Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Debates About What Is Really Best

Listed below are some of the topics being debated about educational reform. What are your thoughts about these?

Student Achievement - Everyone wants our students to receive a world class education and be able to compete in the global environment. Here are some of the questions being discussed and debated in this area:

• Where do we rank nationally and internationally? Is that good or bad?
• How bad are the achievement gaps? What needs to happen to close these gaps?
• Does the federal “No Child Left Behind” law help or hurt? Should there be penalties and sanctions for not making 100%?
• Should the U.S. follow what some countries do in only allowing the highest performing students to attend high schools that lead to college?
• With Finland being considered at the top of the international lists for educating students, should the U.S. model what they are doing? What are they doing differently and would that work here?
• How important is “college and career readiness” and do tests like the ACT test truly predict this? Do remedial courses in college really make a difference and are they needed?
• What is the actual and real dropout rate from high school? Is this important and how do we deal with this? What about the dropout rate from college?
• Should the age for compulsory attendance be raised from 16 to 18 years of age?
* Do we need to provide high quality pre-schools for ALL students?
• Is the culture of a school a determining factor in student achievement?
• Is more time in the day and school year needed to raise achievement?
• Should class size be significantly reduced?
• Is a solution gender based classrooms and individualized instruction for all?
• Does the leadership of the school determine the outcomes?
• How should technology and virtual learning be utilized?
• How important is early childhood education? How do we balance developmentally appropriate practices with the need for school readiness data? Should incoming kindergarten kids be assessed?
• What about dual credit courses (with high schools and colleges) and early college enrollment programs? Should they be allowed?
• Competency based or seat time credit? Should students be able to test out of classes in high school?
• Should every child make at least a year’s growth each year?
• Should students be retained if they cannot do the work? Are there a maximum number of times a student should be retained?
• Should schools be responsible for health and wellness of students including issues like obesity?

Curriculum and Standards - There are intense debates about what should be taught and what should not be taught along with the debate about high stakes testing. Listed below are some of these topics:

• Are the new Common Core Standards what we need? Do people know what these are? How do we help teachers, parents, and students understand the standards?
• Are standards needed? What levels of math and science, for example, should be required? Should topics like sex education and evolution be taught in schools?
• Should the arts and humanities be part of the accountability system?
• Is requiring proficiency in a foreign language important?
• Are textbooks needed or can online electronic books and materials be used?
• Should schools, teachers, and students be ranked and compared statewide and nationally for academics, graduation rates, etc.?
• Should homework be part of a student’s academic grade or be a separate grade?
• How should students with special needs both in areas of disabilities and giftedness be served?

Accountability and Testing - There is a lot of debate about high stakes testing. Below are some of the questions being discussed:

• How much should we be testing students using standardized tests?
• What should an accountability system look like? Do we need accountability systems?
• What does it mean to be proficient and who decides what proficiency is?
• Does testing inhibit creativity?
• Is there an alternative to standardized testing and still have accountability?
• Are teachers teaching to the test? Is teaching to the test good or bad?
• What about the Atlanta cheating scandal? Can that happen to us?
• Should statewide end of course exams be part of a student’s grade?
• What about students being required to pass a statewide proficiency test in order to graduate from high school?
• How should accountability be extended to postsecondary, particularly in the preparation of teachers?

Teachers - At the heart of our educational systems is the teacher. These are some of the major questions being debated nationally about teachers:

• How should teachers be evaluated and should those evaluations be tied to student performance and then to pay? Can evaluations be used to significantly improve instruction?
• Should teacher pay be differentiated based on the subjects taught with the highest pay going to areas in most demand or should pay be equal and based upon education and experience?
• Should schools be allowed to hire teachers and administrators from organizations like Teach for America who have not gone through formal teacher certification programs in college?
• Is the pay for teachers too low or too high? What if we changed the benefit structure to make benefits less generous and salary more generous on the front end of a teacher’s career? Would a starting salary of six figures for teachers change the profession?
• What is the impact of the U.S. teacher salaries being ranked 22nd out of 27 countries?
• Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?
• Are teacher unions a help or a hindrance?
• Should tenure for teachers and college professors be abolished?
• How much time is needed for professional development and collaboration, and what does that look like to be effective?
• How can professional development for teachers and school leaders be relevant and helpful for improving teaching and learning? What should it look like and who should decide this?
• Are colleges and universities doing a good job in preparing teachers, principals, and superintendents?

Factors Outside the classroom - There is much debate about the role of influences outside the classrooms and how they impact the educational process.

• Can students who live in poverty learn at high levels? Is poverty the problem?
• What is the role of the parent at home?
• Is parent involvement at school important and what does effective and systemic involvement look like?
• What should be the role of the business community? The faith based community? Coalitions?
• Are before and after school tutoring and enrichment programs needed?
• Should extra-curricular activities like sports, music, drama, clubs, etc. continue?

School Choice - The debate about school choice is very intense. It is very important to look at the data and research before coming to a conclusion in these areas.

* Do we need Charter schools? Do they work?
• Should public funding be used for vouchers to private schools?
• What about schools and programs of innovation within the current systems?
• Are alternative schools with different structures and approaches effective and needed?
• Should home schools be legal?
• Do you favor neighborhood schools? Magnet schools?
• What about vocational and technical schools – are they needed?
• How about having virtual schools available for all students?

Funding - Some say we are spending too much on education while others argue that we are not spending enough. This is also an intense debate.

• Is funding adequate to accomplish the goals?
• Is funding equitable between districts?
• Are schools and colleges good stewards of the funding that is currently provided?
• Is there equity/adequacy in funding for special needs—poverty, transience, disabilities, English language learning, and giftedness?
• Are employee benefits costs such as health insurance, retirement, and sick leave reasonable? What about the minimum number of years of service for full retirement for educators (27 years)? Should this be changed?
• Should Kentucky teachers be required to start paying into the social security system?
• How does Kentucky’s higher education spending compare to other states?
• Should we accept significant federal funding if it means following their guidelines?

Governance - There is also a debate about how to best govern schools in terms of boards of education, site based councils, etc.

• Should the state and federal departments of education be eliminated?
• Do we need to do away with site based councils? Boards of Education?
• Should board members be paid salaries?
• If schools follow the business model will it make a positive difference?
• Should school board members be appointed or elected?
• Should city government (mayors, judge executives) govern the schools?

As you can see from the above, education reform and teaching and learning are very complex. Before anyone makes a decision about any of these issues it is critical that the decision go beyond a general feeling. There is a lot of research and a multitude of data out there about each of these issues that must be reviewed carefully and examined before coming to any final conclusions. We at the Prichard Committee will be coming back to discuss these issues in more depth in the months ahead but would welcome you to share your thoughts at any time.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of questions. How are the answers found? I mean they could come from a Tower of Babel of sources. (Are there too many cooks?) Does the Pritchard Committee interact with like committees nationwide to provide input that could find a good answer to any of these questions? I don't require a lengthy answer. (Go Mocs!)


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