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Education Recommendations for Federal and State Agencies

7 May

The following list of fifteen recommendations is not exhaustive, but rather a starting point for federal and state level governments.  This list is provided to these bureaucracies as they consider future development and implementation of education programs that come packaged with national implications.
Recommendation #1: Transparency. Transparency would have provided the necessary debate and open sharing of costs, benefits, and public concerns.  Changing programs from one thing to something else should never been undertaken without open discussions. Understand that government does not know best, but that an honest and open government that lifts up people to the changes they view as best is a government of the people. Such a government works best.
Recommendation #2: Remain Politically Neutral. Remove the political aspects of agenda from partisanship and political maneuvering. Validate Americans, and not political parties.
Recommendation #3: Focus on Students First. Focus efforts to change education upon students and families, and not the types of jobs required for future corporate employers.
Recommendation #4: Consider the Arts, Music, and Trades. Consider how all the areas not included in Common Core standards can be incorporated.  After all, students in America are not students in Europe or Asia.
Recommendation #5: Place Less Emphasis on International Assessments.  Be wary of utilizing international assessments for the basis of changing entire systems of education in the United States.
Recommendation #6: Avoid a National Curriculum. Steer completely clear of any discussion of a nationalized curriculum, or a one-size-fits-all area of content. The United States is not Europe, and many foreign nations that have national curricula have lower academic performance than America.
Recommendation #7: Develop More Accurate Domestic Assessments.  Understand that assessments are not the picture of whole persons; they are snapshots and moments in time. Reliance on imperfect assessments does not tell the whole story about American education. Continue development of more and better domestic assessments.
Recommendation #8: Empower States to Step Up. Enable states to compete for federal grants to establish exciting and different programs that include trades, technology, and innovative careers geared toward the future.  Empower entrepreneurialism, beginning in elementary school.
Recommendation #9: Do Not Force All Students into a College Mold.  Understand not all students are college bound and that forcing students into a federal blueprint for education is perceived as control and not as freedom to choose.
Recommendation #10: Allow States to Structure Teacher Accountability.  Allow states to hold their own teachers accountable for education. Allow universities and colleges of education to ramp up their requirements to enter programs of teacher training. There should be no federal punishment for teachers struggling to finds ways to educate the masses in inner cities.
Recommendation #11: Provide Block Grants for Trade and Tech School Startups.  Support states with block grants, so high schools can partner with businesses and create jobs for those who wish to work in high school, as they train for a trade, or experiment with business start-ups online.
Recommendation #12: Attract the Best and Brightest to Teaching.  Mount a campaign to attract the best and brightest to colleges and universities to train to become teachers.  Focus on demand, not just supply. Find those called to teach and invest in their lives.
Recommendation #13: Cease Partisan Argumentation. Cease the side-taking and partisan bickering over the direction of education. Allow more local control of decisions on education. Enable states to work together to create regional hubs of excellence, so that regional certification can be added to state certification. In the process, focus attention on impoverished areas and bring communities and families together to brainstorm ways to move forward.
Recommendation #14: Be Proud of Our American Heritage.  No nation is perfect.  Do not be ashamed of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, as it provides a mooring to our purpose as a nation.  Students need a sense of purpose for their existence.  Not everything in American education should be about individuality. Common good should also be in the equation.
Recommendation #15: Recognize School Choice. Recognize that there are models of schools that meet the needs of families throughout the nation.  Support these families for their choices. Whether public schools, private schools, private religious schools, or homeschools, support all of them and encourage all models that parents deem best for their children.


*Excerpted from Ernest J. Zarra, III, The Wrong Direction for Today’s Schools:  The Impact of Common Core on American Education.  Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, pp. 260-262.

Civic Duty

10 Feb

I recall one of my recent forays into the realm of civic duty.  I was never called to the jury box.  My friend and I were on the same panel and both of us were not called.  Exultations! Celebrations!  My students were probably not as happy as I.  But the jury is “out” on that one.

Teachers and correctional officers comprise the vast majority of potential jurors, as evidenced by the number of people both grading papers and willing to state as much in the “Voir dire” interview phase.

But I have some serious “beefs” with the system that pulls out educators from the very areas within which the state has lofty educational expectations.

RAISE THOSE TEST SCORES, but serve on this jury panel, ok?  What is wrong with these people who are accused of all these crimes, anyway?  Don’t they realize that their crimes are hurting our test scores?  By removing all these fine educators from the classroom, their civic duty is in the way of state test scores.  What is the world coming to?

The fewer days that teachers are in their classrooms, the less “real” education occurs.  Substitutes normally do not have the same impact–but that is not true for all of them.  I can assure you when my classes think a sub is cool, that person is not invited back to my room.  I need task-masters stepping in for me.  After all, I am off doing my civic duty.  The least the substitute can do is make me look good when I return.

All kidding aside, a moral equivalent to my more serious complaint would be to require groups of attorneys, judges, or politicians to attend my classroom for their “civic duties” and sit in my room until I have had ample time to interview them about some issues that affect MY clients–MY STUDENTS.

Imagine that.  Those folks get a pass on having to serve.  One goofy judge said to one teacher yesterday, “Well the state is paying you to be here so there should not be any problem.”  Tell that to the districts with lower socio-economics as major concerns, and lower test scores on standardized tests.  Do they understand our presence in the classroom one any given day might result in the students avoiding the very “system” which calls us to serve?  They just don’t get it.

Also, what is wrong with some of these attorneys?  How in the world did they pass the state bar exam?  Let me quickly state that a criminal on a recent docket trial was first degree, premeditated murder–with no capital punishment possibility.  Sheeesh, serious business that is.

The defense attorney asked questions of such a personal nature (and so did the judge), that if this defendant WAS a murderer, it would be scary to let him know ANYTHING about one’s family, employment, etc.  Weird part also is that his family and “skin-headed homies” were allowed to sit in and listen to the voir dire.  Yeah, THAT’S really safe.  Imagine we did that is schools?

I can see it now:

Judge:  “Dr. Zarra, you work at ‘this’ school, right?”

Attorney:  “Your spouse works at this school, right?”

Judge:  “Where are your children and what schools do they go to?”

Attorney:  “Have you, your family, or anyone close to you EVER been convicted of a crime, done drugs, been accused of this, been accused of that?”

Do lawyers and judges actually think that declarative statements with question marks are REALLY questions?  Here is an example of what I mean:  “You are stupid, right?”

I had already made up my mind–and told my friend–that if called, I was going to have some fun with the defense attorney.  He asked the dumbest questions.  Here is a hypothetical interview between us.


Attorney:  “Dr. Zarra, have you heard all the questions I have asked the other panelists and do you have anything to add to their answers?”

Zarra:   “Yes and no.  No, I have not heard all their answers.  Yes, I have things to add to their answers.”

Attorney:  “What question would you like to be asked?”

Zarra:  “That one.”

Attorney:  Sir, I perceive you are hostile to this process.”

Zarra:  “I feel strongly about hostilities.”

Attorney:  “Tell me more, please.”

Zarra:  “More.”

Attorney:  “Hahaha.  How do you feel about guns?”

Zarra:  “I feel with my heart and my hands.  Sometimes, these are in conflict.”

Attorney:  “If you had to vote right now on my client what would your verdict be?”

Zarra:  “What’s a verdict?  “And what’s he running for, ir is that ‘from’?”

Attorney:  “A verdict, sir–and for all prospective jurors–is a decision reached after weighing all the evidence in a trial.  So, what would YOURS be right now, sir?”

Zarra:  “Well, since there has been no evidence presented, and no trial to this point.  There can be no verdict.”

Attorney:  “My client must be viewed as not guilty, sir.  Without the prosecution meeting ANY burden of proof, he is innocent.  You do realize this.”

Zarra:  “A moment ago, you told me about what happens AFTER weighing evidence.  How can I do that which is required under law, and NOT do that which is required under law at the same time.  That’s called a hypothetical red herring, sir.  Besides, innocent is a moral conclusion.  Not guilty is a legal conclusion.  Which one are we aiming at again?”

Attorney:  “So, then how do you see my client?”

Zarra:  “I see him like the rest of us see him.  With my eyes.  But we were just talking about evidence a second ago, and I have not seen any of that.  He is wearing a nice tie, though.”

Attorney:  “Your honor, I am getting nowhere fast with this prospective juror.”

Judge:  “Yes, I can see that.  Sir, please answer the questions.”

Attorney:  “Mr. Zarra, would you please answer one more question?”

Zarra:  “It’s Dr. Zarra, sir.”

Attorney:  “Excuse me.”

Zarra:  “No problem.  I was hoping that same phrase would also be my reality in a few seconds, anyway.”


Judge:  “Quiet please.”

Attorney:  “Dr. Zarra.  Do you feel you could put aside all preconceptions and give my client a fair trial?”

Zarra: “Sir, I am not giving anyone a trial.  That’s NOT my job.  Besides what do my ‘feelings’ have to do with weighing evidence?  To be honest with you, if your client ripped off his shirt, and showed me the large tattoo emblazoned across his back, I’d know exactly what local gang he was in, what their signs and colors are, and might have even had some of his “homies” in my classes.

How do I feel about drug use, murder, shooting someone at close range multiple times, and have seven prior arrests for similar actions?  How do I feel?  I’d be happy it was not me, my family, or someone I know.

Feelings aside, here is what I think.  I think he is presumed not morally culpable until the evidence so compels me beyond a reasonable doubt.  In all honesty, I applied this very principle to evaluate your skills in questioning this very day.  I must say, you are compelling, and there is definitely reasonable doubt, sir.”

Attorney:  “That’s enough, sir.”

Zarra:  “Am I free to go?”

Attorney:  “Yes, no further questions.”

Prosecutor:  “Pass for cause, your honor.”

Attorney:  “The defense would like to thank and excuse juror, 2, Mr. Zarra.”

Zarra:  “Dr. Zarra, sir.”

Attorney:  “Again, my apologies.”

Zarra:  “Mumbles . . . Tell that to your client after he is convicted by your shoddy defense.”

Attorney:  “What was that?”

Zarra:  “Oh, nothing . . . I was just singing, “Feelings, nothing more than feelings. . . . Feelings, whoa, whoa, whoa, feelings . . .”

Free at last, free at last, thank GOD ALMIGHTY, I am free at last.

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