Education Matters: Change doesn't come easily

The below intern blog is a commentary on the effects of where you live on your education, based on article that can be found below the commentary. The quality of your education varies on where you live, the schools you have access to, and the qualifications of your teachers. The education system believes once a school achieves a high passing rate on state exams the students are learning up to par. The truth is they aren’t! Unfortunately, parents are too busy working to attend the parent-teacher meetings or demand their child(ren) to receive the education they need to excel as a working class citizen. So, public schools continue to cut back on artistic programs. The education facilities are focused on their students exam score because if they don’t pass the school may be closed down the following school year. President Barack Obama “plans to reform public education centers” to address these issues “by emphasizing the role of results, standards, measurement, and community involvement in making education decisions”. Although the president wants this change it is not possible until educational decisions involve the parents, community, and students. Simply leaving it up to the experts in the field have not helped our children but rather harmed them. The children have become statistics instead of the future. If the schools took the time to focus on what the children need not simply what they need to know to pass the state exams, our education system could take a turn for the better. Before we change the policies of education, we need to redefine the purpose of a school. Is a school a tool to teach students how to prepare to work a nine to five and remain focus on various tasks to receive a monetary reward? Or is a school a facility that promotes the acquisition of knowledge and growth to challenge what is being taught to present their own perspective on life?

Education Matters: Change doesn't come easily

Posted on January 14, 2011

By Catherine Sanderson

President Barack Obama's plan to reform public education centers largely on two goals: raising standards for children and increasing accountability for adults. This plan represents a new way of thinking about how to improve our public schools, by emphasizing the role of results, standards, measurement and community involvement in making education decisions.

Historically, in Amherst and around the nation, decisions on curriculum, programs and direction have been made exclusively by school staff with virtually no input from the community and no accountability to publicly document effectiveness. Today, many people continue to believe that because teachers and administrators are the educational professionals, the community should trust them unilaterally to make all decisions about how to run our schools. They are uncomfortable with serious debate between adults, and prefer a collaborative model in which the community simply supports whatever the experts decide.

Other people share Obama's view of educational reform, and the dual focus on setting high expectations for children and holding adults accountable for helping children reach these goals. People with this view believe that results matter, and that districts which use best practices, evidence-based decision-making, and serious evaluation provide good results for kids. They believe that creating harmony between adults (teachers, administrators, school committee members) is less important than educating kids.

As regular readers of this column know, I don't believe the primary goal of public schools should be to make teachers and administrators happy. Instead, my focus throughout the time I've served on the School Committee has been to create a results-oriented system that responds to the community's expectations and concerns and holds adults accountable for providing all children with the best education possible.

I've therefore pushed for programs and policies that reflect the priorities of our community and lead to good results. We closed Marks Meadow so that we could maintain rich programs in music, art and PE. We redistricted to avoid concentrating low-income children at one school based on research indicating high poverty schools lead to lower achievement for all kids. We added Spanish in our elementary schools because it is consistent with our multicultural goals, was requested by parents for a decade, and allows Latino children (a traditionally underperforming group in our schools) a place to shine. We created a policy requiring regular evaluation of our programs so that we would understand both the strengths and weaknesses of our approaches. We added a preschool for low-income children based on research showing the importance of early education in reducing the achievement gap. We requested outside evaluations of the middle school, the K to 12 mathematics curriculum and special education, because these were consistently identified by parents as areas of concern.

Although implementing these changes created conflict among adults, they also improved education for children.

Amherst is not a town in which change happens easily. There is intense resistance to change in our schools, just as there is strong resistance to civic projects like zoning changes and municipal plans.

Thus, without the difficult conversations of the last three years, none of this progress would have been accomplished. After all, many of these goals had been discussed collegially, by administrators, parents and school committee members, for years without any changes.

As a community we cannot abdicate our responsibility to children out of a desire to maintain harmony among adults; we need to be willing to experience serious discussion, and even discord in order to achieve tremendous benefits for kids.