Hidden Agenda vs Public School Education?

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The Common Core State Standards are leading the way to improve the American Education System.  Based upon their performance on PARCC and Smarter Balance Testing, students will be expected to show “Mastery” and their teachers will be evaluated based upon those results.  Supporting individuals clearly state that this is a great check and balance system with high expectations and standards that will be consistent for each and every child.  What is wrong with having high standards?  Especially with our educational system in a free fall, becoming engulfed by the rest of the world? Well…….

What if all the media surrounding Common Core State Standards and Standardized Testing is propaganda aimed at completely destroying any and all positive support for Public School Education?  Could there be a force sinister enough to collaborate behind the scenes in an effort to destroy the foundation of America that has educated many successful generations?  The first question that would need to be answered is whether or not our children are truly falling behind when compared to the rest of the world. When you look at the PISA and TIMSS results, it seems that our students have consistently ranked about the same year after year, slightly above average.  This is nothing to yell out in the streets about, but where does the panic of our declining educational system come from?  The 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education outlines the status of our educational system while debunking some myths surrounding it like the belief “that the United States once led the world on international tests of achievement. It never has.” We could argue why comparisons of educational systems via standardized testing is wrong and slighted, but it would do nothing to help identify what the problem is. As the rest of the world has invested into their own educational systems, they have dramatically improved. Does this mean that the US system has declined, or simply that many countries around the world are educating their students at a higher level that is now in comparison with the US?

So why the outcry about our “failing” school system? Well, it seems to me that anytime politics becomes involved, money is somewhere behind the scenes, so lets see where the money goes through my average joe eyes. Here in New Jersey, there are districts that are struggling to educate their children, especially in the inner cities like Newark and Camden. This is nothing new, and when you compare inner city students across the country, most are labeled as struggling. With that being said, one can easily see why these districts are targeted as if the blame is squarely on the inner city schools. Our Governor is pushing the development of Charter Schools, and personally, I have no issue with the development of any type of school that may help children, but it should never be at the expense of those in the Public Education field. The push is directed at these identified struggling districts because no one will question the attacks except for those stakeholders directly affected, and who is going to listen to the complaints coming from these inner city stakeholders? Even when the testing data shows that the Public Schools are outperforming the Charters, the propaganda drowns out the positive news. It is alarming to hear that in Newark, even though the Public continues to outperform the Charter, funding continues to be cut to the Public Schools. Do what you need to make the public schools perform negatively. This is a simple game of money and politics. All you have to do is look at who is being hired to run these Charter Schools, and simply connect the dots back to the politicians. It is an absolute shame because it is the children who suffer in this game. 

Our students losses are at Big Businesses gains! It has become big enough to even get coverage as an Investment Opportunity! In other words, the Charter Schools will do whatever it takes to make money, for that is the business it is in. Think about that……..Now think about what is best for your child? Sadly, it has never been proven that Charter Schools are better performing. When you look into it, what is truly different?  Are the classrooms different? Are the teaching styles revolutionary? Simply, the answer is No. In comparison, they are in the same class as a private school. One in which they get to select which students get to attend, and have the option to dismiss students who are not performing up to their level, both options of which a Public School does not have. The difference is that big business is playing with the guaranteed funds of our taxes. By preying on the hopes and dreams of the inner city school parents who are fed up with the failures of the inner city schools, these charter schools will continue to expand. If these charter schools simply educated our students better, then why is the focus in the inner city? If they simply educate better, and are the answer to making the US #1, then I along with everyone else would want my children to go there also.

The problem with America’s Educational System is that money and politics got involved! From NCLB to CCSS, our focus is to solve the propaganda that our educational system is somehow failing our students. The truth be told, we are failing our students………simply because the focus is on everything else, but THE STUDENTS!! I was lucky to have worked under the great leadership of Principal Joe Vicari and Asst. Principal Alan Ball at one point in my career who advised in one of our first meetings: “Ed, don’t make teaching too complicated. Truly care for each student, set high expectations, and the rest will take care of itself!” Many of my prior posts explain how I feel, and how my students believed in my classroom, so I want to be clear.  Spreading propaganda about a failing educational system is the work of those who would benefit the most to do so. Those who have gained the most are…….Politicians and Charter Schools. When it comes to Public Education and its funding, big business should have no business in it.  Why would anyone think that a better educational system is one in which the focus is on the bottom line? We need to place the focus back on the STUDENT(S) and provide the solutions necessary to meet each and every one of their NEEDS to succeed. Let’s get back to setting high expectations, identifying their needs, and caring for each individual child, so the rest can take care of itself!!

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1 Simple Message for Success in the Classroom!

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So there have been requests as to how a teacher can develop a classroom with high expectations and hold students accountable.  Below is one of my handouts that would be delivered on the first day of school, and each student would be asked to read out loud and sign with the promise to do the best they can to achieve. There would always be one available for students to reread at a moments notice.  I would also cover this pledge with parents on Back to School Nights as I explained my expectations for the students in my class.  I believe it sets a high standard from the start and it is something that my students and parents appreciated. I do believe that if your students give you their best effort, success will follow!

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         To be successful in life, I must be disciplined.  I must be willing to give my best effort without being asked.  I must develop an ability to drive and push myself, especially when things are tough.  I must not be afraid to make mistakes.  Everyone will make them.  Winners are those people who learn from their mistakes and continue to strive toward their goals.  I must do what it takes to be a winner.  I must be willing to look past what others do because I understand that only I can control what I do.  With this knowledge, winners will never blame others for their mistakes.  Winners will assume responsibility for their actions, suffer the consequences, and resume the track of success.

I am the one who is responsible for the positive and negative praise that I receive for my work.  It is my decisions that will determine my reputation, and my fate.  Successful people are not born they are made.  I must strive to become successful no matter what path I choose, because I understand that if I don’t strive to be successful, someone else will.  I cannot blame others for my lack of success; I can only blame myself for my lack of effort.

“Am I proud…” Is a perfect way to start knowing if I am on the right track.  If I am not proud of my effort or work, then how can I expect others to respect my work or me?  Anything that has my name on it will reflect the type of person I am, and the type of person I will be remembered as.  I must understand that success is never easy.  Success is hard work and I must be willing to give a great effort in order to receive the rewards of success.

 AM I PROUD OF MY EFFORT TODAY?

I had to Apologize to My Students- Their Reaction Left Me in Tears!

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Portion of a letter given to me from a student in a partner class after learning I was leaving. Truly humbling to learn you inspire students who are not even in your class.

Almost 2 years ago, due to circumstances in education, family, and life, I made a decision to leave teaching, to walk away from my classroom.  Two weeks prior, I had to endure the task of informing my students of my decision. It’s ironic how selfish one can be in a profession that is filled with the rewards of giving. My profession, for the first time in 15 years, started feeling like a job in the weeks leading up. I had lost focus, and with it, lost the love and passion from which I thrived. It had become all about me: the hatred building up inside of me, the decision I had to make, the failure I was going to be in my students eyes. I hated that society didn’t value my profession. I hated that the Federal and State governments tried to label my students as Proficient or Non-proficient. I hated that my performance was going to be judged based upon these tests. I hated that I was a data collecting machine. I hated Summative and Formative testing. I hated those who spoke of pedagogy and rigor. I hated that my district didn’t value technology. I hated that I was reprimanded for the tangle of electrical cords when my request for replacement batteries for laptops was denied. I hated that increasing contributions to my benefits package guaranteed a continued pay cut every year. I hated that a yearly pay cut meant I could not provide for my family and left me no choice. I hated having to make that decision. I hated that I had to look my students in the eye and tell them “I am sorry, I failed you as your teacher.” In my search to excuse my feelings of failure, I had lost sight of the only opinion that truly mattered. In those weeks, I truly did fail my students, but my students never failed me.

On that dreaded day of revelation, about 30 minutes into my tear filled explanation of my decision to leave the classroom, one of my students stopped me.  She stated through her own tears, “Why do you keep saying Sorry? You did nothing wrong.” She continued by clarifying in 3 minutes what I had tried to say in 30.  She informed all that putting my 3 kids ahead of them as students was nothing to apologize about. She proceeded to lecture the class and myself that even though we only had 2 more weeks together, we should be thankful for the last 4 months of being Mr. Lowe‘s class.  With the conviction of a true leader, she requested everyone to not discuss this anymore and make the most of our last 2 weeks together.  She ended by telling me that I was more than just a teacher to this class.  She believed in everything I said including forever being one of Mr. Lowe’s kids, and my being out of the classroom was not going to change that! There have been plenty of times students had to correct me and there have been plenty of times students have inspired me, but this was just the beginning of the most inspiring 2 weeks I had ever experienced. It is inspiring to see your students put into action everything that you preach about as a teacher especially when you had just dropped a bombshell on them. “Leave your troubles at the door.” “When you enter this classroom, you enter with a promise to always do your best, even when things are at their worst.” “Are you proud of your work?” Did I ever mention these were 4th Graders?

In a true moment of students teaching the teacher, I had become that lost student needing help, disengaged due to outside circumstances. The outpouring of support came, lesson after lesson. Parents and students, past and present, went out of their way to deliver messages of inspiration and encouragement. My students were right, I had nothing to be “Sorry” about. In fact, I was grateful. I loved every minute I spent in the classroom. I loved inspiring. I loved seeing the Ah Ha moment. I loved the laughing. I loved the dancing. I loved when they made fun of me. I loved the raw emotions of crying, fear and anxiety turn to happiness, courage, and hope. I loved seeing a C student get a C+. I loved seeing BFFs form from my choice in seating. I loved the hugs of excitement and sorrow. I loved to see confidence sprout from doubt. I loved saying “I’m proud of You.” I loved getting in trouble because I fought for my students. I loved working with parents. I loved being inspired by students. I loved seeing them present their work. I loved hearing them sing. I loved welcoming them in the morning. I loved being loud in the hallway with them. I loved the high fives. I loved the down lows. I loved the April Fools pranks. I loved the egg toss and the egg drop. I loved having International Day. I loved steps of improvement no matter how small. I loved the first day, last day, and all the days in between. Most of all, I loved my students, each and every one. I would like to end by telling each and every one “I thank you for being a part of my class, my family! You played an important part in making me the teacher I was, and the person I am today! For this, I will always love you!”

Why Do Most Fail at Becoming a Teacher?

Over the last 30 years, the educational system in the US has taken a beating and along with it, the teachers.  Everyone from the President, to the local John Doe, has an opinion on how to best fix our decline when compared to nations around the world.  From the Common Core to a laptop, the answer to our problems is out there, if only those teachers would listen and change.  However, the teachers are protected by those Unions and tenure, so how are we supposed to change the status quo?  How do we get through to teachers for them to understand that we have to set higher standards for the students, set higher standards for the teachers, evaluate the students’ progress, evaluate the teachers’ progress, and recognize that standardized testing will resurrect our great educational system?  It’s simple…..We DON’T!!  Most will say that our educational system is broken. Most will say that our students today are not as educated as they were in the past.  This is simply not true.  

The biggest problem in education today is the leadership and direction it is under. Leadership that has little to no experience of what it takes to be a classroom teacher. Leadership that continues to break the most simple cardinal rule of teaching, “There is NO one-size fits all” answer!  Yet, the educational reforms continue to come down the pipeline from every new leader that takes office with the idea that he or she will be the savior for our children.  There have been changes from standards to content, yet we continue to look at our students as failures, for according to the research and data being collected, we continue to decline. 

By way of elimination, leadership has finally identified the underlying issue of our decline, the teachers.  How does the saying go?  Those who can, do…those who can’t, teach? Really?! Why is public persona of teachers so bad?  Could we be buying into the anti-teacher propaganda issued by those who initiated the failed reforms?  Why have we lost sight of what truly matters in educating a child?  It goes beyond the Common Core, NCLB, Blended Learning, Public vs Private vs Charter.  It is deeper than the subject matter being taught in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Science, and Social Studies.  It is more powerful than any data you can collect from standardized, summative and formative testing.  Yet, without listening, our leaders have inundated our teachers with a workload that takes them away from the single most important factor in educating our students.  

The best teachers have the ability to connect with a student and inspire them to learn, not just in the classroom but beyond, a life-long learner. The innate ability to recognize struggle, depression, or emptiness and counter with support, potential, and hope.  We can all claim the ability to do such things, but teachers do this with 20, 30, 40+ students in their classrooms everyday!  All while understanding the idea of failing even one student is unacceptable.  So, why do most fail at becoming a teacher? Simple….it is easier to follow another career path.  Teachers are the small percentage of those willing to take the responsibility of educating our youth, while receiving a barrage of disrespect, simply for the love of teaching.  

Through mandates and reforms, none of which were teacher driven, we now blame our teachers for failing our students, however, it is we who have failed our teachers.  The research and rigor of the new programs, reforms, and CCSS may help the educational system as a whole, but they are just duct-taping the problem.  Until we focus on supporting the needs of the teacher and the needs of each individual student, learning will only be defined by a test result.  During my time as a teacher, I was always amused at the parade of individuals who touted the “next best” idea or reform that was going to reach my students and make them successful without ever meeting them.  Did they know that Matt’s parents were getting a divorce? That Mary just lost her Grandmother, her inspiration?  That Robert was missing 40 days of school to care for his new born brother? That…….did they even care?  What made them think that spending 3 hours collecting, organizing, and relating data was more important than having a 5 minute conversation with a student?  Do they understand that my C-student’s effort to improve is better than than my A-student who doesn’t?  Labeling a 4th grader as Proficient or Not Proficient does nothing in predicting their future success.

I would argue that today’s students are smarter than any generation before them.  They are accessing and learning information at ages that are stunning.  If our educational system is failing our students, it is doing so because leadership, not teachers, has limited them to be proficient or non-proficient through a standardized test.  Our students should not be judged on a score, and our teachers should not be judged on a test.  A teacher’s job is to promote and inspire life-long learning- to relate and inspire a student to learn not just in the classroom, but more importantly at every moment possible.  To learn not because they have to, but rather because they want to!