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Monday, November 17, 2008

Kickin’ it Ol’ Skool

Ken Kerr Bio

There is an expression in the popular culture: "Kickin' it ol' skool." It means doing something the way it was done before—before new knowledge, new technology, and new techniques. It means doing something without these advantages and limiting one's self to what was done in a previous time or age. Things like cooking with charcoal rather than a gas grill, playing horseshoes rather than a video game, taking chicken soup for a cold, sending someone an actual paper-and-stamp letter, using a camera that has film in it. These are all examples of kickin' it ol' skool.

Sometimes we kick it ol's skool for the challenge, to see if we can still do it. Sometimes it is purist thing. Sometimes we are just too stubborn and rigid to change. We kick it ol' skool because that's all we know how to do.

Whether someone voted for Obama or McCain, whether Obama's margin of victory gives him a mandate or not, it is clear Americans voted for change in four areas: Energy independence, healthcare, tax relief, and public education. Americans are not satisfied to keep kickin' these ol' school.

Speaking of school, few would argue that American
public education is as good as it should be. It is a regular topic in the media . For all the talk, time, effort, and money, K-12 education in the USA is not something we can be universally proud of—especially America's high schools. That is not to say that there are not many dedicated, committed professionals and interested engaged students in pockets of excellence. However, we are not giving the majority of our children the education then need to be successful in the 21st Century.

Actually, we do pretty well in elementary schools.
David Marsh, a professor at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education says, "In fourth grade, American kids do above average internationally. By eighth grade, they slip a bit, and by 12th-grade, they've slipped a lot." Marsh goes on to say, "We're the only country that slides down that much from fourth to 12th grade."

We are leaving our children behind. They are being harassed, assaulted, stolen from, intimidated, threatened, and abused. And we expect them to learn in that environment.

Don't take my word for it. Consider these data:

· According to
Hostile Hallways, 83% of the girls and 60% of the boys reported experiencing sexual harassment in school. Over half of the incidents took place in the classroom.

· 160,000 children skip school each day because of intimidation by their peers. The National Center for Educational Statistics
reports that 77 % of middle and high school students in small mid-western towns have been bullied.

· Nearly 95% of students aged twelve through eighteen reported that they had been bullied at school in the last six months. In general, females were as likely as males to report being bullied. (Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2000, U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice, 2000)

· And a newly released
study from the National Institutes of Health published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that almost a third of 6th to 10th graders -- 5.7 million children nationwide -- have experienced some kind of bullying.

· 44% to 49% percent of all schools reported physical attacks, theft or larceny, and vandalism to the authorities. (2000 Annual Report on School Safety, Department of Education and Department of Justice, 2000)

· 21% of middle school/junior high schools reported fights or attacks with a weapon; these incidents for an estimated 7,576 incidents. (A National Study of School Environment and Problem Behavior: The National Study of Delinquency Prevention in Schools, Gottfredson Associates, Inc., 2000)

· Students aged twelve through eighteen were victims of more than 2.7 million total crimes at school. (Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2000, U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice, 2000)

· Younger students, ages twelve through fourteen, were more likely than older students, ages fifteen through eighteen, to be victims of crime at school. (2000 Annual Report on School Safety, Department of Education and Department of Justice, 2000)

· Almost one in five students reported being threatened with a beating, and again this was a more common experience for middle school students (22%) than for high school students (16%). (A National Study of School Environment and Problem Behavior: The National Study of Delinquency Prevention in Schools, Gottfredson Associates, Inc. 2000)

· On average, each year there are 133,700 violent crimes against teachers at school and 217,400 thefts from teachers at school, reported by teachers from both public and private schools. (2000 Annual Report on School Safety, Department of Education and Department of Justice, 2000)

What is most disturbing is that these are crimes—some felonies—yet they go unreported. In fact, only nine percent of violent crimes against teenagers occurring in school were
reported to the police compared with thirty-seven percent of such crimes occurring on the streets. We are telling our young people that public schools are places where the laws of the larger society do not apply. Apparently, building-level administrators are empowered to interpret the law within their schools. That bothers me.

But this is where we are, and this is what we've got. It's not getting better; it's not getting worse. It is what it is. The situation has, more or less, stabilized.

Just like a stabilized patient in the ICU, he's no longer dying, but he's not getting better. He's stable. Now medical personnel have something to work with. They have some base-line data. They can tell if what they are doing is making him better, or making him worse.

Let's think of our public schools that way. What we have is baseline data, Square 1. From here we can see if we can get them healthy.

What I am about to propose is not as radical as it may seem. It preserves that status quo. It maintains the current stable state. It maintains the currently accepted situation and preserves the rights of all students to keep exactly the same quality of education and learning environment they currently enjoy. Nobody is taking anything away from anyone. It maintains the Old School.

What I propose is kickin' it New School.

The New School will co-exist with the Old School. Everyone is welcome in the new school, but not everyone can stay. The new school is for students who decide they want a better environment in which to learn, and they understand that it is up to them to create it. To be a member of this learning community, you have to show up, arrive prepared, do thoughtful work, make progress, and behave in a civil way.

The new school is not reserved for the best and the brightest. It is not a magnet school where the most promising students apply and are selected. Students self select to be a part of this learning community. It is open to anyone who wants to learn. The difference is student need to perform in order to stay. They must attend, be attentive, complete assignments, and contribute to a positive learning environment.

If some students decide they do not what to do what is expected in the New School, they are welcome to return to the Old School where the status quo has been preserved. Nothing has been taken away. The student self-selected to return to the established standard.

Student can return to the New School. They are always welcome back. They just have to demonstrate a desire to learn and help maintain a positive learning environment. It's no big deal—they just walk over to the other side of the building. Part of maturation is making good choices. The New School/Old School model gives student control over their education. They get to make decisions and experience the consequences. Not only that, but they get second (and third and fourth) chances. And remember, nothing has been taken away from anyone, and a
recent survey indicates that what we have now is just fine with parents and students. So there should be no complaints.

Certainly, there are logistical considerations to work out. Who and what decides when a student must leave the New School or may return? How do we coordinate course content so that there is portability between New and Old? These challenges can be solved. It can't be any harder than working out
lunch shifts, bus issues, and traditional transfers.

As for
teachers not wanting to teach in the Old School—they teach there now. They must believe they can be, and are, effective in the status-quo environment. Why do they stay otherwise? Good enough must be good enough for them, too. How else could they continue to do it year-after-year?

We can continue with our current way and probably survive. That is what we have been doing. But seeing where we are not in our nation, our economy, and our world makes me think we need to make some changes. We need to make some good decisions about our collective future and our priorities. Some of us are happy where we are and with what we have; some of us want to advance as a nation and as a people.

It's time for America to kick it new school. Let's start with the school.


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1 comment:

Charlie Raeihle said...

I suspect that the state of our schools is the result of something so complicated there may be no simple solution. It's probably a combination of gradual changes in our social mores (caused by... what? I'm sure the answer is complicated) and something I've come to believe over several years of working at a government facility: that bureaucracies reward mediocrity. Perhaps they always have, but it seems that somewhere along the line, this society has really come to loathe competition. We SAY competition is great, is the lifeblood of a free market, yadda yadda yadda. But in the final analysis, we can't resist the temptation to give a trophy to every kid on the T-ball team. It seems like a great idea to give a break to the disadvantaged, but it comes at a cost: rewards are given out based on something other than merit. This philosophy leads to the suppression of excellence. Let's face it -- excellence is by its nature exclusionary. Until we accept that simple immutable law of nature, our bell curve will continue to be a flat line, and no child will be left behind, because every child will be above average.

Problem is, the rest of the world uses a real bell curve, and we're slipping to the left.