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Talking Real Education Reform

Putting children first should not be a difficult political choice.
22
Apr

CTE Should Mean Change Teaching Entirely

In the Kansas State Board of Education board room this morning we were privileged to meet with United States Senator Jerry Moran. The senator was in good form, and he said some things that you might expect a senator to say. Not much news resulted from our meeting. He’s a good senator, I think. My wife Mary Pat thinks he is a genuinely fine officeholder and statesman.

Our Kansas Commissioner of Education, Dr. Randy Watson, was also in good form, and he respectfully requested that the senator help procure (or secure) the Title II money that has been flowing from federal taxation. Apparently the new Trump Administration has considered a reduction to that particular funding stream.

Our board chair, Jim, and our former chair, Jim (we have two Jims on the ten-member board) were also in good form as they suggested to the senator that not only are we changing the rules in Kansas and leading the country in the efforts to make educational opportunities more expansive for the children of families who struggle with modern life, we are also at the forefront of “career-and-technical education.” This is true. Kansas generally gets very high marks from others around the country for our efforts to improve CTE.

I want to offer a little bitterness to the sweetness we enjoyed by complimenting each other today in Topeka. Yes, we are each dedicated public servants. And, yes, I am proud to have been an instrumental player in the formation of our board’s vision: Kansas Leads the World in the Success of Each Student. It’s a good vision, and we have a good board, and the changes required to “beat Finland” and to “beat Singapore” can be regarded either as tweaks to a fundamentally good system, or an overhaul of an essentially flawed system. Either way, changes are required to lead the world in education. To lead, well, one must lead.

Before I try to defend the notion that we should change teaching entirely, let me acknowledge that that is not possible. We have developed language over the millennia, and that will not change entirely. We have developed mathematics, various scientific disciplines, and a culture of pedagogy that will not — and should not — entirely change. I reckon that the notion of revamping education has to acknowledge that a great deal of what we do works well — and very well, at that — for most of our children. But the children of poorer or more hardscrabble families simply do not fare very well in too many of our schools. One could say that it’s just the culture, as evidenced by the cloak-room sink in my classroom where I am scheduled to finish the last five weeks of this school year as a sixth-grade math teacher.

Disgusting, isn’t it?

The sink is situated behind a curtain, in the hundred-year-old cloak room that abuts my substitute-duty classroom. I don’t actually know if the building is 100 years old; it’s a guess. You must know that some really good teachers teach in some really ratty old buildings. Lynnae Huckabey, one of my colleagues from my “new” old school, graciously joined us in Topeka today for the chat with Senator Moran. She, like me, wants to be part of the solution that brings genuine excellence in education to every family that desires it.

So, do we really want to change teaching entirely? No, of course not. But there are a variety of changes I advocate, and for last month’s board meeting I listed them. Each is a “talking point” and if you want me to expound on any of them, please email me at

sroberts@ksde.org

Here is the list, in a PDF document you may download at your convenience: I Know How to Fix American Education

There is much to do to “fix the American school,” and I believe I am as close as anyone else to have “figured it out.” In the board room this week I suggested to my fellow board members that I literally know how to do this, that is, fix the American school system. Now, two things need to be added, if only to continue to be taken seriously. First, I do not know how to fix everything, and even if we could somehow do just that, some kids would still end up with a very short end of a very short stick. In short (as it were) no amount of policy making can ameliorate or mitigate all the detrimental effects of bad parenting. We will still need some prisons for the next generation, and the one after that, certainly. Second, just because I suggest that “I know how to do it” does not mean that you do not. This is not some exclusive recipe or algorithm. Your ideas might be just as valid as my own. It’s just that I’ve almost certainly given this entire matter more thought than you have.

But then, maybe not. Some of my fellow board members have been at this education governance business a long time.

It’s my life’s work. We can make this happen without jacking up taxes or breaking the bank. We can have great educational opportunities for every student who wants them.

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