Tag Archives: Education

HR-5: EXCEL is a Verb as Well as a Proper Noun

8 Jul

HR-5, has anyone stopped to consider a few simple truths?

Any program that has as its aim closing “achievement gaps between groups” is set up already  set up to fall short.  There are only a few ways to close gaps, which is actually code for federally-required test scores.

First, pack money into programs and focus on ELL, special education, non-English speakers, immigrants both legal and illegal, the homeless, impoverished, and others who are labeled as low-achievers.  Ho…w insulting is that to be labeled as such.  However, once we label, we fund.  Remove the funds and people are racists and haters.

Second, disregard those from Asia and do not even mention them in any minority discussion.  Ask yourself, why do the Asians do so well in our schools, both public and private?

Third, focus less on those considered high achievers because, as one of my professors stated back-in-the-day, “they have resources and will do fine no matter what.”  Focusing less on high achievers does help to close the gap.  But this is not a fair closure.  Here is why.

Focusing on raising assessment scores for low-achievers, while allowing any level of disregard of higher achievers is not socially just.  It is discriminatory.  If the higher achievers decline just a bit; and the lower achievers grow just a bit, we are back to an AYP and API, but under different names.  Thus, in one way or another, we arrive at the reality in public education.

Rather than pushing the excellence envelope for high achievers, actually widening the gap AND pressing for low achievers to succeed, our nation focuses down on those declared in greatest need.  We do not mind practicing this in competitive athletics.  Why not in academics?  If our students are going to be competitive, as the bureaucrats want, then let them compete and excel.  If the gap widens, then let it widen.  Develop alternative schools and programs.  Let the gap widen in other areas that kids excel in.  It is mere socialism to disadvantage one or more groups over others–when they are meant to excel and achieve.  Is this NOT the purpose of “The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015”?  Unfortunately, it is not.

Is there any wonder why parents opt to place their kids in private or charter schools?  As long as political correctness rules, and schools do not diversify their reality and programs, there will truly be no solid answers–aside from spending–for the problems created by government and culture.

We cannot have it all, which is why a one-size fits all does not fit.

Groups are NOT all the same size.  Either are individuals.

Core Beliefs of a Common Culture

3 Jul

Stepping back from the edge of a problem is often wise practice.  Retracing our history, enables Americans to gain perspective.  Therefore, as we glean much from our past, a historical perspective informs our nation’s present understanding.  Viewing the historical values that unite our nation from the beginning, provides a larger scope within which we connect a national sense of belonging and pride.  From the beginning, the colonies that seeded our great nation, posited education’s prominent place in the developing American experience.  Passing onto colonial American children the values and virtues of homogeneous enclaves and communities, where the colonists lived, was paramount.  Education was local and left to the states, because they simply knew their people better and were much closer to the needs of local constituents.  Over time, immigrants assimilated into the already established culture.

As the United States came into existence in late eighteenth century, there were shared common beliefs across America’s states and these could be found within American schools and in her curriculum.  Certainly, there were differences.  Yet, our new nation was marked intentionally, incorporating both commonalities and distinctions of American civic and moral culture.  Moreover, public education in the United States began in a tradition rooted in the westernization of the works of Greeks, such as Aristotle and Plato.[1]  Now, many read social justice advocates and gay rights activists, believing a large government can foist upon a nation new sets of precepts.

U.S. education during the colonial days signaled that the essence of national character sprang from the belief that the divine purpose of educators of the day was to mold children in the ways of common culture, based on moral and religious colonial philosophies.[2]  Mission, purpose, and calling are hallmarks of American education.  Prior to the colonial period, education had flourished in Europe—largely due to the impacts of the Reformation and Renaissance—and character and moral education played important roles.  Today, in contrast, educators would be hard-pressed to find vestiges of the roles that once helped to define American culture.  In fact, it is not far-fetched to conclude that some culture-shapers are no longer tolerant of American culture of the distant or recent past.  Enter Common Core . . .

Education in Europe and the American colonies was embedded with theology—the “queen of the sciences.”  Over time, this queen has been dethroned by the secularization of public education—compartmentalized away from corporate culture–which is quite dissimilar to “corporate America.”  “The Founding Fathers of our nation believed that schools would be the crucibles within which there would be a melding of academics, civic virtue, and religious and moral instruction.[3]  The mission to produce more godly creatures grew out of a three-fold framework:  (1) The Holy Bible, upon which education was originally established in the colonies,[4] (2) the deistic and theistic religious beliefs of the colonists, and (3) the importance of the teachings of philosopher John Locke, and others.[5]

Locke’s stated educational goals included virtue, wisdom, and learning.  The teachings from this framework were plain in the lessons of colonial texts, such as Pilgrim’s Progress, Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and McGuffey’s Readers.[6]  If the very foundation of one’s society is separated from generations that follow, how then do we expect new generations to live? [7]

America is born of a Judeo-Christian heritage.  We should never apologize for this.  Our laws, the reasons we are extremely beneficent toward other nations, have a First Amendment protecting religion, and that fact that we understand unconditional love are all testimony to this heritage.  Today, some would be hard-pressed to find this heritage in some corners of contemporary culture, particularly in areas of morality, entertainment, leisure, and in the American public education system.  Unlike the past, when students were taught values from great literature, including the Judeo-Christian guide, the Bible, today’s students must navigate a vacuüm, often attenuated by classroom teachers, biased curriculum, and a culture continuing to find purpose in changing secularism and amorality.

Removing moral purpose creates a moral vacuüm.  If one’s work becomes moral purpose then what exists outside of work?  Unfortunately, telling students they must be educated to compete in a global economy is no replacement for deeply held values.  For example, today’s students are called lazy.  So what do bureaucrats decide?  They propagate an entirely new educational accepted point of view. Truthfully, what some call lazy, others call student boredom.  The brains of teenagers are still developing–another commonality often misunderstood by Common Core advocates.

Most public schools today, as corporate entities, and are self-declared moral-free institutions.  This is especially at American universities and colleges.  Education institutions have become satellites of secularism, whose purpose is the valuation and promotion of deeper cognition and employment after high school.  The nation now refers to this as “college and career-ready.”  How does this secularism square with aimless students somehow finding moral purpose and achieving excellence in school, especially with families also undergoing redefinition?  How is this accomplished when the very moorings of marriage and family are undergoing such radical redefinition.

The reality is the production of workers for the next decades from within a system such as Common Core is going to challenge the very notion of educational progress.  One might ask, “What is the nature of this challenge?”  The sets of values of the past are different from those of the present.  Changing education policy and drafting new education legislation is one thing.  Actively seeking the undoing, or repudiating of past education toward a new purpose, has become more of the federal government’s business.  It is flat-out the wrong direction for America’s schools

The question we must consider is whether Americans want the federal government, it’s ideas and policies—along with political secularists—filling this void.  Conversely, America would do well to consider whether to more deeply engage her people and their states and local governments.  An educational system which had rotated and spun tightly for years, is now wobbling quite badly.  Our schools are far from perfect.  But why strive for growing ever more imperfection wit Common Core?  The bottom line is that in a vacuum, there is room for anything.

[1]. Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Pinning Down Character Education.”  Summer 2000.  Kappa Delta Pi Record.  Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 156.  Cf.  Thomas Lickona.  “An integrated approach to character development in the elementary school classroom.”  In Moral, character, and civic education in the elementary school.  Jacques Benninga (Ed.).  (New York City, New York:  Teachers College Press, 1991, pp. 67-83.)  Cf. also, J. L Elias. 1989.  Moral education:  Secular and religious.  (Malabar, Florida:  Robert E. Krieger Publishers, 1989.)

[2]. R. J. Nash.  Answering the “virtuecrats”:  A moral conversation on character education.  (New York City, New York:  Teachers College Press, 1997.)   Cf.  Robert Bellah.  Habits of the heart:  Individualism and commitment in American life.  (New York City, New York:  Harper and Row Publishers, 1985.)

[3]. Nash, Answering the “virtuecrats”:  A moral conversation on character education.

[4]. R. H. Hersh, J. P. Miller, and G. D. Fielding.  Models of Moral Education:  An appraisal.  (New York City, New York:  Longman Press, 1980).  Cf.  H. A. Huffman 1993.  “A character education without turmoil.”  Educational Leadership 51 (3), pp. 24-26.

[5]. J. L Elias.  Moral education:  Secular and religious.  (Malabar, Florida:  Robert E. Krieger Publishers, 1989.)

[6]. Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Pinning Down Character Education.”  Kappa Delta Pi Record, pp. 155-156.  Cf.  Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Character education:  An analysis of state history-social science and English-language arts curriculum frameworks and content standards.”  Ph.D.  Dissertation, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, 1999.

[7]. Francis Schaeffer.  “How then should we live?”  The complete works of Francis A. Schaeffer:  A Christian worldview.  Volume 5, Book 2.  1982.  (Westchester, Illinois:  Crossway Books).

Three Reasons Why Common Core Will Never Succeed in American Schools

21 Mar

Aside from all the discussion and debate over the academic side of Common Core, there are other serious concerns that diminish Common Core from the start.  This blog post is about American culture resident in the fundamental nature of the American psyche surrounding athletics, especially at the secondary level.

First, since athletics is viewed as an extension of the classroom curriculum, should not the rally-cry of rigor pertain to expectations of both?  But this is not the case.  I write about this in my new book The Wrong Direction for Today’s Schools:  The Common Core and It’s Impact on American Schools (2015, Rowman & Littlefield).  This is the first cultural concern that will never be overcome for Common Core to be successful.  It cannot connect itself to the very thing to which it is supposed to extend.  Try as we might, and with great failure looming, to compare our nation to those across the ponds.  Do these nations also have litigious societies catering to whims and hurt feelings, breeding fear into school boards across their education landscapes?

Dare I state that our laws and policies pertaining to athletes are so dumbed-down, they have worked their ways into classrooms all across America.  This is the reverse of rigor, a sort of “perverted incentive,” if you will.  Even private schools are not removed from the cultural quagmire. This is an American problem.  Teachers give passing grades to keep students eligible, parents use every excuse to pressure schools to come up with ways for athletes to remain eligible, including lying for them, finding online courses to remain eligible, threatening to go to the school board, and even retaining a lawyer.  Our culture has so disconnected rightness and virtue that individualism encourages exploitation of loopholes that favors athletes over  supposed requirements as students.  To this I write, “Shame on any teacher who has given a grade unearned to an athlete just to bend to pressure.”  Yet, teachers are living within the same culture that perpetuates this disconnect. Districts that expect more rigor from teachers, a more rigorous academic challenge for in-class students, yet cower from this same rigor toward athletes and competition, are themselves lacking rigor.  The Common Core cannot change this culture, because the culture that allows students to be viewed as athletes first is polar opposite to Common Core, demonstrating the hypocrisy that what goes on in the classroom does not extend onto the playing surface.

Second, with our worship of athletics and laissez-faire attitude toward students’ attendance, and weak-district policies allowing for students to compete outside the classroom, it is clear that what goes on outside the classroom calls the shots for what goes on inside the classroom, in far too many corners of public education.  Some eligibility rules are set by the state, while many others are set by districts.  Attendance at school is not one of those policies that is taken seriously by either.  If students are allowed to miss school regularly, have these absences excused by parents, or by themselves (if they are eighteen years of age), then how is this lack of rigor in attendance policy an extension of the rigor in the classroom?

We live in a culture that has little-to-no ethic, in terms of absence.  Athletics is a privilege.  However, the bottom-line is weeks and weeks of absences have no bearing on students being able to play for the schools they do not attend regularly.  Students and parents know this and they exploit it.  This is not just a secondary level concern; it is across our culture.  It is across our culture because we have dumbed-down our accountability requirements for student attendance, placing athletics above academics.  What would be wrong about students making up their academic deficiencies resulting from absence, before being allowed to compete? This is another major reason why Common Core will not succeed in American schools–students are not compelled to attend school regularly, while they are allowed an unearned privilege to compete and practice each day.

Students not required to attend schools for a specific number of hours per day, are still allowed to represent their school.  There are exceptions, and I am fine with these exceptions, which I will leave for another post.  However, exemptions are not the definition of culture.

Third, pandemic across the United States is this contrarian culture, counter to ramping up anything, except lawsuits if an athlete is not allowed to play.  Parents have no qualms about fabricating stories to excuse their students from school, take weeks of vacation, yet expect the school to make certain there is no impact upon athletes’ playing time. This is a national cultural problem.   I am in touch with literally dozens of educators across the nation at all levels, on a daily basis.  I teach in a high school–my wife teaches elementary school.  Anecdotes abound.  I am certain you have your own.

Therefore, aside from the academic and educational issues presented by Common Core–and there are many–there are at least three ubiquitous cultural realities challenging Common Core at all levels within American society, each so deeply ingrained that it is immovable and provides foundational evidence undergirding every other piece of evidence that Common Core will never succeed in American Schools:  (1) The disconnect between classroom attendance and earning the privilege of athletics participation, (2) Weak policy on academics which favors athletic eligibility over academic achievement and attendance, and (3) Lack of courage on the parts of state bureaucrats, school boards, and school staff to do what is right and face the current culture, which includes rigorous parental pressures.

Here is the link to my last two books.  https://rowman.com/Action/Search/_/zarra/?term=zarra

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