"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Monday, July 25, 2011

A 12-Step Program for Successful Schools...and the Way to End the Addiction to Federal Money and Mandates.

Some legislators and educators believe the present school choice reform and open enrollment options will ensure great education for public education students. These reforms offered by school choice advocates seem to focus primarily on children trapped in inner city failing schools. Others believe these are mandates that take away local control of school districts and do not solve the underlying problems of educational failure. What are sensible solutions for failing schools?

Apparently the current thought by many state legislators and pro school choice lobbyists is the failing schools cannot be saved. Here are some of the solutions offered by the school choice reform lobby:

  • The teachers, administrators must be fired and new ones hired
  • Charter schools opened and traditional public schools closed
  • Inner city children have the option of open enrollment into a successful school district, usually in the suburbs.
What is so different about inner city schools and suburban schools? Is it all teacher and administrator difference? Standards are the same and it's not for lack of federal funding to the inner city schools. So what do you think the difference is and how do you think failing schools can succeed?

One belief I have is parents and taxpayers are so far removed from the school process, they just don't care anymore. Their voices don't matter; they have no say so in curriculum. If they have ideas or concerns, they might as well as be shouting into the wind. Chances are no one is listening on the administrator level. If they ARE listening, there might be a good chance nothing can be done due to policies that are dictated from a federal level. Another scenario is some parents turn their children over to the public school and ask no questions or come to meetings to see how their children are progressing. Those are the apathetic parents who may not even attend to the child's basic needs.

So what do you do with parents who can't/won't care and children who can't/won't learn for various reasons? Do you think open enrollment will fix those problems? It might help those kids who have terrible teachers, but again, is that the main problem?

Here's a blog from the Troy Record that addresses the failing school question. The writer has some interesting thoughts. Unlike most of the school reforms offered by the legislators and the DOE, this author believes that federal and state legislation will never, never improve schools. He gives a common sense 12 step plan that doesn't involve RTTT mandates, common core standards and other federal intrusions:

Pulse of The People: How to fix education

Since the launch of Sputnik in October of 1957, America has been trying to “fix” its public school system. Educators, politicians, even U.S. presidents have committed a great deal of time and effort to improving public schools, and it has all been for naught. As a matter of fact, every attempt to improve the schools ended in abject failure. Among these failures are: The National Defense Education Act in the 1950s, A Nation At Risk in the 1980s, America 2000 in the 1990s, and No Child Left Behind in the 2000s. None of these federal laws nor the billions of dollars attached to them did much to improve public schools. Further, the new plan from President Barack Obama, Race to the Top, will amount to nothing more than The Race to Mediocrity. It must be understood that federal and state legislation will never, never improve schools. Legislating school improvement is tantamount to legislating morality. It would be nice if it worked, but it will not. (emphasis added)

First of all, we should not be trying to improve schools, we should be trying to improve student performance. Student performance is linked to three essential elements: student attendance and effort; family support and school program. School personnel can have some impact on the first two elements, but at the end of the day, the students and the families have the most control in those arenas, so I will leave those areas for another day.

The recipe for school improvement is a relatively simple one. However, like all recipes, this one must be followed step by step and in proper order. Steps cannot be skipped, and until the previous step is accomplished the next step cannot even be considered, or like the cake that flops, the school improvement effort will fail. Just as cakes are baked one at a time, schools must be improved one at a time. Federal, state, even district improvement efforts will continue to fail. If you don’t believe me just look in the media any day and see how we are doing.

Follow this simple recipe, step-by-step and schools and ultimately student performance will improve or we can keep doing what didn’t work yesterday and expect it to work today. Your choice.

- A safe and orderly environment — without this, we have nothing. Students must feel save in their schools at all times both physically and intellectually.

- A functional and well-maintained physical plant — it does not have to be a brand new building, but there is no excuse for a poorly maintained building. The condition of the building shows the kids if we care about them or not. Additionally, the students should help with upkeep of the building. It is “their school.”

- Adequate instructional equipment like computers, books, libraries, etc — we need to invest in the tools of education. This is not a huge cost but a necessary expense.

- Good attendance by both students and staff (95 percent or higher) — you have to be in it to win it is the old expression. If attendance drops below 95 percent, achievement suffers.

- Atmosphere of high expectations of students and staff — no one ever lived up to low expectations!

- Engagement of student families — school is not just about students. It needs to be a team effort including students, their family members and their teachers.

Mentoring and support system for students — everyone needs someone to look up to and to show them the way. Ideally this comes from home, however, any adult can be a mentor.

- Insistence upon the recruiting, hiring and retaining of the best staff in all areas — every hire should be the best possible candidate period. Look far and wide and find the best.

- Ongoing, job embedded staff development — hiring good staff is the first step, keeping them up on current educational practices is mandatory. Would you go to a doctor who has not been to a medical conference in over 20 years?

- Up to date, rich curriculum — now we can get to the important parts of instruction. The curriculum must be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Most schools hardly ever to this.

- Implementation of best practices in instruction — teachers need to be on the cutting edge of their craft just like all other professionals.

- High student achievement — when steps one through 11 are in place number 12 is a snap. It is even easier than baking that cake we were talking about earlier.

Dr. John Metallo

Retired principal of Albany High School and adjunct faculty member at the University at Albany and SUNY Plattsburgh


  1. Chicken Little has been clucking schools in "crisis" for decades. The only way to get the dollars to fund dead end policies. More people are seeing the great harm done. I support the SOS March on Washington D.C. Hold the policy makers accountable.

  2. Parents need to control the education dollars and have the freedom to spend them wherever THEY the PARENT deems best -- including private schools. Or plan B .... just quit taking all the tax money for schools that they confiscate from us. We'll pay for our own children's education.


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