62. Breaking the Cycle

Changing American schools has been and continues to be difficult for many reasons. We have touched on several with this district trying to implement the new learning infrastructure.

Breaking the cycle of frustrated attempts at school improvement first requires an understanding of the issues involved.

Jackie’s courageous expression of concern is possibly the most significant barrier to school improvement. Unlike other professional groups, Jackie represents all of us who were once young students.

The experience of being a student during our formative years imprinted attitudes and aspirations about the school experience. Both good and bad.

Jackie’s was good. Board member Vernon’s was bad.

Most of us are somewhere in between. 

Certain feelings and perceptions are also imprinted by family members. Social experiences such as poverty and relational dysfunction, and other rite-of-passage encounters.

We learn from youthful encounters and are shaped by them. Like many teachers, Jackie loved her school experience. Perpetuating what felt good was a no-brainer for her.

Jackie’s response to structure, adult guidance, test-taking, reinforcement from parents and other authority figures was comfortable. She viewed the world as described in textbooks and media.

It all made sense then. It makes sense to her now.

Eventually, we will examine ways to bring Jackie and others like her into accepting the new learning infrastructure. It won’t be easy.

It requires a review of all the other barriers to change.

Barrier #1: Teacher Education and Expectations of New Teachers

Our story began with novice teacher Mary. She was prepared in a university that advocated a strong link between curriculum and instruction.

Not just in terms of coverage. But a well-constructed local curriculum applied through carefully aligned instructional design and execution.

Instruction that incorporates specific content fields, sets out clear techniques for working with students, and assesses their progress continuously and formatively.

Mary’s preparation is not the norm for teacher education. There is not a market for teachers prepared that way.

Mary would not be a good fit in most school districts, because they do not use those processes.

They represent the traditional American way of teaching and learning. The assembly line model used in school districts precludes mastery learning, which accepts student proficiency levels on a scale of poor to excellent.

That is not how Mary was prepared.

Barrier #2: Micromanagement of School Improvement and the Assembly Line Mentality

Toward the end of the 20th Century, there was some movement to modify the old system. But the implementation of No Child Left Behind and its emphasis on governmental micromanagement of public education worsened everything.

Standards, high stakes tests, data management associated with test scores, and superficial methods to compare districts in terms of compliance destroyed anything related to quality teaching and learning.

Modification of NCLB was mostly an effort to move micromanagement to states, especially with the Common Core initiative.

But micromanagement by politicians, bureaucrats, and others in positions of authority over public education is simply not working. They still believe in the assembly line method of adding scholastic components to the human brain. Its efficiencies and productivity. The rollout of citizens and workers who contribute to the effectiveness and wealth of our nation.

Barrier # 3: The Pandemic

The most recent problem for schools was the pandemic. Its necessary use of electronic media platforms. Or onsite classrooms that necessitated use of social distancing and masks.

As of this writing, the pandemic’s effects are still a problem. Without the curriculum and instructional design advocated in the new learning infrastructure, teachers were unable to maintain even the status quo.

Many teachers are retiring or leaving due to stress caused by COVID-19. Creating tens of thousands of available teaching jobs.

Barrier #4: Superficial or Sidebar Methods of Stimulating an Interest in Improvement

Improved salary and teaching conditions top the list of possible solutions to the current problems. But both remedies are poorly defined in terms of numbers and meaning.

Research on the relationship between salary and job satisfaction shows that money does not make employees “happy.” It merely makes them “not unhappy.”

The same neutral feeling comes from nice benefit packages, caring supervisors, and good work schedules.

Happiness comes from feelings of being valued and considered essential to the welfare of the organization and its clients. The welfare of a school and its students.

Happiness also comes from being recognized by peers as essential to achieving commonly held convictions about meeting organizational goals. 

The lack of regular veneration from peers has always been a problem in public education. Teachers interact most of the day with their students, spending limited time with peers in the work room or cafeteria.

Being appreciated or even loved by students is wonderful. But adults still need the respect of other adults.

In higher education respect is made more possible through committee meetings, faculty governance activities, research teams, and somewhat lighter teaching loads for tenure or tenure-tracked faculty members.

Even with its flaws, tenure and promotion policies in higher education build a kind of scholastic camaraderie not found in public school teaching ranks.

Achieving tenure and the rank of full professor is typically the result of peer judgment, with endorsement by administrators who are themselves professors. In addition, effectiveness of university instructors is usually gauged by service and research, as well as classroom teaching.

Attempts to implement merit-based salary processes in public schools have usually met with failure. Mostly because they are managed by administrators. Laden with complaints about favoritism, types of teaching assignments being applied, competence of supervisors, and how well students perform on standardized tests.

Merit pay is just one of the quick fixes attempted over the decades. Others involve differences in school architecture, class scheduling, team teaching, progress by grade levels, interdisciplinary configurations, and others.

One of the most current is the extreme emphasis on the importance of STEM, even to the point of diminishing other critical aspects of a curriculum.

Barrier #5: Politics

Politics is making the situation even worse.

The new learning infrastructure advocates parental partnership in the conduct of school programs. But in a systematic and ongoing way.

Current political issues having to do with CRT and LGBTQ are causing legislators to craft bills and pass laws limiting those subjects in a curriculum. Such initiatives also advocate parental control of curriculum.

Enforcing such mandates are techniques that range from salary deductions to other forms of disciplinary action. Instead of local and clear-headed discussion of what should or should not be in a curriculum, lawmakers are turning educators and local communities into political footballs.

Parental control via micromanagement from lawmakers or others in governmental authority does not define the new learning infrastructure. Rather, NLI includes transparency and openness. A willingness of all stakeholders to make reasoned decisions in the best interests of students and the community.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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