The hazy crazy days of summer are soon to be replaced by the structured education of our children. Some schools start in late August while others wait until the traditional end of summer call Labor Day. This year many of our children will be experiencing a new form of education philosophy that will concern itself with “Common Core” and “Proficiency Based Education”. This is a substantial change in how our children learn. The question before all of us is this a good thing?
This will be my first school year of retirement after 30 years in public education. I absolutely adored my job. It was the greatest of all professions and the worse. You watched young men and women become and you were admonished for not getting the best scores on the multiple standardized tests that never survived more than half a decade. Of course these tests still exist.
In order to understand where our education system is going you first have to understand where it has been. Our public education system began in 1785. , Our founding fathers had our brand new government require a system of public education. It was over one hundred years later in 1867, the Federal Government started to collect data that would help states establish effective school systems. In 1917, the Federal Government started to promote vocational education. Many in education believe the concept of a vocational education is something new. As you can see from the date this is not something new.
Finally in 1941, the Federal Government started to give money to the states for education. This was given as help and not making the states hostages until 2001 – 2008, when money was taken away from school districts if they did not perform. Many parents and now grandparents will remember this as the infamous, “No Child Left Behind” program. This was a great title and a good idea if the Federal Government funded it. Sputnik and the fear of the Soviet Union forced our government in 1958, to produce the National Defense Education Act. This put emphasis on both science and mathematics. As a chemistry teacher I believe this was a very good thing.
One of the most important acts of our government concerning public education was Title IX that prohibited discrimination in education based on gender. Yes, schools are made up of both genders even though there is some discussion of how these genders could mix. Then in 1973, another exceptional decision was made with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This, like Title IX prohibited discrimination based on disability.
Our government and public education system seemed to be heading in the right direction in order to take the lead in what was sure to become a global society. Then in 1983, the Educational Testing Service had the Federal Government transferred responsibility for administering the National Assessment of Educational Progress to the nation’s report card or ETS. This is the time in our history when the concept of teaching a discipline was replaced by teaching to a test. In 1983, a report entitled, “A Nation At Risk” indicated that the USA was falling behind in education achievement. I am saddened to report our children have been falling behind ever since this document was produced.
In 1989, work began on national standards that have changed too many times to be remembered. As stated before the “No Child Left Behind” program left students, teachers, parents, and our nation behind. Then in 2009, President Barack Obama began the concept of awarding grants to states with innovative ideas that accepted Common Core Standards. These standards were only meant to be a blueprint of what teachers should teach their students. The basic problem with this is all of our standardized tests are based on Common Core Standards. It doesn’t take a PhD in Education to figure out what teachers are told to teach their students.
I left teaching because I couldn’t stand or accept policies of Proficiency Based Education. For 30 years I believe the harder I, and my students, worked the more they should be rewarded. In education, as in life, competition is both important and a reality. A teacher should teach what made the teacher become a teacher in the first place. They should teach to his or her passion. A common misconception of my profession is, “those who can do and those who can’t teach.” But, remember if it weren’t for those who taught those who do would never know how.
As parents and guardians of your children please pay attention to the multiple policies and programs that are being introduced in your schools. Some may be the greatest thing since applesauce while others could be a means of making money for those who are selling you the apples. Every seminar I’ve ever attended I asked the “expert” how many years they taught in a classroom. If the person states little experience I had the tendency to not listen to them. A good analogy is if you need surgery would you want a surgeon who has experience or read the book well.
The hazy crazy days of summer are soon to be replaced by the structured education of our children. Just pay attention to what they do and what they learn.
Jim Fabiano is a retired teacher and writer living in York, Maine