in a city’s poverty areas. 

Quality businesses provide training and resources for employees to make certain they have access to the most up-to-date technology and learning. One of the first items cut from school budgets is teacher-training and support services. New textbooks can be $50 to over $100 dollars or more apiece, so many schools have textbooks that are ten, twenty, or more years old. Imagine how this affects the teaching of science, computers, math, and history/ current events. 

Successful businesses hire work-experienced managers or directors who lead and inspire, and offer constructive support. Many school administrators have little or no classroom teaching experience and make decisions based, on ignorance, skewed perceptions, or politics. Administrators should be knowledgeable and in the classroom to evaluate teachers; they should not base their judgments of teacher quality on mainly student test results. (What businesses in society constantly evaluate employees based on repeated paper-testing?) 

Good businesses create a favorable environment for employees to work effectively. How do you work effectively with 40 students in a room? (Scientists have conducted experiments to show what behaviors happen when too many rats are jammed into a space. Imagine what it’s like when this is the case with young people.) Studies have shown that the most effective teaching is done with classes no larger than 25. How do students learn when the lighting, heating and air quality are not healthy? 

The best people work for a business because it offers good wages, benefits, and working conditions. The average teacher’s salary in America’s public schools is about $46,000. Today’s future teachers are likely to graduate with college debts of $30,000 to $70,000 (especially with the required master’s degree). Within five years, despite the cost of their college education, nearly half the new teachers quit due to low pay, low morale, poor working conditions, safety, administration incompetence, or intimidation. Businesses cannot operate successfully if their employees are laboring under such conditions. 

Who’s teaching and training our future teachers - supposedly instructors and professors in the colleges of education. However, many of these have left classroom teaching because they weren’t successful or disliked working with children, and many professors of education have never even taught in a public school classroom. Who evaluates what colleges of education are teaching our future teachers? Few teachers want to return to these college education classes. 

Now, add to the "business" the board that makes policies and decisions. A look at education committees at the federal, state and local levels will find that the people making decisions about what’s best for students and learning are mostly politicians, business people, college instructors and administrators. The people rarely represented on these committees and seldom actually involved in decisions about teaching and learning are the classroom teachers – the ones with the knowledge, training, and experience. 

This is the business of education – or education as a "business.” However, unlike a business that produces a product, education deals with people. Each student has his or her own way of learning, understanding and behaving. Each student comes with a home life, parents, and a socio-economic background that profoundly affects that student’s abilities and desire to learn. Each classroom teacher must learn to deal with 40 students in a class, meeting perhaps 200-250 students a day if teaching at the secondary school. 

According to a U.S. Department of Education report, public schools teach math and reading more effectively than do most charter and private schools. In addition, private and some charter schools select the students they will allow to enroll and have far fewer students in a class. This selection is often influenced by political., religious or economic status. Private schools are not required to test students for progress, or may choose to only test certain groups of students, not all students, as the public schools are required to do. 

If a business expects a quality "product," then the business must first invest in meaningful ways to build a solid foundation with an evolving infrastructure. With our schools and students, this means focusing people and resources to "produce" students with the skills to think, learn, understand, and apply knowledge, not parrot back useless dates and facts on tests.

 

   

TO TEACH OR NOT TO TEACH

BY: Robert Rubinstein

(Published in THE HUMANIST, May/June 2005)

We traveled to College Park, Maryland, for our daughter's graduation from the College of Education at the University of Maryland. After five years of study, working nights as a waitress and summers as a camp counselor, and borrowing money, she had earned her degree in elementary education. Her dream is to teach and make a difference in her students’ lives.

The day after graduation, she asked us to visit the first grade class where she had done her student teaching. This is a school in the middle of hundreds of high-rise tenement apartments for low-income families. Seventy-five percent of the students in this school were designated as "remedial students" and nearly all were minorities. Since these students couldn't pass the federally-required tests, the students and school had been classified as "failing." There was little hope, without major funding and increased staff, of ever succeeding and removing that label. The principal was to be transferred because, according to the federal government’s "No Child Left Behind" law, this was a "failing school" and, as principal, she was responsible.

Our daughter entered the classroom to shouts of joy: "Miss Rubinstein! Miss Rubinstein!" and students rushed over to her; grasped her hands and led her into the room. And our daughter radiated with happiness to see "her kids" again.

Our son teaches high school social studies in Queens, New York. He is in a masters-in-education teaching fellowship program and has been placed in an inner city school. He's had an intense time adjusting to students who require lots of guidance, a great deal of work with basic skills, who lack teaching materials, are threatened by testing, and have a wide-range of academic and personal needs. After several months of teaching, he said, "I had the students do evaluations about what they liked, didn't like, how I should change my teaching. They had some nice comments! . . . I was walking on the street and this student who I don't have in class came up to me and said, "I really like the quotes you put on the board. Makes me think."

Since President Bush suddenly cut funds for this fellowship program to recruit and train teachers so desperately needed in the New York City schools, my son now has to pay to earn his "fellowship" masters degree.

My son and daughter have just become teachers. They've earned their degrees, teaching credentials, have gone in debt in order to teach in our schools and work with young people who will determine our future. As one who spent 32 years teaching middle school students, I am very proud of them - and very concerned.

I taught through the 1970s-1990s, and I was fortunate enough to have taught at a special public school, Roosevelt Junior High-Middle School in Eugene, Oregon. I was a teacher at a school whose staff focused on students first, devoting immense time, expertise and energy to fostering student success in the classroom and in life. For most students and teachers, this program worked very well. During those years, our students consistently achieved top academic marks in the state and, even more important, enjoyed coming to school. We had great parent support, and most teachers enjoyed the challenge and the hectic pace of teaching at Roosevelt.

As a teacher in this elective, ungraded, curriculum program, I had the opportunity to teach classes in such unique subjects as "Multicultural Mythology," "Mystery Story," "Wild & Tame", animal literature and the care of animals, "Folktales & Storytelling", which incorporated basic speech skills, "Advanced Writing," "Sports History," and "Through the Camera's Eye - American History Through Movies." For 24 years, my students in the nationally-known "Troupe of Tellers" journeyed during the school day - three times a week during the term - to perform for some 3000 other students in elementary and secondary schools each year, plus adult groups.

Other Roosevelt teachers engaged the students with classes in Shakespeare, space travel, zoology, computer math, cartooning, archery and bow-making, and more. These classes incorporated basic skills: reading, writing, research, and presentations. Students and teachers became excited about these unique classes. Learning, after all, should be fun for both the student and teacher, should encourage students to think, and, hopefully, become life-long learners.

Each of these teacher-designed classes had to meet education goals, evaluated by the administration. Students, with parent and teacher guidance, chose classes based on each student's skill level and skill needs, and interests. A class could have a mix of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. Teachers didn't just give grades, but commented on each student's progress and needs. Teachers, along with administrators and, sometimes, classified people, worked together to solve concerns.

People came from across the country to find out how the "Roosevelt Program" worked. They wanted to know how we accomplished this positive educational experience without large amounts of extra funds. Why did we have so few serious student behavior problems over the years? Why did our students do so well?

Today, there's not much left of the "Roosevelt Program." Budget cuts, teacher burn-out, changes in administration, and, most of all, the mania for and expense of testing have devastated 32 years of success. Today, in this country, 50% of those entering the teaching profession quit by the fifth year due to over-crowded classrooms, behavior problems, administrators who lack knowledge and skill, lack of parent support, and the inadequate salary for teachers to raise their own families.

So, I wonder - and worry - will my two children who have such love and care for kids and potential as teachers - survive beyond those five years? Will they be allowed to teach as teachers can and should - and as our kids need?

 

  

WHEN THE TROUPE TOLD TALES

BY: Robert Rubinstein

(Published in MIDDLE GROUND,
the National Middle School Association magazine, April 2005)

"Storytelling is the most powerful way people organize life experiences . . . . We cannot have peace until we know each other's stories."
"Storytelling is the single, strongest predictor of literacy. Those who hear stories before the age of four, read the best."
           - George Wells, the results of his study

For 32 years, I had the privilege of teaching in a totally elective curriculum at Roosevelt Junior High/Middle School in Eugene, Oregon. I had the opportunity to create and teach classes such as "Sports History," "Medieval Times," "Play-Writing," "Multi-Cultural Mythology," "Wild & Tame" (animal literature - the study of endangered species and pet care), "Through The Camera's Eye: American History Through Movies," and "Storytelling." Each of these classes, as part of the curriculum, incorporated reading, writing skills, oral presentations, research reports, and specific educational goals. Students elected to enroll in these courses, and I chose to teach them because I liked the subject and wanted to share that with students.

However, the Troupe of Tellers was my favorite to teach because those who became tellers learned skills they could readily use through their lives. The Troupe was part of the curriculum at Roosevelt: students traveled during the school day to other schools to perform. In 24 years, these troupes of sixth, seventh and eighth grade students performed for over 70,000 students in their schools as well as presenting for many conferences, community groups, and for the Eugene Public Library's summer storytelling program. In 1983, the Troupe of Tellers received one of the State of Oregon's "Great Kids" Awards in recognition of these young storytellers' community service, and, in 1993, members of that year's Troupe of Tellers presented a performance-workshop at the University of Washington in Seattle for the National Storytelling Conference with people attending from throughout the United States and other countries.

For many storytellers, the Troupe became a life-changing experience: Jim came to Roosevelt just after Thanksgiving. A tall, gangly, black boy of 14, he had no friends and didn't fit in with any group. According to school records, he had attended fifteen schools during the past ten years. As a result he could barely read and write, and lacked social skills to work with groups.

He was placed in my storytelling class, but how to have him learn to tell stories when he couldn't read them? . . . I chose two students and talked with them about Jim's skill problems. The two agreed to help. They sat with Jim, helped him select simple two-three page folk tales, and then read him a tale several times until he could learn to tell it. Each time he told a tale to the class, he improved and his confidence grew, as did his desire to learn to read better so he could learn the tales for himself. Performing before a group that enjoys listening to you is an incredibly powerful growth experience.

For those students "at-risk," or who have not developed their reading and writing skills, storytelling provides a way for them to communicate successfully. If someone can't read or write, they must learn how to speak in order to convey feelings and ideas, or to have friends. . . What often happens, also, is that when they succeed telling stories and enjoy the experience, then they're motivated to find other stories to share in order to continue that success and great feeling. So they begin to read - to improve their skills because they want to and see benefit in doing so. In other classes, Jim struggled or failed, but in storytelling, he succeeded and received a fine evaluation for his skill progress and personal growth.

The Troupe of Tellers would include twelve students each spring term. Two of these twelve places I would save for not necessarily the most accomplished tellers but for those who might benefit most from the Troupe experience. I chose Jim for one of those slots. Two to three times a week for ten weeks he performed with the others in the Troupe in for elementary, middle school and high school students as well as adults.

At the end of the term, we traveled on a two-day performance tour to Portland schools. For lunch, we went to a cafeteria in the mall. I stayed with Jim as we went through the cafeteria line. He stared at the food offerings.

"Choose whatever you want, Jim. I'll pay for it."
He stood - paralyzed.
"It's okay. Whatever you want to eat."
He shook his head. "I don't know how to choose."
"Well, how about a hamburger? Is that okay?"
He shrugged.
"A drink?" I took a Pepsi. "And some pie?" Apple.
We sat down together and talked a little. After a while, he confided, "Never been in a place like this."
"You mean a restaurant?"
He nodded. "Never eaten in one before." He munched on his sandwich.
Our tour continued. Jim's telling and success grew. He smiled, laughed, joined with the others in the Troupe. It was great to see!

That June, when school ended, Jim disappeared again. I knew his family must be running from something or someone. . . . I hope these twelve weeks performing made some difference in his life - provided some treasured and lasting memories.

. . . Jevon, severely hearing impaired, also performed with us for a term. His speech, because of his disability, was difficult to understand, but he also used signing when he told his tales. I would watch audiences at first be puzzled by his enunciation and then see them become captivated as his story evolved with his signing and intensity. After high school, Jevon performed as a member of the National Theatre of the Deaf. and later as an actor in Hollywood.

. . . Brothers Richard and Chris Leebrick began as tellers with the troupe and went on to become professional actors and playwrights, establishing the Lord Leebrick Theatre Company. Richard is now a drama and language arts teacher at Roosevelt Middle School.

. . . Here are some comments from past members of the Troupe of Tellers:
Lydia: "I think the ability to get up and perform in front of others helped instill confidence in myself, and the support of the group demonstrated how cooperation and positive interaction with peers can lead to success. Of all the classes I took, this is the one that always stood out as not only a favorite, but one that what I achieved in the class has helped me later in life."

Kathy: "I felt nervous -- the butterflies of performance. I felt excited - this was fun and interesting: it stretched me. I felt important - people looked forward to us coming; not everyone could say they were part of the Troupe of Tellers. I felt responsible - for my material, for the audience's enjoyment, for doing my best. Among the gifts I gained: patience to listen to others' stories; enthusiasm to entertain and inform; esteem that I was worthy of being heard and by people who didn't know me before; a love of stories - the people who tell them, write them, and hear them."

Keri: "The Troupe was my first true self-esteem builder, much needed in junior high. It was a place where I could be steered in a positive direction. It kept me focused on doing good - not just for myself - but also for others. It taught me to se a commitment through to the end. I learned most of all to stand up in a crowd - be the total center of attention and not fall apart. This is an extremely important skill to learn, especially dealing with adults."

Kate: "Every time I performed it was another boost to my self-esteem. Somehow 1 knew that all those kids were watching me and enjoying it. They weren't peers that I had to impress, but kids looking up to me. All the songs we learned came in handy when I worked with groups of kids at the YMCA the following years. Since the Troupe, vocal and physical expression come naturally. I can hold an audience’s attention much easier than the average person."

Chris: "I loved it! I felt like I was part of something unusual and special, and I was! This was my first real structured experience in performing and I discovered I was a performer! I have come to believe that storytelling is the original theatre. It's incredibly valuable in stage and commercial acting. I feel lucky to have been exposed to it."

Kelly: "Performing in the Troupe meant a lot to me. I loved getting up in front of people and sharing stones with them. I loved the unity of the group and the friends I made. The Troupe gave me courage that is still instrumental in my life today."

Kelly's Mom: "Kelly truly blossomed in the Troupe of Tellers. I didn't think there was another single class at Roosevelt Middle School that had as much impact on her. She grew in self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-expression. Her willingness to try new experiences increased. Her public speaking and acting skills, which she began in the Troupe classes, carried over in school work, choir, drama and musical productions. If another parent ever wonders if the Troupe of Tellers is an important enough class, I would be happy to answer them."

Here's the Troupe Video reviewed by Harlynne Geisler, STORY BAG, November 2005:

"Anyone who sets out for a future endeavor would be wise to glance behind him before beginning.”  If that's not a real proverb, perhaps it should be. Certainly, anyone who sets out to establish a troupe of teen-age storytellers would be wise to take a look at Robert Rubinstein's accomplishments in that field. No one knows the road better and can warn you about the bumps in the path, point out the pitfalls to be avoided, and describe the certain treasure at the end. For more than two decades, Rubinstein directed an award-winning troupe of young tellers from Roosevelt Middle School in Eugene, Oregon. They told stories to more than 70,000 children and many adults (including attendees at a national storytelling conference). Years later, the troupe is still considered a model of its kind. In this video (available from Rubinstein), we can see several young tellers perform, and as a big plus, we can hear them tell about the experience of choosing, preparing, and telling a story. They comment on how they develop characters, ways to embellish a story, pacing, adding humor, working in a team of storytellers, and the value of their storytelling skills in their future endeavors. It also has a few archival clips of the troupe's tellers throughout the years, including a classroom performance and critique session with a teller who is severely hearing impaired. These are real kid with real worries, fears and triumphs. Just watching gives a sense of exuberance and may convince you that you can do this."

 

 

  

INDEXING STUDENT PROGRESS

BY: Robert Rubinstein

With increasing class sizes and with secondary school teachers meeting over 200 students each day, a classroom teacher has a very difficult time keeping track of individual student progress, and providing specific feed-back about student work to the student and to the parent.

Just maintaining a grade-book with a student´s assignment scores does not tell the teacher, the student, or the parent what specifically that student has done well, how he or she has improved, and what skills still need to be developed. The student and parent have a right to know this information. After all, learning and education is a process, not a test score. The student will proceed better and achieve more success if the student knows what he has achieved and the directions to take to improve.

The method I used and that kept me readily apprised of a student´s work and progress was to keep a five inch by eight inch lined index card for every student in every class. The first two lines of the card list basic contact information:

Last, First name Homeroom Teacher
Grade level Subject - period Home phone 
Special Needs:

After this, assignments can be listed with a general grade or evaluation, and then specific detail of what the student did well and what needs improvement. So, for example, a paper about mountain men might be recorded on one line of the index card:

Mt.: VWD - vg. idea & det., v.g. eff., clear, SP, frag
(Mountain men Assign: Very Well-done - contains very good ideas and detail, very good effort, clearly written, spelling error, sentence fragment) 

Each succeeding assignment would be recorded in a similar manner:

West: Re-do - needs org.- clear sent. & compar., not on subj., SP,

If the student asks why the paper should be re-written, then the card tells both of us - refreshing my memory - as to exactly why the assignment should be re-done: not organized well, confusing, lacked comparisons, not focused on the subject, several spelling errors. The student knows specifically how he can re-write the assignment with increased success.

Recording oral presentations gives a wealth of information:
"Birdman:" (Nat. Amer.) Well-done - clear, g. proj, g. pace, knew story, needs eye-dialog.-face-gest.
(This student told a Native American tale, "The Birdman." The telling over-all was well-done with clarity, good pacing, good vocal projection, and he knew the story well without stumbling. For the next oral presentation, this student should work on facial expression, eye contact with the audience, gestures, and include character dialogue.) The student is evaluated on how well he has learned and improved, not with comparisons to other students.

In a similar way, quiz or test scores are recorded with accompanying notes about specific areas that seem to be problems. This is a method to also record the details of major projects or papers. On the last two lines of the card, comment on class participation, general preparation, behavior, attitude, group cooperation, absences as well as any extra credit work or effort. I can also summarize the card with regard to specific needs:
Talking, 3/10 - sent out of rm.-beh., g. discussion, 4/16-helped stud., v. creat., needs SP-sent-writ. help.

At mid-term, I would have each student come up to look at his or her card with me. The information on the card helps eliminate power struggles or personality conflicts. The card specifically delineates what the student did or did not do. If the student wants to know "why you gave him this grade," the teacher´s reply is let´s look at the card and what you have accomplished during the term. The focus is on what the student has done, not on the teacher giving.

If a parent wants to know how a child is doing in class, there´s the card. In 32 years, I have had very little conflict with students or parents about grades because I could offer specific details about the student´s progress over the term as well as offer direction for student improvement.

When administrators or other teachers came to ask about a student, the index card contained information to share.

So, this index system provided an efficient, accurate method to record student work, behavior, progress, and needs as well as an effective communication tool for students, parents, and others.

 

 BUSH´S PLAN
TO DESTROY OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

BY: Robert Rubinstein

Published in the October 2004 issues of Z MAGAZINE

George W. Bush, contends that the "No Child Left Behind" law, based on Houston´s methods of holding schools responsible for student performance, would bring huge improvements in eliminating the gap between white and minority education progress. The mainstay of Bush´s claims rest on the improvement that it seemed superintendent, Rod Paige, cited in the Houston schools. Bush quickly installed Paige as the United States Secretary of Education.

The centerpiece for Bush´s strategy to begin the destruction of the public school system was in place.

However, television´s "Sixty Minutes" as well as NEW YORK TIMES (12/3/03) reporters investigated the claims made by Rod Paige´s Houston schools. They noted that the Texas Education Agency found that Houston school officials undercounted school dropouts, overstated how many high school graduates were college bound, failed to report violent crimes in schools to state authorities, and excluded most children with limited English from taking the national assessment test. Some 13,600 Houston eighth graders dwindled in 1998 to fewer than 8,000 high school graduates. 

The gap between Houston whites and minorities remains huge: the ranking of the average white student was 36 points higher than that of the average black student in 1999. Rod Paige used apparently highly distorted statistics to show Houston schools’ low dropout rates and campus crime rates.

Why is such a person like Rod Paige still the Secretary of Education? Why would this "No Child" law, based on such lies and deceit, be mandated for all students and all schools in our nation? 

"NCLB forces states and school districts to waste scarce resources on more bureaucracy, paperwork, and even more standardized tests. . . . The fact is NCLB´s inherent absurdities have caught up with it. When some of the top high schools in New Jersey, and the best elementary schools in Michigan, including a school praised by the President of the United States, are warned that they have failed to achieve ´adequate yearly progress´ under the federal law . . . when schools across the nation that have been rated ´exceptional´ under their state assessment systems are labeled ´in need of improvement´ under the federal law . . . when the Teacher of the Year in Montana does not meet the ´highly qualified´ standards of the federal law, it becomes apparent that there is something wrong with this law." ("The Tide Is Turning" - Reg Weaver, NEA TODAY, January 2004)

Money

Bush proposed a federal budget that would cut - not add - $200 million from education. He has cut $39 million from federal money for public libraries and proposed that the program that gives free books to poor children, "The Reading is Fundamental Program," be eliminated. 

Bush cut $35 million in funds that would support doctors working in pediatric care, reduced by 86% the poor people´s use of the Community Access Program for health care, cut $200 million from the Childcare and Development grants for the welfare to work program, and cut $15.7 million from child abuse and neglect programs.

Yet, the United States is number one in the world in the number of millionaires and billionaires, in military spending, use of energy and natural resources, consumption, and the production of hazardous wastes. The Pentagon spent $250 billion in 2001-2002 of taxpayer money to build 2800 Joint Strike Fighter planes. This is more money than it would cost to provide tuition for every college student in the country. Over the next four years, the military budget will increase $1.6 trillion. To modernize and repair every school in this country would cost only $112 billion.

In this country, we would rather build warplanes than spend money to educate our children for the future.

Teachers and teaching

Teachers know and are frequently told that "You have the most important job in our society: teaching and preparing our young for our society´s future." The words are nice; the reality isn´t. Nearly 50% of those who enter the teaching profession quit by the fifth year mainly because of working conditions.

The average college-educated, certified teacher in the United States receives a salary of $43,351. The Congressman who dines with CEOs and lobbyists receives $145,000. 

Today, a teacher spends $60,000 or more to earn a bachelors college degree and teaching credential. To earn a national credential will cost teachers additional money, time, and energy. 

Bush also cut more than 20,000 teachers from professional training programs, despite Bush´s promise that teachers would get the training they require to raise educational standards.Õ Some two million new teachers will be needed to teach our children in the coming decade. His proposals would eliminate training for teachers in computer technology and cut funds from AmeriCorps teachers who work in low income areas and in rural or inner city schools.

It should be noted that 127 corporations with assets of $250 million or more each paid NO taxes and reported "no income" for 1995. General Motors not only didn´t pay any taxes, but received tax credits, and the government paid General Motors millions of dollars. Corporations pay less tax and receive more government benefits today.

Vouchers and Private Schools

A voucher system would largely benefit the middle and upper-class "white" students and would, in turn, gut efforts to improve the public school system. Bush wanted Cheney as Vice President, a former congressman who had voted against funding for Head Start, against subsidizing school lunches and against federal aid for college students. He made Rod Paige Secretary of Education, despite the lies about Houston schools. 

This year 26,000 of the nation´s 93,000 public schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress," fueling the speculation that the federal law could eventually label nearly all schools as "failing." In a 2001 poll conducted by the Pew Forum, eight out of ten people opposed public funding for religious organizations. Yet, Bush has pushed for funding, vouchers and tax exemptions for religious schools. 

Studies show, including one in 2000 by the Brookings Institution, that students in most charter schools and private schools (except those supported by the very rich) score significantly below public school students in basic reading and math. 

The private ownership of education must make profits in order to stay in business. Corporations and private groups - often with religious or political bents - sell private schools to the public, just as corporations have peddled tests to the schools that have netted these businesses millions of dollars Students who are non-white, have physical - mental - emotional disabilities, low-income, low-achieving, behavior problems will remain in what´s left of the public schools. Students left in the public school shells will have fewer and fewer resources, quality programs, counselors and quality teachers. If these students are having a difficult time succeeding now, just think of how difficult and hopeless it will be if a voucher system is instituted with the siphoning off of more public school funds.

Students who have transferred out of their poorly performing schools are switching back to their former schools. "You are sending a child who is struggling in most cases to a school in which many children are on or above grade level, and there is no extra support, no one to tutor them after school, no reading intervention," said Barbara Bengel, administers state and federal programs for Fresno, CA.

More students will drop out because they can´t see themselves succeeding in school. If you don´t have support and hope to succeed, why continue? Those who drop out have very little hope in finding jobs in today´s economy. More young people with no hope or future will live on the streets. In turn, this means more crime, violence, and fear for all of us - and more expense for prisons and protection.

The four percent in this country who control 90 percent of the wealth and resources, and make national decisions, don´t seem to or need to care about the effect of vouchers on our publics schools and our children´s futures. Their children and grand-children can afford the few quality private schools and will pocket more money with a voucher system. 

Ron Naso, the superintendent of the North Clackamas School District, said, "It would take the intervention of God himself or herself, to get 100 percent of students meeting the highest standards. It’s an impossible goal." 

Public education focuses on learning, freeing and developing the mind and heart of the child. Private voucher education focuses mainly on selectivity, control and profit.

We, who are the other 96% and who live in this democracy, do and will care - and will pay dearly in countless ways for this deterioration of our schools.

We are faced with the choice of a voucher system and potential corporation take-over of our schools that will gut the public school system, or seriously supporting and investing financially, politically and personally - in our public schools.

 

 THE STATE OF EDUCATION:
A CLASSROOM TEACHER´S VIEW

BY: Robert Rubinstein

(Published in the THE WORLD & I, August 2001)

"The western mind has been programmed very narrowly: Define problems, seek solutions, set goals, make decisions, fix things. Fix your spouse, fix yourself, fix your children. When we see something we don´t like, we judge it and want to change it rather than understand it. We look for the immediate solution rather than to seek to understand why the problem arose."
- Dr. Jordan Paul and Dr. Margaret Paul (DO I HAVE TO GIVE UP ME TO BE LOVED BY YOU?)

Children are America´s future - our future. Helping those children learn and preparing them for adulthood is vital to our continuing success as a society. The public constantly cites teachers and teaching as one of the most important and critical jobs in our society.

Yet, the public, government, school officials seem bent on undermining teachers and making their jobs increasingly difficult . . . As a result, America is beginning to experience a growing and a critical teacher shortage.

In the State of Oregon alone, within the next five years, nearly half the teachers presently in the classrooms will be eligible for retirement. Colleges of education project that they will only have enough teacher candidates to fill a little more than half the openings expected. School district representatives now travel to other states to try to recruit teachers. Kentucky now lets districts hire long-term substitutes as long as that person has a high school diploma. California schools are so desperate they have people without any educational classes or experience with young people in inner-city schools.

We can´t find teachers who are qualified to teach science and math, or have knowledge and understanding of writing, literature and history. Schools can´t find qualified teachers who will teach in the inner city or in rural areas. Students have few teachers through their school years who are experienced, successful and interested in children and their success in life.

Instead of encouraging and offering added incentives to attract quality people to teaching, the public and government seem bent on the opposite by cutting salaries and benefits, enlarging classrooms, instituting policies telling teachers how they must teach, judging teachers by how many students pass information tests, allowing schools and materials to deteriorate, and micromanaging classroom education.

Consider, too, the nature of a teacher´s job. A football coach takes a boy aside and spends an hour instructing that boy, one-on-one, how to throw a football better. If that boy comes back a week later, having practiced throwing, and has improved the way he throws a football, the conclusion is that the boy must have the ability, the talent, the drive to succeed. If the boy doesn’t practice and doesn’t improve, then it´s obviously the boy´s fault that his skill hasn’t improved.

A teacher in a class of 35 or 40 students in a 50-minute period teaches basic skills about how to read or how to write better. The teacher also must teach a myriad of other facts and skills, too. If that teacher could -- ideally -- meet with each student, one-on-one without taking attendance, dealing with behavior, giving general class instructions, then the teacher might have less than a minute and a half to spend instructing each student how to improve his/her reading or writing. This teacher, attempting to teach one-on-one with 34 other students in the room, must consider, too, each student’s personal needs, skill levels, and behavior.

Does the student have books at home to read? Does that student practice writing in any of a variety of ways? Are there parents at home to encourage and help the student with developing these reading and writing skills? Are there aides in school who have the skills and time to work individually with a student?

If that student, a few weeks later, doesn´t do well on a test -- maybe a state mandated test -- then the conclusion is that the teacher has not taught the students well. Yet, these tests are not based on life-skills, but on parroting back information. Forty-eight hours after taking a major information test, eighty percent of the information will be forgotten.

While other professionals usually deal with clients one-on-one, or in small groups, the secondary school teacher meets with over 200 students a day. Frightening numbers of students come to school damaged emotionally, by drugs, by abuse or neglect, and with profound learning disabilities. In addition, if teachers don´t manage to teach effectively under all these conditions, they are subject to lawsuits.

Now, add to this that during the 1996-97 school-year, there were over 400,000 incidents of crime reported in the public schools, including 10,950 fights with weapons and 122,000 thefts and robberies, and thousands of bomb threats.. Who´s going to teach? Why would qualified, intelligent and personably attractive people want to invest -- and go into debt -- $80,000 to $100,000 in college and graduate school costs for this type of career and under these circumstances? . . . . If we don´t attract such people, then what happens to our children, our schools and all of our futures?

WHO´S IN CHARGE AND WHY?

What qualifies the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to be in that powerful position and to decide education policy? Does he or she have extensive experience working with young people? Does he or she have expertise and experience teaching in a public school classroom? . . . No. Very little -- if any. The person in this position usually has held a university presidency or is another politician. What does this have to do with understanding young people and their needs, personally and educationally? What does this have to do with comprehending what it´s like to teach in a classroom, and the skill and resources needed to effectively help students learn?

In the same way, people in legislatures pass laws and rules about schools, students and teaching. Often, their intent is to use kids and education as another political football to kick around, no matter how much harm they do. State superintendents, those serving on local school boards, school administrators seldom have recent, if any experience, working with young people or teaching in a public school classroom.

Committees of lay people constantly subject teachers to programs, requirements and restrictions. These are imposed by people who, in general, have never taught in a classroom. I know of no other profession subjected to such arbitrary scrutiny.

Colleges of Education responsible for training our future teachers have instructor staffs usually composed of people who have never taught in the classroom, have left the public school because they don´t want to teach young people, or have been asked to leave teaching. Yet, these people teach our future teachers to teach? Perhaps, that´s why experienced classroom teachers feel so negative towards the education classes. They quickly understand that most of these classes have little relevance to what´s actually happening with children in schools.

Teachers, ironically, are often kept from serving on committees when the decisions on the national, state and local levels define education policies. Classroom teachers seldom teach future teachers in the teacher-training curriculum, nor, do they have significant influence on the relevance of teacher-training programs. Teachers have remarkably little impact on designing and implementing school testing and teacher licensing. Politicians want to further reduce teacher input, making licensing and legislation even more political.

Yet, teachers, more than anyone else in the education system, have the knowledge, the experience, the personal investment to work best with students. As Stephen Stolp, assistant professor in academic advising at the University of Oregon, writes: " . . .we can start by letting teachers do their jobs. They are highly trained professionals who certainly know better than most voters and politicians how to educate our youth. . . . Most teachers aren´t in the profession ti get rich and retire early. They=re in the profession because they care about kids." (REGISTER GUARD, 2/18/98)

HOW DO WE TEACH STUDENTS?

Learning and education are the future, not the past. Teachers and schools must have the materials and technology at hand to prepare our children to succeed in the world fifteen or twenty years from the time they begin school. We know that they must be able to use computers because computers will be important in nearly every job. We know that they will change careers five to seven times, and jobs ten or more times. So, they need to learn flexibility, how to teach themselves, and how to locate essential information and tools for their future success. Businesses, in their surveys, have found, while reading--writing--math are certainly important in the world of work, that a person’s ability to communicate clearly, to follow directions, to ask questions, to be able to work well with others, and to think independently are even more essential for success.

We adults easily forget our childhood history and feelings. Often, adults want schools to be the same as they had when they attended school. That was the time when business and factory people designed schools to produce a steady supply of factory workers, already trained in routine. That´s the main reason students sat in rows, stood and answered when called, rarely questioned what they learned or the teacher´s accuracy, but rather parroted back information. We went to science, math, English, social studies, P.E., some type of shop or art, and maybe foreign language or music classes. Few of these classes ever related to the other. We, as students still do today, had three - five minutes to rush from one class to the next, and put aside what we had just learned to suddenly focus on another topic that had no relation. How many adults do this in their working life? Little of this era of schooling concerned itself with the student´s perspective or the student=s interest in learning. Today, American students still follow the same hectic, disjointed routine. 

Now, too, we teach several week classes about drug education or AIDS or sex or a people´s culture, and it may be years or never that students study this subject again. But that doesn´t really matter because they´ve passed the test given. . . . In a seminar on sex education several years ago, they had a panel of students from middle school and high school who were to comment on their school´s sex education programs. We seriously wonder why students don´t learn effectively? As I watched, I could see the anger and frustration building in one of the high school panelists. Finally, he interrupted:" None of you care what we think or feel or want or need to know. All you do is give us this information, make us read the textbook and give us a test. Whether we really learned anything or have the understanding we need doesn´t matter to any of you!" . . . What can you say to this? He´s right! This is the way most teachers and schools present materials, and treat students.

The teacher needs to capture students´ interest and imagination, to open up channels for learning and understanding, to show them ways to grow and succeed.

Rules! Certainly guidelines are needed for student expectations, responsibilities, and behavior. "Discipline" refers to learning, knowledge and self-control: all positive attributes. However, "discipline" in school refers to restrictions, reactions to negative or potentially negative behaviors, committed by maybe five percent of the students, that will be imposed on all students. This, in turn, encourages more behavior problems. For ninety to ninety-five percent of the students, if provided with the atmosphere and trust to do so, handle themselves well and want to learn. Schools make up discipline rules to hinder this and to show lack of trust. The old adage rings true: if you expect people to fail or to be bad, they will fulfill your expectations. Teachers, schools, the public, the media have repeatedly re-enforced this adage.

More than ever, today, each student needs the positive guidance and attention of at least one adult in that child´s life. Yet, in school, we throw the child into a room of 30-40 children, each with his or her own special needs and characteristics. Then, we´re amazed when behavior and learning problems increase. Over many years, scientific studies have shown that the more animals you crowd into a given space, the more withdrawn, antisocial and violent each animal becomes. Why do we think young people with their complex problems and fears wouldn´t at least behave the same way?

One student stated on a paper: "What do I care about school and all this? I figure I´ll be dead by 21. Might as well do what I want." . . . This expresses the feelings of many young people today. They don´t see themselves with much, if any, positive future. A good number of those who might do well academically look at the cost of college and feel it´s beyond what they´d be able to afford. Others not interested in attending college have little left of interest in school. Through tax cuts and the heavy focus on college-bound students, most schools have eliminated business classes, art classes, drama, music, industrial and wood shops, auto mechanics from the curriculum. Our society, unlike those in other industrialized countries, has not developed good technology schools, applied arts programs, or apprenticeship programs. We´ve shown students that we don´t value their learning, skills and interests unless they are "college material." So, then, what future do they have?

BUILDINGS THAT ARE FALLING DOWN

Most of America´s school buildings are thirty or more years old. In many, there´s asbestos concerns as well as poor air quality, heating and lighting. Classrooms meant for 25 students now have 35 to 40 and more crammed into them. Students can’t see the boards, have room to work, or feel comfortable. The general atmosphere in the rooms and hallways is often drab and heavy. Many of these schools do not have the ability to implement computer and other technology that will prepare students for their futures.
If this were a business, adults would rebel against working here. A business that didn´t renovate its building and technology would not be a very productive business with a viable future. Yet, there´s little effort or investment by governments and the public to remedy these conditions to help students learn and teachers teach more effectively. In addition, students must use out-dated and inaccurate school textbooks because the cost of a textbook has become so expensive. Research into the science textbooks used in our schools revealed that they contained some 500 errors. Is this what we´re testing for and want students to learn?

Instead of investing in children and schools, we spend thousands of times the dollars to imprison young people. Over 80 percent of the more than 1 million people in prison today are high school dropouts. They didn´t or couldn´t succeed in school. Each prisoner costs taxpayers more than $50,00 per year -- and this doesn´t include the property damage, personal injury and court costs they are responsible for before even being imprisoned. Within three years, 63 percent who have been released commit other serious crimes and are returned to prison. Others usually live on welfare. "Given the increase in drug-related crime and the get-tough policies now in vogue, it is very likely that the number of inmates in the U.S. prisons could reach 2 million before the decade is over. The cost of prisons is increasing faster than that of any other social service, including education and health. Yet the return on the investment is extraordinarily low." (quote and information from Harold Hodgkinson, director of the Center for Demographic Policy at the Institute of Educational Leadership.)

ADMINISTRATORS

Ironically, as much as politicians, the public and others insist on restrictions and training for classroom teachers, there´s little required of building administrators. Principals, vice principals and counselors usually must earn an "administrative certificate," but what does this have to do with actual learning and teaching within the classroom? Many administrators have not taught in the classroom for years; a few have never taught. What makes these people qualified to evaluate teachers and work with students? The one or two times an administrator, may come -- some don’t come at all -- during the year to observe a class period is to evaluate the teacher. Often, a very threatening, tense time for that teacher. There´s little commitment on the part of most administrators to observing several classes taught by each teacher over the course of the year with the objective of working with each teacher to develop the most positive, effective learning for students in that classroom. Shouldn´t the primary focus be on the students and their needs?

As school boards and state legislatures have given administrators more authority and placed more restrictions on teachers, the administrator-teacher relationship has the potential to become very political and tyrannical. For those administrators who don´t like a particular teacher, or want to force a teacher to teach subjects for which he or she isn´t prepared or qualified is easy. "You will teach science, Spanish, English and physical education, or not have a job here." Of course, the students are well-aware when a teacher’s does not have the background in the area he´s teaching. The students are being cheated -- and act accordingly. If low-skilled students are assigned to a particular teacher´s class and then don´t perform up to the administrator´s expectations, it´s the teacher´s fault, reputation, and, possibly, job lost. So, a teacher had better be careful about voicing opinions, about changing curriculum, about innovating to gain student interest and improve learning.

We have as lot of work to do to save our children, their futures and our society. We are the first generation that does not have the interest, dedication, or willingness to invest in our children and education for the future. Yet, we are, by far, the wealthiest nation in the world with the most resources.

We have become addicted to the quick easy fix of testing or vouchers or, incomprehensibly, cutting school funds so schools will have less resources and fewer quality teachers to accomplish what the public demands. In the long run, in the future, these will do incredible harm to our children and their education.

If teachers and schools are to truly prepare our children for the future to work, live productively and happily, build a positive society, then we must change - and change now. We must have the courage to search for innovative ways to create an education system that meets the needs of our young people today and teaches and guides them in life-skills for theirs and our futures.

"Children are not things to be molded, but people to be unfolded." - Anonymous

"It took me all my life to learn to paint like a child." - Marc Chagall

 

 EDUCATION CHANGES:
WHAT´S BEST FOR KIDS IN SCHOOL

BY: Robert Rubinstein

(Published in the THE WORLD & I, March 2002)

"A parent or teacher who treats a child with dignity builds the self-esteem of the child and automatically increases the child´s performance, which generally improves the child´s conduct. . . . and when you treat others with respect and dignity, your own self-respect and sense of dignity improves."
- Zig Ziglar, "Motivational Messages"

Hopefully, most of us agree that education and schools are about young people - about kids -and how to support and help them to become productive, well-adjusted and positive adults in their future lives. Improving education should focus on how to achieve the best for kids and their futures.

Yet, we adults - who assume we know what´s best for young people today - seldom, if ever, ask these young people what they think they need and want from their school education and for their futures.

We are a quick fix society that wants to solve complex and compound problems with a test or a voucher. However, to improve the education system and situation in our country it will take multiple approaches and long-term commitment, including money. We - not the students - have sustained a 1950s school philosophy when we have entered the 21st century. We have allowed the schools to deteriorate and the shortage of quality teachers to become critical. Students didn´t do this.

THE TEEN PANEL:

Beginning in the fifth grade through the senior year in high school, schools should have teen panels at the beginning and two-thirds of the way through the school year. On these panels, students would express ideas, and feelings about their education experiences to school staff and parents. The panels would represent a cross-section of students from the advanced to the remedial, from the affluent to the low income and homeless, from different cultural/religious backgrounds who may attend that school. Those on the panels might comment on curriculum, discrimination, school atmosphere, testing and state benchmarks, their goals, their problems or concerns, teaching or administration in general, etc.

Of course, one of the key factors is that the students feel free to express their needs and feelings without repercussions from the adults. If they cannot do this and there is no trust, then why would students confide in adults about other matters - even life-threatening ones? Then, too, the adults must be able to have the skill to listen - really listen without condescending attitudes and negative body language - to what these young people say and seriously consider how they might support the students’ needs as the students see those needs in the world in which they must live. We adults have a difficult time of this - especially valuing young people´s feelings and ideas.

So, when a student on one of these panels notes a concern, need, or suggests an improvement, then a staff member should be able to paraphrase for the entire group what that student said. This should be done by a variety of adults in the audience, not just one acting as a spokesperson. The adult paraphrasing must maintain a neutral voice, free of distain or disbelief. By doing this, the student knows he´s been heard - that someone´s actually listening.

HEADSTART, PRE-SCHOOL, KINDERGARTEN

Research has shown that the most important years for a child to develop learning and social skills are the first five years of that child´s life. During those first five years, the child develops basic skills and attitudes that will form the structure for life-learning. Therefore, it is critical to do as much as possible to make certain these formative years lead to the most positive ways to begin on the paths of learning.

We need to increase funding, qualified people, supervised and certified child care, and early school-community and home contacts to assess and help children in these early years. We need to increase and expand our commitment to the Early Head Start and Head Start programs. With these efforts we must reach children at all socio-economic levels, and not assume that because a child comes from a middle class or upper class economic family that the child is receiving the guidance and positive re-enforcement necessary. Many parents at this economic level are "too busy" to guide their children.

According to a study by the Chicago Child-Parent Center, young children in the Head Start programs had a 29 percent higher high school completion rate, a 41 percent lower rate of being placed in special education, and a 40 percent less likelihood of being held back a grade.

This study followed some 500 students over seventeen years, and also noted that these children also had a 33 percent less likelihood of having been arrested and a 42 percent less likelihood of being arrested for a violent crime. (David Broder´s column "Program helps kids get a good start" - July 26, 2001) In the State of Michigan, the ratio of students to teachers is about 18 to one; the ratio of prisoners to guards in that state´s prisons is five to one. ("Harper´s Index," July 2001) When we consider the cost to society of dealing with teens and adults who haven´t had successful learning experiences as well as those who cost us so much with crime and being imprisoned (some $50,000 per year per person), these early childhood programs must have top priority. Students in pre-school and kindergarten should be carefully screened by qualified people to assess vision, perception and neurological problems that, if not corrected, will affect their learning for a life-time. Teachers of pre-school through elementary school grades should be trained to teach brain gym activities to strengthen perception and neurological abilities. From pre-school through the school years, children should be taught a second language. In our country today that language should be Spanish. Studies show that these formative years are the best and easiest time for a child to learn a foreign language, and that just learning another language furthers multicultural understanding, tolerance and cultural appreciation.

The school-community could design literacy programs and through home contacts, encourage parents to learn to read along with their children. Perhaps, some type of assessment of family needs might also be done. Children who don´t have enough to eat, a safe place to sleep and live do not learn well - who would under these circumstances? Yet, in many parts of our country, 20% or more of the children live in poverty and do go hungry. There is a need for programs to help parents help their children learn effectively and enjoyably. When a person is happy doing something, then he learns more and retains what he learns.

Parents, today, with their hectic schedules, seldom have the energy and time to enjoy being with their children, much less the skills, knowledge, and ability to recognize, discuss and resolve problems. Only 18% of today's families have one parent at home and not working. (U.S.A. NEWSPAPER - 12/27/99). As a result, children's needs and guidance are often neglected; many students fail, families become destroyed, societies fear violence, and much of the future generation grows into angry, unfocused and uncaring adults. Every child needs a caring, positive adult in his or her life. These young people are our future.

CHANGING CURRICULUM:

When you are interested in a topic, have some choice in the subject you study, you learn much more effectively and enjoy learning. Since 1969, students at Roosevelt Middle School in Eugene, Oregon, have had that choice. Through those years, the students have annually achieved among the best state testing scores and, with the choice and advisor system, maintained a very positive, enthusiastic school atmosphere with few discipline problems. Each year, nearly one-third of the students of the 800 plus students in Roosevelt have transferred into this program. Many of these transfers had not experienced success in other schools. However, the Roosevelt program is certainly not the place for all students because it asks students to be responsible for the privilege of having choice in their curriculum.

With a little innovation and creativity, teachers can incorporate the essential basic learning skills within the specially designed classes. Roosevelt students are expected to - and usually do - choose to take a math sequence for the year as well as two terms of science, two terms of social studies, two terms of language arts, two physical education classes. Some classes are year-long sequences and others last twelve-weeks, with registration occurring three times a year. These registrations and class changes refresh both students and teachers. The choice a student makes for that termâs registration requires the approval of both the teacher-advisor and the parent.

So, students each term may be able to choose from such classes as Shakespeare, "Great Themes," debate, "Through The Camera´s Eye: American history through films," women in history, China, multicultural mythology, chemistry, math games, computer graphics, wind ensemble, Medieval times, space science, "Wild & Tame" - animal literature and the care of animals, folktales and storytelling, space exploration, and more. Each class is designed to meet specific education goals as well as to assess and record student work samples. This IS the regular curriculum at Roosevelt.

When we talk about "high school drop-outs," those students have started on the "drop-out path" in middle school. They have found little of interest in the middle school curriculum, little that seems useful to them in their present and future lives, and have experienced little success.

When a person is not interested and doesn´t feel valued or successful, why would they continue to invest and try? Just because we adults tell them to do so and give them tests?

We have a fragmented curriculum in most American schools in which one course of study or class has little, if any, relationship to the others in a student´s day. So for one period the student may study Shakespeare´s play, the next class may be history of Japan, followed by American music, Spanish, calculus. Students may have 3-5 minutes to travel from one class to the next, including stopping at lockers. There´s no time to digest what they´ve just learned before they are dropped into another subject that doesn’t relate. Minds and learning don’t work well this way.

In most school systems, students have time to at least mentally process what they have learned in one class before going on to the next.

Could we adults endure a day of five-minute passing time between classes, while attending six or eight classes per day? Yet, we ask 10 to 18 year-olds, with all their personal concerns and distractions, hormones, and body changes to successfully manage such a schedule. This doesn´t make sense.

Indeed, educational systems elsewhere in the world do have longer school days, but from 12-2 P.M. the students have free time to have lunch, relax, and/or socialize. This provides them with a psychological break, and they return with a more open and positive attitude, and are more productive even to the hours of five or six.

Some schools have developed block periods where students only meet for four classes a day in 70-minute or two-hour periods every other day. With this system, science labs can be conducted in more depth, extended class activities can happen, a number of different learning activities can be incorporated in that period. There´s a much more relaxed atmosphere where students can ask questions and learn more effectively.

Ironically, in our information age, what teachers should not be emphasizing is information. Known information doubles every 18 months or less. No one can be an all-knowing expert anymore. There´s just too much information to memorize. As Einstein said, "Don´t commit to memory what you can look up." Teachers must teach how to locate what information is available, evaluate whether it´s worth using, and then how to use it effectively. Even more importantly, though, teachers must be concerned with how the students perceive the curriculum: What they do and do not understand? How is it relevant to the students´ world? We must not be so consumed with getting from point A to point B in the curriculum and to give the test that we lose students along the way.

With a little coordination, curriculums might relate better for students. If they study Shakespeare in one class, why not Elizabethan English history in the next, some mathematics and science in these times, a taste of Elizabethan art and crafts, while studying Spanish - also look at Spain´s relations with England? This would make learning more interesting, understandable, and comprehensive.

SPECIALIZED HIGH SCHOOLS:

In a similar way, why not have more in-depth and specialized high school programs that would give choice to a range of students, not just those college-bound? High school curriculums and teachers focus most of their attention on students who are "college material." Classes - such as wood and metal shops, automotive, art, music, drama, business, even sports - that don´t fit this focus are the first to be cut from the curriculum. In most countries, art, music, drama are required subjects in the curriculum.

Some students know they don´t have the learning skills for college or can´t afford college; others have little interest in college programs. While other countries offer vocational training or apprenticeships, in this country, we usually don´t. This leaves the students with little choice: college or what? Yet, we need plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc., in the future.

With the shrinking school budgets and limited resources, why not have high schools that specialize in different areas: college-bound, business and technology, computer technology, science, the arts, applied arts. In the eleventh grade and for the last two years of high school, students would be able to choose the high school program that best suits them and interests them. Then, solicit professionals from each area and their businesses to invest and mentor apprenticeship or intern programs in one of the specialized high school. Basic skills can be incorporated in any and all the classes at one of these specialized high schools. What we must insure here is that each program has a quality curriculum and quality teachers.

Socialization is and should be an important part of the school day. In school, young people learn to work together, responsibility to the group, solve problems in groups, understand and tolerate a wide-range of people with different abilities and interests. These are life-skills, far more important than passing a test. What happens then when schools eliminate recess or physical education, the students’ limited "social" time, to have students prepare more for tests? Almost 80 percent of young people 16-25 years of age who lose jobs do so not because they lack knowledge or skills, but because they cannot cooperate with fellow workers, have little sense of responsibility, and will or cannot follow directions. When there were two-parent families and stable homes, many might have learned these social skills at home, but not so today. The main place students can learn life-skills is in the school.

THE COMPREHENSIVE LIFE-SKILLS PROGRAM:

Our schools, due to budget cuts and focus on academic testing, have cut the very programs that can make a difference to many learners who are not linear learners, which are approximately 80% of students. Many schools have cut classes and activities that help students realize their progress and accomplishments. Classes that develop practical life-skills have been eliminated: wood shop, electrical shop, drama, instrumental music, intra-mural sports, art, business.

Do we sincerely want to help our children? Do we sincerely want to invest and save children's lives and futures? Do we want to invest our money wisely for long-term benefits?

If we do, then we must develop continuing programs to support, guide, and teach children from their very early years through the senior year in high school about life-skills.

One way to invest and guide our children is to make as certain as possible that each child, no matter what his or her social-economic situation receives essential life-skill education. From kindergarten through the senior year in high school, each child in every school would spend the time after school for one-half the school year learning and developing essential life skills from paid professionals, volunteers, or university/community college students fulfilling internships experiences in local communities.

Two weekday afternoons, a child would work with a different focus group, possibly from the hours of three to six, the most dangerous hours, the "latchkey period," for children who are usually left unsupervised. At different grade levels, non-professional teachers would offer a wide variety of activities that emphasize different skills and interests.

Some of these focus areas, in succeeding school years, would include:
Learning about foods - then diet - followed by shopping trips to the grocery store to choose and buy foods;
Keeping clean and healthy - then, in succeeding years, about smoking, alcohol and drugs - sex and venereal diseases;
How to use tools to repair and build;
How to talk with people - living with family - resolving conflicts in positive, non-violent ways - peers - dating;
Money - buying - checking and savings accounts - loans - credit cards - insurance - investing;
The world of work - jobs and responsibilities - communicating on the job - wages deductions;
Conditioning - martial arts - sports for fun and improvement;
Introduction to instrumental music - singing - dance - drama;
Movies & TV - know what you're watching;
Your future: college - careers - technical - other job possibilities.
Different cultures & People;
Games & Computers.

Young people learn through participation, enjoyment and repetition. With many of these areas, the information can be presented again or reviewed in different ways in the following years, and learned at increasingly sophisticated levels. These sessions, though, need to be activity-oriented. Playing games, visits to police, banks, museums, hospitals, store shopping would be good ways to for young people to learn. For most of the six hours a day that children attend school they are asked to sit. We adults can't do that! Today's students' learning must be much more visual and fast-paced.

The professionals and others who lead this continuing life-skills program throughout the year should be paid according to their expertise and the time invested to help children prepare for their futures and improve their lives. Some of these experts might be in the areas of counseling/psychology, health, recreation, electrical, wood-working, auto mechanics, computers, music, art, museum docents, coaches, martial arts, business, landscaping, theatre - acting, directing, costume-making, lighting, dance, gymnastics and finance.

A program such as this would also help address the issues of child-care, latch-key children, and the concern with "Do you know where your child is?" Grants might be pursued as well as minimal fees assessed for those who would otherwise be paying much more for care, or not have adequate supervision for their children.

Improving our children´s learning, creating a better and more relevant educational process requires dedication, energy, thought, money and time. Learning and education is a long-term process, -- and should not be a series of threatening tests -- in which each person learns at his or her individual pace and has specific learning needs. We must not just consider what we want for our children, but also listen seriously to their perceptions of their needs and hopes. We must allow young people to participate and make choices about their own life education.

"What I hear I forget
What I see I remember
What I do I understand."
(Chinese Proverb)

 

  

COMMENTARY: 
Finnish far ahead of U.S. schools

The education system in Finland — one of the world’s best — focuses on the students first

BY ROBERT RUBINSTEIN

For The Register-Guard

Published:

(Sunday, Feb 19, 2012 05:00AM)

Midnight, Feb. 19

Imagine! Imagine an equitable national public school system, one that:

Dedicates itself to the care, development and future of children.

Requires only one test of its students at age 16 — yet its students are among the top performers in the world, scoring among the highest in science, math and reading.

Requires that teachers graduate in the top 10 percent of their university class, are paid well, have fewer class hours than American teachers, and have smaller classes to teach. International education expert Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, author of “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland,” stated that in Finland “It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine.”

Has 96 percent of public school teachers unionized.

Does not admit children to public school until they are 7 years old.

Rarely has high school students doing more than a half-hour of homework a night.

Has no exclusive classes for gifted students, but music, art and drama are an important part of the curriculum.

Provides high-quality pre-school and primary education for every single child, and, in these early years, focuses on social behavior and personal responsibility.

Has most areas in the schools decorated, creating pleasant places for students — and as a result young people rarely vandalize or damage property.

In the United States, successful public school teachers rarely are allowed to serve on the local, state or federal decision-making committees that are intent on supposedly revising the public schools. Yet, in Finland, according to Sahlberg, “Teachers make all the decisions on how their class will be run, how the education material will be presented, and what books are to be used.”

In the 1970s, Finland committed to investing in a student-centered school system that prepares young people for their futures. Students learn the nation’s two official languages, Swedish and Finnish, but most students learn four languages. Studies have shown that students who learn to speak more than one language improve their learning skills and cultural understanding. Finland has created an education system that fosters opportunities for students to join the work force and contribute to society.

In other words, Finland educates its children using different methods, values and philosophy than we Americans do. Yet of 57 countries tested, Finland’s 15-year-olds earned some of the highest scores in the world. Finland’s gap between the highest and lowest performing schools ranked among the smallest of the 57 nations tested.

As Julie Walker, executive director of the American Association of School Librarians, notes, “The U.S. holds teachers accountable for teaching. In Finland, they hold the students accountable for learning.”

The average school in the United States is over 45 years old. Most of the oldest, unhealthy and technologically outdated schools are in poor, politically powerless communities. Most schools cannot afford a set of classroom textbooks, much less provide each child with his or her own book. Imagine how not having up-to-date facilities and current texts and materials affects learning.

On top of this, the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind act, with its testing requirements and promotion of the billion-dollar test preparation and test-making businesses, continues to contribute to the bankrupting of our public schools.

The American testing mania focuses on failure, not success — on win-lose competition, not on learning to work together to produce better quality and achievement.

Despite constant technological change, American education is stuck in a testing mind-set for factory-type jobs that no longer exist or soon won’t exist. Most factory production has been outsourced to foreign countries. Young people and others in this recession have job opportunities, but do not have the skills or ability to adapt to fill those employment needs.

Diane Ravich, author of “Why Finland’s Schools are Great (by Doing What We Don’t),” said, “I was asked about current trends in U.S. education, and Finnish educators were astonished by the idea that our governments intend to evaluate teachers by their students’ test scores; that made no sense to them. They did not understand the idea of ‘merit pay.’ They are paid more if they do more work for the community, but they can’t understand why teachers should get a bonus to compete against one another for test scores.”

Why don’t we Americans have the same concern and financial commitments to our children, their education, and their and our futures as does a country like Finland? Is it because of condescension and arrogance? Because it’s “un-American?” Is it because we’d rather spend $2.1 billion on one nuclear sub, and over $3 billion on a media-enriching millionaires’ presidential campaign than invest that money in our children and schools?

Maybe it’s because there’s not enough profit for the 1 percent compared to what can be made in the military industry?

Sahlberg noted that Finland’s experience shows it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity: “The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.”

A Finnish expression states that “only dead fish follow the stream.”

Can we learn from Finland and truly commit to improving our children’s futures, our public schools and equity in learning?

 

Republicans continue their war on public education Guest viewpoint

By Robert Rubinstein,  Appeared in print: Monday, Nov. 7, 2011

For the past 10 years, right-wing Republicans have waged a war on our freedom to learn.

The No Child Left Behind act began the deterioration of our freedom to learn. The act’s idealistic title sounds appealing, but in reality, it sets an impossible goal. The NCLB act is based on the Texas testing-fraud promoted by President George W. Bush and his secretary of education. Even the progressives backed NCLB, thinking this act really intended to improve education opportunities for the poor.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s secretary of education, stated that 82 percent of our schools have not reached the benchmarks required by NCLB, and so would be marked as “failing.”

The benchmark tests focus only on “basic skills,” not necessarily on the skills students will need to succeed. Important life subjects — personal finance (how to deal with credit, loans, etc.), history (understanding our past and that of other peoples), civics (how government supposedly operates, and a person’s rights and responsibilities in a democracy) — have been eliminated from the curriculum. So have music, drama, art, shop and sports. Studies that focus on working with others, creative thinking, and meaningful learning are gone. In essence, the tests dictate what and how teachers must teach.

There seems to be little effort to account for who makes up these test questions, what the questions are, and who decides the “correct” answers. Dr. Diane Ravitch notes that this required testing is a multibillion dollar business controlled by Republicans, many of whom have financial interests in private and charter schools. These businessmen force the schools to buy new tests each year and the preparation materials for each new test.

In effect, the cost of testing continues to bankrupt the schools and strangle the curriculum.

Private schools determine who they will accept as students as well as what they will be taught. Private school officials also decide whether students will take standardized tests and, if so, which students will take these tests.

On the pretext of “reducing the budget” and being “fiscally responsible,” Republicans propose to:

Cut nearly $1 billion from food and health care assistance.

Kick more than 200,000 children out of preschool by cutting funds for Head Start and low-income children.

Cut $1.3 billion from community health centers, which would deprive over 3 million low-income families of care.

Force states to fire 65,000 teachers and aides, increasing class sizes dramatically.

Somehow, they insist, these actions will “improve” the future of our children and their public education.

The next assault is focused on teachers — and teachers’ unions. Teachers are to be evaluated by how well their students do on the standardized tests mandated by NCLB

Political commentator Paul Begala put it well in an essay in the Sept. 10 issue of Newsweek: “The truth is teachers didn’t cause our recession; firefighters didn’t cause layoffs; nurses and cops didn’t turn a record surplus into a record deficit. Politicians and corporate greed-heads did. And yet government remains the villain.”

Who will be the teachers in the future? Who would want to incur $50,000 or more in debt to earn a degree in education? Who wants to “teach” for these tests with five or six classes of over 40 students per class period? Who will put up with the self-interest and politics of business controlling education?

Will our children learn by using computers? Computers isolate individuals to face screens that transmit often questionable, unsubstantiated and hysterical information.

These Republicans have sought to cut funds for science and health research, as well as seeking to eliminate or sharply reduce money to support public TV, public radio and the National Endowment for the Arts. They’ve orchestrated many of these attacks through the Murdoch-controlled Fox TV network, whose commentators parrot the same catch-phrases and twisted views that censor the news.

America has thrived in the past because of creative thinking, innovation and learning to adapt to change for now and for the future. A great many of these changes come from middle- and lower-class people who strive and work toward a better life, not from CEOs with billion-dollar bonuses.

These attacks on our freedom to learn have come about because of Republicans’ enormous greed and their lust for power and control — not from concern for our children’s education, our national debt or for the Americans’ welfare and future.

If they can, these Republicans will keep us and future generations of middle- and lower-class Americans ignorant. Without school curricula that encourage the ability to learn, think and act, these Republicans have the power and money to continue to make America a land of 1 percent very rich haves, and 99 percent have-nots.

This is class warfare.



It is Time to Invest in our Public Schools 

                  By Robert Rubinstein

We need to dramatically change our attitude and approach to learning and public education.  There is no doubt that educating the children of this nation in its over 14000 public schools is expensive. 

We need to personally and financially commit to meet the needs of our individual young people, our communities, and our futures.  Let’s keep in mind that the needs and expectations of children in Chicago are not the same as the needs and expectations of children in Oregon, or Alaska, or Florida.

America has thrived and become the greatest country in the world because people have had the freedom and motivation to create, innovate, and design concepts and products.  A public school education should support and enhance our young people and their opportunities to succeed in meaningful ways, not bury them under a morass of tests that focus on “sameness.”

U.S. public schools spend over $1.1 billion on tests demanded by the “No Child Left Behind” Act.   “And yet, federal funds have been lacking to help pay the tab for administering 45 million tests a year (going up to 56 million once NCLB’s science assessment is added.”  (Pauline Vu looks at the rise of standardized testing, Stateline. Org.)

These benchmark tests focus on some basic skills, but not on many of the more complex skills students will need to succeed in future jobs and life.  The teaching and investigation of important subjects such as history, civics, and the arts have been drastically cut back.  As a result, we have a generation that has little understanding of other cultures and peoples, or what happened before in history that has brought us to the present problems we contend with today.  Even more critical to our future is that young people do not understand their civil rights, the meaning and intent of the “Constitution” and the  “Bill of Rights.”   Imagine the power this ignorance gives to those in control of our state and federal governments and to those who control “media.”

Here are some things we ought to do to put public education on the right track:

-       We need to modernize our school buildings.  How can we prepare young people for life and jobs in the future if we have buildings that cannot support modern and future technology?  And we need to protect the health of those who teach and learn by correcting light, heating, and ventilation problems that plague many of our older buildings. 

-       We must hire administrators who have classroom experience and have worked constructively with young people and teachers to develop education that meets the needs and goals of their education community.

-       Successful classroom teachers should be allowed to vote on education policy as members of school, district, state, and federal education policy committees.

-       It is essential to build positive, constructive communication with parents and invite parents to participate in their child’s school.

-       Teachers can, with some imagination and effort, include basic academic skills in the study of a wide array of subjects from space to sports, instead of “teaching to the test”.

-       Student progress should be evaluated with curriculum-based tests, written work, group work, projects and behavior.

-       We must allow young people to openly express their needs and likes without feeling threatened, and we must seriously listen to what they see as their needs and goals.  What teens must deal with in their world is very different from the world of adults.

-       Colleges of education should continually screen and counsel future teachers.  Instructors who have themselves taught successfully in today’s schools should be part of the university teacher cohort, and be included in university curriculum design.

-       Teachers must be given decent financial rewards for teaching.  They accumulate tens of thousands of dollars of debt to earn degrees (in Oregon a Masters degree is required), yet within five years half of all new teachers quit teaching.  Currently teachers see class loads rising, and pay and benefits being cut.  Teachers are paid wages that are below current “business standards” for professionals.

     We mouth – the public and the politicians – a great deal about how important our children, their education and futures are to us and to our society.  However, we do essentially, little if anything to make significant, positive changes.

To spend over a billion dollars annually for students to take more than fifty three million tests per year, wastes critical public school funds that could be invested in designing and providing a better education for our children’s futures.

We need commitment from those in our schools, from parents, from public officials, from the general public, from students to seriously initiate those changes before our futures become the present.