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Transforming Education: Eighth in a series


TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Eighth in a Series of Interviews with Education Leaders)
Featuring Marc Cascio

Note from Chuck Cascio: Given the difficult issues facing educators today in the USA, I have been running a series in which I contact established educators and request their insights, in their own words, on a number of vitally important education issues. Readers who would like to comment on the views expressed may email me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com. My Twitter handle is @ChuckCascio. Not all comments will be responded to by me and/or the individuals interviewed, but all will be read and, if appropriate, forwarded to others engaged in meaningful education reform. I am pleased to present as the eighth interview in this series the views of Marc Cascio, my son whose extensive career in education has included a number of key roles that have provided him with unique insights. Marc's profile follows:

 My son Marc Cascio has worked for Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, the same system in which he was educated, for nearly 30 years, beginning as an Instructional Assistant in the Prescriptive Learning Program that brought problematic students together with students who weren’t proficient with the English language. His second role in the classroom came the following year when, at 22 years old, he worked as an Instructional Assistant with a teacher whom he describes as "a caring, competent professional." Marc then took a position in the Safety and Security Office of the same school, spending the next five years in that role, a “job that provided a deep understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of a typical American high school." 

Marc completed his Masters Degree in education at night and then student-taught at the same school where he had been working. Of his student-teaching experience, he says, "I couldn’t have had a better mentor teacher; he was very complimentary to me, while simultaneously helping me straighten out some of the rougher edges of my teaching style." In the middle of the school year, Marc was hired at another school as a full-time faculty member to replace two teachers, one who had died and another who had resigned, beginning his novice instructional career with over five ninth grade English classes. After several years, he moved to a school that he calls "pretty much one of the crown jewels of the county as far as educational achievement and affluence go." He continues to teach there, a school he says he loves. 

Over the course of his dynamic career, Marc has taught every level of ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade English; AP English Language and Composition; English for Secondary Language Learners; and Speech and Debate in addition to coaching high school boys JV soccer, boys varsity soccer, girls varsity soccer, and JV and varsity wrestling. As Marc says in reflecting upon his career, "While I wouldn’t say I am a leader, I can definitely say that I know the educational landscape of high schools very, very well!"

Help spread the word: #TransformEducation

 

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>>>Recalling your own life as a student, going back as far as you would like, what do you remember as the most positive and most negative educational influences for you personally?

 

I think I had a relatively uncommon experience growing up and going through the school years. Even though I probably never lived more than ten miles away from where I was born, I somehow managed to go to six different schools before graduating from high school. I started my elementary school going to what would be considered a low-income school. Although some of the experiences there only remain in my memory because of the violence (one day a boy in my first grade class physically fought the principal--and he gave him a pretty good battle!), I remain grateful to a teacher there named Mrs. Berger who diagnosed me with an issue that looked and sounded a lot like dyslexia. I recall being pulled out of regular classes and having to go to this thing called SULA (an acronym for “Step Up Language Arts”) and went on to become an English major, an English teacher, and a freelance writer who has sold plenty of articles. 

That was a LONG time ago (I am 51 now!), but it introduced a constant in the education I received throughout my elementary, middle, and high school years: I wasn’t all that interested in most subjects, as painful as that is to admit, BUT when I had teachers who I really wanted to impress and who I felt really cared about me individually, I would want to please them. The impact of personality had a great deal to do with what kind of effort I put out. So, as a teacher now, I try to be friendly, outgoing, and understanding. That probably means that kids pull the wool over my eyes sometimes, but I would still rather be the way I am than a stodgy “Sage on a Stage.” Life is too short for that, and you don’t get to maintain the relationships with students if you act that way. 

As a teacher for nearly three decades now, I have to also say that my earliest elementary experience was valuable to me in that it taught me how important school leadership was. I have worked at some very rough schools and some very tame and affluent ones, and kids are kids. If a potentially bad environment is managed by an astute, dedicated, and conscientious administrative team, the teachers are happy and so are the students. The micromanagers and/or the ones who just feel their fingerprints have to be on everything can turn even the most functional schools into a hot mess. 

>>>Can you identify an educator (or educators) who provided you with uniquely positive insights into subject matter as well as teaching style? If so, please explain what made them unique.

I could do this with several, but I am going to pick one whom I remember very well and whose class I loved to attend. The teacher’s name was Beryl Bolton, and I had her for a Sociology class that was an elective. Mrs. Bolton was amazing: she was energetic, she laughed constantly, and she was remarkably adept at presenting really complex issues in a manner that made us examine them from all sides. We had quite a mix of personalities in that class including some kids who were problematic for other teachers, but nobody wanted to make Mrs. B. angry. I still have friendships with people I hadn’t previously met until meeting them in that class 35 years ago! 

>>>Has the remote learning that started as a result of the pandemic become entrenched as a new direction that education will take and, if so, could it have a positive impact?

The pandemic break was awesome for me because it gave me the chance to learn technology that I never would have learned had it not occurred. I hate to admit it, but I was content with the way I was doing things because I had always done them “that way” and my perception was that it would take a Herculean effort to teach this old dog new tricks. Man, was I wrong! Educational technology is probably the one aspect of education that I can say has evolved appropriately with the times. Real time surveys, instantly observable answers from myriad students, and the utter joy of self-grading tests have made lessons so much more engaging and has taken some of the strain off of teachers as far as grading goes. 

I think every teacher I know would say that creating lessons is more fun than it ever has been and when you are having fun, it doesn’t seem like work. I love watching students really engage in lessons, and technology is an inexorable part of that. Plus, we all HAD to learn it just to survive, and it turned out to be a hell of a lot easier than I thought it was going to be! 

>>>Do you think the holistic method of student evaluation that seems to be taking hold is as effective as the more traditional, categorical evaluation that used to be the norm? Please explain why or why not.

Yes! I hope someday grades are just gone and we teach kids using benchmarks or something similar. As it is, the grading scale in my county has become all but useless. The scale is now 50-100. There are so many problems with that that I can’t even begin to detail them because they all dovetail into each other. 

I would love to see students learn through action! Let’s say we give students a murder mystery: You could include physics in by looking at blood spatter (gross, I know), you could teach biology through DNA evidence, you could get English in by creating faux press releases, etc. 

Three in five kids are obese in America and seventy percent are considered sedentary based on data supplied by students themselves, but what do we do with them at school? We plunk them into chairs in the same manner kids were treated in the 1800s. Is there any wonder we see so many ADD and ADHD issues? There are better ways to learn, better ways to create productive students, and better ways to assess students than what we have. Just take a look at how creative companies like Pixar run their businesses—if you do, you will wonder why we are so archaic in our teaching and assessing methodologies. 

>>>Are standardized testing and traditional roles to teaching and evaluating in need of transformation and, if so, what should they look like?

Yep. They should be bailed on, and we should start anew. The first thing that should happen is that we should invest money in ways that benefit all students. People hate it when I say this, and even my own dad (LOL) somewhat disagrees with me, but I feel we should get rid of high school sports (and remember, I was a coach!) for several reasons: 

1. With the surging importance of club sports, many high school sports have ceased being an avenue to collegiate athletics. Many high level athletes view high school sports as being “just for fun” which further emphasizes how unfair it is that they are funded by the entire tax base.

2. High school sports are funded by all taxpayers, but only those whose children make teams enjoy the benefits of them. 

3. They also use funds that could be applied elsewhere. 

Instead, I believe with the funds saved by eliminating high school sports, every school could be given top-notch exercise equipment with enough variety to meet the needs of every student. In that manner, the taxpayers’ money would benefit all students and the undeniable link between physical activity and academic achievement would be addressed much more efficiently. For example, the athletic fields could be changed into agricultural fields, and kids could learn nutrition, math, biology, horticulture, botany etc., while creating farm-to-table food situations for the schools. 

There are so many ways to do things better—all we need to do is to admit that what we are doing is antediluvian and look for realistic ways to change things for the better. 

>>>What can be done to encourage people to go into teaching or other areas of education?

 

As much as I have enjoyed my career I am reluctant to recommend it to anyone. I have three children, and the financial strain of affording a family on a teacher’s salary can be taxing on every aspect of life. In my nearly thirty years as a teacher, I have never worked just one job. I have always had to supplement my income, and even then my family and I have never been on a vacation for just the five of us. By the time we pay for everything we need to pay for, there just isn’t enough money left to take a vacation.  The only way to entice people into this profession is to pay them more. 

People SAY they value teachers, but recently in my county a restaurant tax was proposed and the revenue was supposed to bolster teachers’ salaries. The tax was voted down. It seems that saving a few dollars while going out to eat was more important to the majority than keeping quality people in education. What does that tell you? 

>>>Looking first at K-12 and then at higher education, name at least three things that you hope will occur within the next two years to help strengthen them.

Get rid of standardized tests, update assessment methods, and begin having REAL conversations about how to make U.S. education better. 

Copyright: Chuck Cascio and Marc Cascio; all rights reserved.

Comments? Please write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com