Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

2: Education Reform — The Right Model

I have stated at the beginning of  1: Education Reform — The Wrong Models! that I am a physicist who loves to teach, not a teacher who loves to teach physics and math. I went on to say the difference is not so obvious unless one understands the education model I have numbered 3) — the institutional/colleague model. Then I tried to blatantly show that models 1) and 2) — the business/employee model and the coaching/team model, respectively, are woefully inadequate for our idea and ideals of education for our students/children/grandchildren. It turns out I have been in my almost 40 years in teaching primarily under some form or forms of 1) and/or 2), yet I was fortunate enough to be at the beginning of my teaching career a product of model 3). That, unfortunately, for most of my teaching colleagues over my career, makes me an anomaly among them.

But there is also a fortunate part to being an anomaly: because I have been molded by model 3) I can say by experience it can be the solution to the educational woes our American educational system suffers through today. My position, in a nutshell, is that model 3) should replace models 1) and/or 2), a replacement that would constitute a quantum leap toward the ideal of education we hold so dear.

What is that ideal, just to make sure we are on the same page? The American educational ideal is based upon our political philosophy of liberty, equality, and brotherhood (the French Revolution version was liberte, egalite, and fraternite) — equal educational opportunity for all, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances or circumstances of birth, opportunity up to the level of high school graduation and beyond. Most people cannot pay for their children’s education — as the parents of the children at the private school where I now teach can, so public education was born: part of what people pay as taxes on their property is put aside as a public fund to finance education for all children’s grades K-12, regardless of whether those tax payers have children in school or not. (I have actually talked with ultra-conservatives who resent having to pay school taxes after their children have graduated! These are people who do not understand the concept of public education.) Note carefully, public education is no guarantee of equal results (Some children are smarter than others.), only of equal opportunity at grade K — everybody starts at the same educational start line. (This is like freedom being no guarantee that you can do anything you want; you can do something only if you do no harm of any kind to others in the process.)

So, the idea of public education is a public, social investment in future generations. It is a bet that paying “blindly,” investing, if you please, on educated future adults of our society will insure an improved society — better than the society we have had in the past. It is my opinion that is a good bet, as judged by the results over several decades. And I say this opinion not because I taught most of my life as a public school teacher, and, therefore, had a career based upon this bet, but, rather, I say this as a taxpayer. Based upon the property I own in both Eastland and Ellis counties of Texas, I am pleased to say that the school taxes I pay each year support three separate independent school districts, even though my two children have graduated from high school many years ago.

When I wax enthusiastic about America’s many contributions to the world’s civilizations, it is difficult for me to mark any contribution higher than the idea of public education. Yet, like the ideals of the American Revolution and like the ideals of the French Revolution, the practical action emerging from the ideal of public education has not turned out to be so “ideal.” Why? I think it is because we base our educational practical actions upon models 1) or 2) (See 1: Education Reform — The Wrong Models!) or some other wrong-headed educational model, and not upon model 3).

Allow me to preface the particulars of model 3) by stating that not only have I experienced model 3) in undergraduate and graduate schools at Texas A&M University, and, therefore, consider myself a product of that model, I, in retrospect, saw vestiges of model 3) in my public school days at Cisco, Texas, in the independent school district there. I saw these vestiges in the great teachers in whose classrooms I was lucky enough to be — teachers like Mrs. Clements, Mrs. Dunaway, and Mrs. Bisbee at West Ward Elementary, and teachers like Mrs. Hart (coincidentally, my mother-in-law), Mrs. Schaefer, and Mrs. Owens at Cisco Jr. High, all in the 1950’s. In Cisco High School in the early 1960’s I saw them in Mr. Toland, Mr. Hughes, Mrs. Pirtle, Mrs. Wagley, Mr. Bint, Mrs. Lee, and Mrs. Bailey. During my 32 years teaching at Waxahachie High School, Waxahachie, Texas, in the Waxahachie ISD, I saw them in teachers such as Mr. Hancock, Mrs. Cain, Mr. Harris, Mrs. Aday, Mr. Block, Mrs. Choucair, Mr. Cagle, Mrs. Price, Mrs. Ballard, Mr. Buttgen, Mrs. Morgan, Mrs. Duvall, and Mrs. Cote and in administrators such as Mr. Bates, Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Nichols, and Mr. Williams. Today, I see them throughout the faculty with whom I teach in Upper School of The Canterbury Episcopal School in DeSoto, Texas; I see them in our head master (private-school-ese for “principal”) at Canterbury, Mr. Doerge.

Therefore, I know 3) can replace 1) and 2). What, then, is 3), the institutional/colleague model?

As stated in 1: Education Reform — The Wrong Models! 3) is a model in which the teachers seem to “run” the schools. That is another way of stating that schools are student-centered, oddly enough. Schools are not organizations for adults to play their “adult games” of career, promotion, and tenure; they are facilities of convenience for everyone from K children to Ph.D. candidates to receive concentrated “doses” of learning, of developing and feeding the desire to know and how to do. Schools are for the students and of the students. When students are old enough, the schools could be also by the students, but the idea of schools run by the students is too radical even today. Research done by students towards a Master’s and/or Ph.D. degree(s) is as close as students come to running things (not counting the take-over of campuses by student bodies during the 1960’s’ protests). I personally have been privileged to see that research can be done by high school students (See Hard-to-Believe! High School Student Researchers? Say What? [August, 2012]), demonstrating how close high school students can come.

Hence, schools should be run by the closest persons to students, the teachers. A school district is not a profit-based enterprise seeking a balanced budget; it is not a sports franchise seeking athletic championships; it is not an elaborate baby-sitting effort to keep students off the streets. It is an organized vehicle for molding young minds with knowledge and skills. Its desire is to arm each young mind with the potential of discovering what each can do best in life, so as to maximize happiness in each life. The structure of this vehicle is based upon the student-teacher relationship, roughly called the “classroom situation,” a concept tried and proven since the time Aristotle tutored Alexander (the latter on the way to becoming “the Great”). All decisions made in a school district, from the decisions of the school board to the decisions of a teacher regarding a single class or single student, should be made in light of what is best for the students. Schools exist for the students, not for the teachers, administrators, and/or support staff of the schools. Yet, as I learned the hard way when I was student body president in high school, students do not have a real voice in school affairs and school policy. In model 3) students do have a voice through their teachers; teachers are like the representatives of the students, for, as professionals, teachers work for the students, not for the school, or for any administrator, or for any district, or for any State. Who speaks for the students? Good, great teachers do!

Model 1) would have teachers support the school as company employees; model 2) would have them support the school as team members; model 3) would have teachers represent the students as the essence of the school. The classroom situation places the teacher in the perfect position to be the voice of the students, it places the teacher perfectly in a position to monitor the pulse of the school — to monitor the “state of the students,” and it places the teacher perfectly in position to suggest how things can be improved along the way during the school year. No one outside the classroom, including all administrators, coaches, and staff, can have the insight on the classroom situation the teacher has. Students are the best stuffers of suggestion boxes for schools, but, since non-serious suggestions tend to negate serious ones in administrators’ eyes, teachers are the next-best suggestion box stuffers. And teachers are much cheaper sources of insight for districts than highly paid educational consultants and evaluation teams from outside the district!

Since 1) wants teachers to be obedient employees and 2) wants teachers to be obedient team members, teachers under these models tend not to be effective suggestion-makers, even when given the chance, fearful that honest critical suggestions might threaten their position with the “bosses” or “coaches.” 3) would be a model in which teachers’ suggestions would be continually solicited and discussed with departmental meetings and campus-wide meetings. Teachers are not “underlings” under administrators of all levels and under coaches; they are at the same level or above; they are the adult essence of schools.

Do not misunderstand. We need administrators in schools. We need them, however, not because they make up the heart of schools, but because we necessarily need people to take care of the things that take up teaching time from the teachers, things that had to be done in the one-teacher school-house in the old days in addition to teaching. Teachers need administrators just like they need staff to keep the buildings clean, orderly, and working. Administrators need to keep the halls clear so classes will not be disturbed; administrators are needed to take care of discipline problems in the classroom the teacher cannot handle, so that the class is not disturbed by the unruly. We need to remember that the reason principals are called that name was that, originally, they were “principal teachers,” not the “managers” they see themselves as today. Teachers need district-wide administrators, such as business office and technology center personnel, as support for the complicated position of teaching, not as sources of policy for the administration. I recall one time in Waxahachie when what we could or could not do in the classroom was mitigated by the business office of the district, by the “bean counters,” as we called them! And for decency’s sake, a district personnel office should be a safe source of help for teachers and staff, not a strong-arm of administrative restraint, as I’ve seen it be in the past.

But the “company,” the school organization is primary for administrators, not the minds of the students.

Likewise, we need coaches in schools. If a student has little or no academic motivation, no better substitute motivation is there than motivation to participate in sports, in the band program, and in all the auxiliary groups around sports. And this is not to mention other fine arts programs, such as theater arts, or drill teams. These simply are supplementary, secondary programs to the two types of classrooms — academic and vocational. School districts should recognize academic and vocational achievement even more than athletic achievement. And I say this as a life-long, die-hard high school and college sports fan.

But the “team” is primary for coaches, not the minds of the students.

What model 3) does is redefine schools as student-centered institutions, institutions run by the faculty on behalf of the students. Primary for model 3) are the minds of the students. Specifically, this means:

Teachers are evaluated in their classrooms only by a committee of their peers and are evaluated by that committee several times a school year, not just once or twice. The only time an administrator can be part of a teacher evaluation committee is if that administrator teaches at least one full-year class in addition to fulfilling administrative duties. Each teacher’s committee is chaired by that teacher’s department head or senior teacher of a subject, and when a department head or senior teacher is evaluated, that committee is chaired by a head of another department or a senior teacher of another subject. After the end of each evaluation, the evaluated teacher has the right to discuss the outcome with the committee, and after final evaluation of the school year, discussion is mandatory. The committee will submit its recommendation for renewal or non-renewal of the teacher’s contract for the next year to the superintendent’s office, which will draw up the new contracts for school board approval.

There will be no multi-year contracts, only single-year ones. Contracts are professional agreements; “insubordination” clauses are not allowed. As usual, the grounds by which contracts can be terminated are spelled out in the contract.

Faculty meetings are conducted by the faculty, and administrative and high school student body representation are required.  Administrative meetings are conducted by the administrators, and faculty and high school student body representation are required. Faculty representation and high school student body representation are required at school board meetings, the meetings conducted by the board. Departmental meetings are open to administrative and high school student body attendance. (“High school student body representation” means members of the elected Student Council or Student Government.)

New school policies, or changes in school policies are presented by either the faculty bodies, the administrative bodies, the school board, or the Student Council to the other groups for discussion and approval. All four vote on the proposals, and become part of school policy if a 2/3 approval vote is tallied across the voting members of all four groups. The overall school organization called for by model 3) is a.) the entire student body of all campuses is represented by the collective faculty, by the teachers actually in the classrooms, b.) all administration, from campus level to district level, (which includes any “educator” outside the classroom, like “curriculum directors”) is a support group for the teachers, helping the teachers represent the students; the superintendent or the equivalent is the head of all the administration, and, c.) the school board represents the tax payers of the district, the “purse” of the district, if you please, orchestrating the administration to maximize support for the district’s faculty and serving as the liaison between the school district and the community. The administration is not the coordinator of the faculty, and the school board is not a “rubber stamp” organization for the administration. Student views are infused at every level by high school student body representation at faculty meetings, at administrative meetings, and at school board meetings.

The curriculum will meet and exceed State standards. Beginning at grade 6, students are placed on one of three tracks — a.) college-bound or advanced placement (AP), b.) high-school academic , or c.) vocational, applied, or “hands-on”. a.) is for college- or university-bound students, b.) is for students whose plans do not go beyond an associate degree at a community college, and c.) is for students planning on entering the work force right after high school graduation. As students progress or digress, they may move from track to track; a student is never “stuck” on one track. At the junior high and high school level, each of the core curricula (language arts, social studies, science, and math) will offer a graduation path of all three tracks. A high school graduate will therefore complete 4 tracks, one for each core, and the highest possible graduation status, the one whereby a student could attend the university of his/her choice would be, the “4 tracks of a.)” graduation status; the lowest would be “4 tracks of c.)” For ranking purposes within a graduating class, the grades of each track would be weighted proportionately, a.) being the highest weight.

Universities and most colleges would want to admit exclusively those graduates with “4 tracks of a.),” generally, it would seem. Only within the a.) track in each core, a student qualifies to take the next a.) track course the following year by achieving a certain level grade in the end-of-year course of the present year, or by having a certain level report period average in that course at the end of the year, or both. If the student does not meet these requirements, it is understood he/she will take the b.) course in that track in that core the following year, unless he/she produces evidence of high achievement in catching up during summer course work. In this way higher education can be confident “a.) trackers” are graduates who are qualified candidates for college work.

A curriculum organized around three tracks within four cores, means there are tens of possible combinations of graduation achievement. This means that students can “tailor make” their curriculum to “fit” their learning strengths and weaknesses. There is no need for magnet schools; academic emphasis is built into the general breadth of the curriculum. Every course list in a track in a core can utilize all the teaching technology decided upon by the school’s four groups (students, teachers, administration, and school board), restrained, in my opinion, only by the size of the technology budget and by the avoidance of “full-blown” on-line courses. In my view, complete credit for a course on-line toys with the possibility that one who completes an on-line course risks being nothing much beyond a reclusive, “lone-wolf” scholar whose only reliable skill is the ability to answer multiple-choice questions well. Such “lone-wolves,” as well as the long-term home schooled, risk missing the consistent socialization schools offer; socialization is critical for the complete education of the young mind.

In-service (“staff development”) for teachers is all in-house, meaning it is intra-faculty. Not only will money be saved by the district on expensive consultants and experts, the in-services will be useful for a change — listening to fellow teachers share their classroom “secrets” known to work locally, as opposed to ideas “from the outside” that may work only God-knows-where. I have had only small tastes of such in-house in-service in almost 40 years, and those small tastes were the best, most useful, and most memorable in-services of them all! Not only are they informative, they build faculty comradery and morale. It is depressing as a teacher to think of how much sharing I could have absorbed from the master teachers within my faculty over the years; as it was, I feel as if I got pittance from my gifted colleagues. What a waste!

Disruptive, uncooperative, or careless students who would “hold back” their classrooms in tracks a.), b.), and/or c.) either academically, behaviorally, or both, would be tested out of the regular track classes and put in an “alternative track,” whose goal would be to achieve the equivalent of a high school diploma — using everything from individualized instruction to on-line course completion. Faculty and administrators in the “alternative track” will work in cooperation and collaboration with community social services and work force offices toward placement of these “high school equivalents” somewhere within the work force.

If the reorganization of schools into model 3.) seems radical and revolutionary, the degree of shock is proportional to how pervasive have been models 1.) and/or 2.) in individual minds for many, many decades. I contend model 3.) resonates with early public and private school education in America, from the little rural one-room school-house to the first public and private universities on our eastern seaboard. In many ways, it is not a dismantling; it is a return to what we know works for students.

The “radical, revolutionary” part comes in 3: Education Reform…..


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