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Transforming Education: Seventh in a series


TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Seventh in a Series of Interviews with Education Leaders)
Featuring Wendell Byrd


 

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 seventh interview in this series the views of Wendell Byrd, former elementary school teacher, coach, and education entrepreneur who has dedicated his career to all aspects of education. Wendell's profile appears below:

 

Wendell Byrd, a renowned teacher for 31 years at Hutchison Elementary School in Herndon, VA, in 2003 founded the non-profit Readers Are Leaders, a program that trains high school athletes to tutor elementary school students in reading. The program's goal is to "promote growth for both our student-athletes and our young readers" and the statistics it has achieved in improving student reading skills are truly impressive. As head basketball coach at South Lakes High School in Reston, VA, Wendell amassed more than 450 victories, nine district championships, and six regional championships. Wendell continues to apply his coaching and teaching skills to his Readers Are Leaders program. For more information about Reader Are Leaders, and to make a donation, go to https://www.readersareleadersnonprofit.org.

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?

My most positive influences as a student would be two people, one in elementary school and one in high school: 

In 1964, schools in the City of Falls Church, VA, became integrated.  I attended Madison Elementary for fifth and sixth grades (one of five Black students in the school).  At the end of fifth grade I was named co-captain of the patrols. During those times each school would send their captain(s) to a patrol camp for developing young leaders. Mr. Chuck Koryda, our principal, provided all of the paperwork to share and to be signed by our parents (the camp was held in southern Maryland). After returning the paperwork a few weeks later, Mr. Koryda called me down to his office and said, “There is a problem with camp--I was told that they will not allow Black students to attend.”  He followed up with, “So I will find a camp were you and Larry (the other co-captain) can attend together.”  

We sat there a while talking about how important it is to see people for who they are, not by what they look like. I learned a lot from Chuck Kordya in my two years at Madison, encouraging me to be the best. And, believe it or not, Chuck Koryda became my principal at Hutchison Elementary in Herndon, VA, for a few years where I taught for 31 years!

Second of the positive influences would be Bernie Bronstein, a teacher in 1966 at George Mason High School, also in Falls Church, VA.  Bernie and I made a connection the first day we met.  He was the true definition of a mentor – a person that teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced younger person. I was lucky to have Bernie in my life to share so many life lessons with me.  Our relationship continued to grow throughout high school and college, and he remains a life-long friend.

When I became a teacher/coach I was determined to always be the best example and provide the needed support to all of the students that I came into contact with.

>>>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 was very fortunate to work with many outstanding educators.  In 1975, I started my career in teaching at Hutchison Elementary in Herndon, VA.  It was a brand new school and the principal was unique in staffing—half the staff were women and half were men.  I was teamed with a veteran teacher, Kay Bean, and she became a mentor and friend.  In education, teaching styles and strategies come and go (the vicious circle).  Good educators like Kay, would take the good out of all of the styles and strategies and provide their classrooms with the best learning situation. 

>>>What inspired your career as a leader in education?

Being surrounded by strong educators who were in the profession with the main goal of supporting all students.

>>>Who should have the final say in what is taught in schools?

Final say has to come from elected leaders who should have a heartbeat of what is going on in their district.  That is why voting for representatives who meet your needs is essential.  Your School Board should be listening to administration, teachers, parents and, really, their community as a whole.  They are elected to make the best overall decisions for everyone. 

>>>Should high school and college students be encouraged to participate in internships to help enrich their learning? If so, what can be done to stimulate this participation?  

Yes, I agree that high school and college students should be encouraged to participate in internships to help open their eyes to a great profession. High schools should promote “Teaching Clubs” and provide opportunities for those students to intern under strong professionals who will endorse the educational field (and not just have them grade papers!).  

 Copyright: Chuck Cascio and Wendell Byrd, all rights reserved.

Transforming Education: Sixth in a series


TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Sixth in a Series of Interviews with Education Leaders)

Featuring Lindsay Trout

 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 sixth interview in this series of the views of elementary school principal Lindsay Trout, recipient of the 2021 Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools Principal of the Year Award as well as a Best of Reston (VA) honor. Lindsay’s profile appears below:


For the past 10 years, Lindsay Trout has served as the principal of Terraset Elementary School in Reston, VA, the school she attended as a child. Her passion as an educator started as an elementary school special education teacher in Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools. Lindsay coached high school basketball and soccer at South Lakes High School in Reston before becoming a special education and leadership teacher there, which is also her high school alma mater. After earning a Masters in Educational Leadership from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, Lindsay became an assistant principal at South Lakes. When Lindsay became eligible to seek a principal position, she was selected to fill that opening at Terraset. Lindsay prides herself in a lifelong mission of giving back to the children and families of Reston, because she says the lessons she was “showered with there hugely impacted the servant leader” she strives to be every day. 

Help spread the word with:#Transform Education

 

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>>>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.

When I think of “those” two teachers whose way of teaching profoundly impacted me as a human being and future educator, I discover a common theme: authenticity. I was lucky enough to have the same teacher, Ms. Anne O’Hara, in third grade and part of fourth at Spring Hill Elementary in McLean, VA. She was a mom first and a teacher a close second. What made me want to be my best self was how she emulated being “real.” She often shared how her high school-aged daughter did in her track meets, and occasionally her son would run by the classroom window during the school day. She laughed at herself; she laughed with us; she cried and showed us how to always have space for emotions while we learned about the State of Virginia, played (competitive) kickball, or stuck up for each other in the cafeteria. Because of these lessons, we wanted to do our best and be our best…and for me, that meant wanting to be a teacher—just like her

Similarly, when I was a junior at South Lakes High School in Reston, VA, I had the great fortune of being chosen for the newly formed Leadership Class. The class was unique to South Lakes with no established countywide curriculum; therefore, the curriculum and focus was left to the teacher, Mrs. Faye Cascio. Our first assignment of the year set the tone that this was going to be a space of vulnerability as a way of learning authenticity. Like all exemplary educators, Mrs. Cascio modeled the “work” for this assignment. We were to bring in a song that revealed something about us/our lives/our paths as a way of introducing ourselves to each other…a way of creating a powerful classroom community. Mrs. Cascio was not above this work; rather, she courageously shared a song (a Kathy Mattea song, I still remember it!) that expressed the difficult, yet hopeful, time that was her current reality. We walked into that special classroom as strangers, and through her raw vulnerability we were instantly committed to each other, ourselves, and the work of servant leadership. (And that’s not easy to do with 22 self-absorbed teenagers!)

>>>What inspired your career as a leader in education?

When I was 13 my mom went back to school at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA to get her teaching degree in physical education. As a student in that program, she had the opportunity to volunteer at a huge Special Olympics Track and Field meet. I asked if I could go with her to volunteer. When we arrived and checked in, we were told that we were designated “huggers” and that I was assigned to any and all athletes in Lane 4 on the track. A few races in, an eight-year old named Chuckie came through the finish line in his wheelchair powered by a lever on the right side of his cheek because he was born without arms or legs. Chuckie’s affect was flat—no smile, no glimmer in his eyes and the second I lifted away from the hug I gave him, I decided I was going to stay with him through his events until he smiled. I abandoned Lane 4, checked Chuckie’s schedule of events and together we went from one event to the next. Finally we were at the softball throw station where he took his spot next to a catapult device that he could operate with his head and neck. He hoisted back the catapult, released it and that softball launched, and so did his smile for the first time all day.

After the event, Mom and I got back into her Oldsmobile Omega and I said, “Mom, I want to be a special education teacher.”

>>>Identify a couple of accomplishments that you and/or members of your school and/or organization achieved that you feel have had a lasting impact on education.

When I taught leadership in Mrs. Cascio’s footsteps at South Lakes High School, some of my students with special needs were part of the class. It was an ‘integration’ that most students had not been privy to before. Students with significant intellectual disabilities and students with severe physical impairments were integral members of our classroom community rooted in servant leadership. I created safe spaces and opportunities for students to tell their own stories about what it is like to have severe cerebral palsy or to have learning difficulties. We learned profound lessons like how to be comfortable in really long wait times so that students could attempt (and often fail) intelligible speech only to be relegated to an assistive communication device in order to participate in a classroom discussion. 

Students learned that sometimes it is blatantly obvious what someone has to offer to a situation or a cause and sometimes it takes locking arms, opening ears and being patient to learn what special contribution a person can make. As a result of living (not just learning) servant leadership, students learned to act when there was a need—a lesson I believe many of them took with them into their post-high school lives. They raised thousands of dollars for victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as for a classmate going through cancer treatment, and also hosted a bone marrow drive (the biggest the area had ever seen) for someone they didn’t even know. These opportunities obviously impacted those in need at the time and put the students on a path of making a difference.

As principal at Terraset Elementary, through the course of the pandemic, we developed a mission called “Terraset Together.” The idea came during the aftermath of the George Floyd murder as the pandemic forced us all to be isolated in our homes. We badly needed connector pieces in a time where we felt unreachable to one another. These connector pieces especially had to reach those who felt disconnected BEFORE Covid and the George Floyd killing. We created forums where voices were not just heard but were invited to share. We didn’t just invite families who did not feel part of the conversation, we truly listened to and embraced what they had to say. We summarized our mission as a need to “do better and be better for all of our children and families” and to feel like we are making progress…in an area where there is lots of work to be done.

>>>What do you see as the major challenges in education today?

Public school systems’ way of educating children is antiquated and horrifically slow to change. Simply put, we still teach too much to one type of child/learner. We, as public school educators, do not have enough options/pathways/entry-points for students to learn their strengths in order to have something strong to build upon. Instead, we ask all students to enter a narrow pathway and hope that they have some success along the way. When they don’t (because of different learning styles and abilities, vastly different interests and needs), in essence they “fail” right to a dead end. The reality is that we, as educators, have failed to find them their path—the one that goes and goes and goes.

>>>Who should have the final say in what is taught in schools? 

In essence, students should have the final say about what is taught in schools. There is grave disproportionality between how times have changed and how public schools have not evolved since the creation of public schools in the early 1800’s. At that time, schools had a singular purpose of preparing people for democratic citizenship; we now need schools to have a space for every single child to discover their path to a productive, kind, contributing citizen. We, as a public school system, need to create more and different entry points that meet children and families where they are. We need to help children create their own paths instead of having all paths converge into one common walkway.

Copyright, Chuck Cascio and Lindsay Trout; all rights reserved.

Send comments to chuckwrites@yahoo.com

Transforming Education: Fifth in a series

TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Fifth in a series of interviews with education leaders)
Featuring Paul Thomas
 

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 fifth interview in this series of the views of education entrepreneur Paul Thomas (www.docentlearning.com  Email: docentlearning@gmail.com), whose profile follows: 

Paul Thomas is the Chief Learner for Docent Learning. Paul started out as a high school math and computer science teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology in Northern Virginia. Since then, he has spent the past 26 years developing research-driven curricula for small startups, public corporations, and nonprofits. His work includes dozens of courses for virtual, blended, and traditional classroom contexts as well as a dozen textbooks. Paul attended Hunters Woods Elementary (VA), Herndon Intermediate (VA), and South Lakes High School (VA) before attending MIT and George Mason University.

Help spread the word with: #Transform Education

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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 had one great teacher in middle school and a long list of great teachers in high school who were positive influences on me as a person and as an educator. Kathy Leis taught me French in 7th and 8th grade. She knew her stuff and was great at teaching it, but her love for her subject and the connections she made with her students were what created a lasting impression on all of us. Madame Leis still inspires me to connect with students and help each student know that I see them, value them, and believe in them. 

     Thanks to the all-star cast of teachers who were assembled to open South Lakes I had amazing teachers for math (Jerry Berry, Katherine Rowe, and Celeste Penkunas), English (Tim Isaacs three times), History (Dave Rousch twice), and Science (Lisa Wu (nee Lyle), Carolyn Lavallee, Leon Hawkins, and Faye Cascio). Each had a passion for their field that was absolutely infectious, and they cared about us students so much. I’ve spent every day of my professional life trying to be as kind as Jerry, as passionate as Carolyn, and as good at conveying big ideas as Faye.

     The lone negative influence I can think of is my 7th grade math teacher. I won’t name the teacher or go into details except to say that they were not happy to be teaching math. They cared only about answers (and not at all about how anyone thought). The most enduring thing I carry with me from that teacher is having seen the form on which, when asked if I should take Algebra in 8th grade, was the reply, “NO!!!!” I counted the exclamation points.

>>>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.

     Faye Cascio was (and is) remarkable. She did such an amazing job of conveying the big ideas of biology that I still remember a stunning amount of what she taught me. The way she wove stories with the content to make everything such a beautiful, coherent whole has stayed with me to this day. Literally. I still have my AP Biology notebook on a shelf. I’ve thrown away every other notebook from SLHS and MIT and GMU, but I have kept that one.The others worth noting are Jerry Berry and Katherine Rowe. Jerry was as kind and affable as Katherine was tough and strict. No two teachers could have been more different, but both were amazing. When I taught Algebra II/Trig at Thomas Jefferson, I leaned heavily on the methods Katherine showed me. When I taught Computer Science at TJ, I did it as a team with Jerry. Each influenced me profoundly.

>>>What inspired your career as a leader in education?

     My mother was a teacher who became an administrator, and it was through her that I realized that there were other ways to make a difference in students’ learning besides teaching them directly. I was also lucky to work on summer projects with an authoring team led by Saul Garfunkel, who had a real passion for re-thinking what we teach and how. 

>>>What do you see as the major challenges in education today?

     One major challenge is the perceived battle between equity and out-dated ideas of “merit.” So many people are stuck on the idea that standardized test scores are the be-all and end-all of merit. I disagree with the implicit assumption that the point of our public education system is to make the absolute best and brightest achieve as much as they can. Rather, I believe that our public schools have to help every student acquire what my friend and mentor Bror Saxberg would call “the academic keys to the kingdom.” 

     As a culture, we focus so much on the students who aspire to attend MIT, Stanford, and the Ivies, but I think we should spend more time on everyone else. Those at moderately and less selective public schools, those at community colleges, and those who get sucked into the relentless maw of for-profit universities. Our education system has driven more students into higher ed, but we haven’t improved 5-year graduation rates, and this has saddled poorly served students with crippling debt. We need to do better by the middle 80%.

>>>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 has disrupted K-12 education. I think one upside is that it has helped teachers and students explore new ways to work. Students need to master more than the specific content standards for their courses. They also need to learn how to communicate and collaborate. They need to learn critical thinking and how to be creative. Ultimately, students need to be able to do all these things in digital contexts, so I think that adding digital tools to teachers’ and students’ toolboxes is a good thing.

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

     Our assessment methods need to be transformed, but I think that transformation is underway. More and more colleges and universities are moving to test-blind and test-optional admissions. Still, the battles continue. 

     A few thoughts: First, people who want to keep old admission tests aren't defending some true idea of merit, but rather “a particular idea of merit.” People with the time/gumption to prepare their kids for standardized tests think that eliminating them is an attack on some grand idea of merit. What if MIT, Stanford, Stuyvesant, TJ, and other super-selective schools set minimum GPAs and generalizable measures of high academic rigor, and then selected randomly from the resulting pools? No preference for race. No preference for test-prep. Universities could set aside some slots for recruited athletes. GPA and rigor are FAR better predictors of future success than standardized tests.

     One last thing: Subjective measures of student success are very susceptible to teachers’ explicit and unconscious biases (e.g., “NO!!!!”), so as a fan of equity, I tend to lean toward objective measures of student goals and learning. That said, I don’t think standardized assessments should be used to fire or pay teachers. They can still provide valuable information and set standard benchmarks.

>>>What do you consider to be the appropriate line between politics and education--including the role of Federal, state,and local governments as well as school boards--in establishing standards, content, and policy, particularly in K-12 public education?

     I believe that state boards of education have reasonable roles defining standards and corresponding assessments. The federal government should support education research, and then assemble and disseminate guidance on what works. When it comes to specific content and policy, that should be driven primarily by local school boards. 

>>>Who should have the final say in what is taught in schools?

     Educators.

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

     No teacher goes into the profession expecting to get rich, but most know that job security and a pension often help compensate for the low salary that goes with their calling. Should they get paid enough to live reasonably close to their school? Yes. Not every school district meets this low bar, but even this low bar is not sufficient.

     We need to respect the professionalism of educators. Everything we do to diminish their professionalism pushes them away from teaching.

     When we ask them to make unreasonable exceptions for our kid, we push them away. When we ask to review every lesson plan and resource they will use for a year, we push them away. When we put their health and safety at the bottom of our priorities, we push them away. When we say that we will judge them based on how affluent and educated their students’ families are, we push them away. When we give them insufficient resources to do their jobs, we push them away.

     We need to stop pushing educators away. We need to show that we appreciate and respect them as people and professionals.

>>>What makes you optimistic about education when you look ahead for the next 3-5 years and what concerns you the most over that time period?

     I see some organizations identifying problems and trying solutions. Colleges are dropping the SAT. Selective high schools are dropping test requirements. High schools are creating ways to prepare students for careers – not just college. More blended instruction/learning.

     I also see young teachers coming into the profession with great energy, ideas, and passion. They are going to do great things and create amazing relationships with students. 

>>>What would you consider to be the single most important key to positive transformation of education in the US?

     Funding. Having school funding driven by state laws, and ultimately by local taxes creates massive inequities in educational outcomes.

Copyright: Chuck Cascio and Paul Thomas; all rights reserved.

Email your thoughts: chuckwrites@yahoo.com and/or docentlearning@gmail.com

 

Transforming Education: Fourth in a series

TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Fourth in a series of interviews with Education Leaders)
Featuring Dr. Arthur E. Wise

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. I am pleased to present as the fourth interview in this series of the views of Dr. Arthur E. Wise, whose profile followsReaders 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. Help spread the word with: #TransformEducation

Dr. Arthur (“Art”) E. Wise is an accomplished education author, consultant, policymaker, executive, and advocate. Throughout his career, Art has used the tools of educational research, policy, and advocacy to advance education for poor and minority students. An author of several influential books, he has had hundreds of articles published, first achieving national prominence in 1968 as the author of Rich Schools, Poor Schools: The Promise of Equal Educational Opportunity, a book that conceived the idea of the school finance reform lawsuit. Since then, a majority of state supreme courts have ordered the equalization of state school finance systems, boosting spending in poor districts and narrowing the disparity with affluent districts. As president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) from 1990 to 2008, Art introduced performance-based accreditation and led efforts to develop a system of quality assurance for the teaching profession. He has also held positions—among others—at the RAND Corporation's Center for the Study of the Teaching Profession; the National Institute of Education, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, where he helped create the cabinet-level Department of Education; and the University of Chicago as associate dean and associate professor of education.

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>>>What inspired your career as a leader in education?

     While I am uncomfortable with the designation "leader,” my aspiration to improve the chances of less fortunate children was set at an early age, or so it seems in retrospect.  I grew up in the Roxbury section of Boston as it evolved from an all White working class neighborhood to an all Black neighborhood.  Observing the challenges of this transition and watching on TV the disturbances produced by desegregation efforts in the South, I resolved to dedicate my career to public service. At age 17, I left Roxbury and entered Harvard College thinking that I would become a social worker. As my perspective broadened, I concluded that client-oriented social work would not have enough impact to satisfy my aspirations. In college, my coursework in social sciences, my research assistantships at the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies, and my observations of education leaders caused me to focus on educational research, policy, and leadership in order to influence the course of education for poor and minority students. 

     As I considered my options I formulated an audacious, even arrogant, plan: I thought, rightly or wrongly, that the traditional path of a program in teacher preparation followed by several years of teaching would actually slow my drive to influence education. Besides, as an ROTC graduate, I faced a two-year military obligation to be served whenever I completed my studies. So I decided to save time by trying to enter a PhD program in what was then called “educational administration.” The University of Chicago took a chance on this "non-traditional" candidate and admitted me to a program designed to prepare professors of education administration. Upon completion of the program, I entered the U.S. Army where I served as assistant director of research at the United States Military Academy, West Point. Upon completion of this service, I was on my way to fulfilling my aspirations, although the precise goals I would pursue and the specific career trajectory I would follow were uncertain. And, as a practical matter, my ideals would have to be pursued in parallel with my need to support my family.  

>>>Identify a couple of accomplishments that you and/or members of your school and/or organization achieved that you feel have had a lasting impact on education.

     My first, and perhaps most lasting, “accomplishment” happened early—in 1963-64, my first year of graduate school. I was enrolled simultaneously in courses in School Law and School Finance. In the law class, we were studying, among other matters, Brown v. Board of Education and related cases concerned with desegregation and the legal reality that schools and school funding are a state responsibility. Among the topics we were studying in the finance class were the large discrepancies in funding between rich school districts and poor school districts. I began to wonder:  

     While desegregation was important, how educationally appropriate was it for Black students to be desegregated into poorly funded schools? For that matter, why should the state be able to discriminate against poor and minority students in the allocation of state funds? Is the denial of equitable school funding a further denial of the equal educational opportunity promised in Brown?  Is unequal educational funding even legal under state law?

     These questions became the basis of a term paper in the law class. My professor, Donald Erickson, was intrigued by the argument and, as the editor of a journal, published my paper Is Denial of Equal Educational Opportunity Constitutional? in 1965. The paper was the first published suggestion that courts might declare existing school finance laws unconstitutional as a matter of Federal and State Constitutions and Laws. The paper attracted some attention and, when it was time for my doctoral dissertation, I felt compelled to develop the argument more fully.  Studying just enough law, I completed my dissertation: The Constitution and Equality: Wealth, Geography and Educational Opportunity in 1967. 

     With a deep sense of relief that I had completed my studies, I left for the Army that year. However, the dissertation did not sit on the shelf for long.  The University of Chicago Center for Policy Studies held a conference to discuss its implications in 1968 and the University of Chicago Press published it in 1969 as Rich Schools, Poor Schools: The Promise of Equal Educational Opportunity. Even before its publication, word of the book began to spread, lawsuits were filed, and other advocates and scholars joined the fray. Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its 5-4 decision, upholding the status quo but noting explicitly that there was inequity in public school finance and that the Court’s decision did not preclude state courts from acting on state grounds. Thirteen days later, the New Jersey Supreme Court invalidated that state’s school funding scheme.  

     From that day to the present, nearly every state has had one or more lawsuits with more than half favoring the interests of children in poor school districts. Today, the cases remain controversial, as advocates continue to seek equity for poor and minority students and advocates for wealthy students seek to maintain their privileged position in the public schools of their states. 

     A second major concern of mine took shape in the 1970’s when I noticed a not too subtle shift in the use of standardized testing. Prior to then, standardized tests were used primarily to make judgments about individual students, an assessment external to the classroom, to determine whether a student had learned the material taught and/or was ready to move on to more advanced work. Later, at the national level, the National Assessment for Educational Progress, the Scholastic Aptitude Tests, and others were aggregated to provide a high level picture of national and state trends. Beginning in the 1960’s, however, state policymakers began to engineer systems of “accountability” which used collective results on standardized tests to judge teachers, principals, and schools. In 1979, in Legislated Learning: The Bureaucratization of the Classroom, I warned that this use of test results to manage the schools would ultimately narrow the curriculum, turn teachers into bureaucrats, incentivize corrupt behavior and drive the joy out of teaching and learning.

     Needless to say, my warning was largely ignored. State governments and then the Federal Government enacted more accountability legislation culminating in the No Child Left Behind Act and took other measures to evaluate teachers and schools by grouping test results. From the 1960’s to the 2010’s, as accountability legislation was implemented, educators and even some policymakers noticed that the managerial use of test results was not improving education and was having the predicable negative consequences. The trend continued until 2015 when the Federal Government enacted the Every Child Succeeds Act, which has begun to roll back some of the dysfunctional managerial use of standardized testing.  

     A third concern of mine also took shape in the late 1970’s.  I had long believed that the quality of a student’s education depended on the quality of the student’s teacher, an observation shared by most educators and parents and confirmed by research. Through my research and the research of others, it also became clear to me that teaching talent is not randomly distributed and, instead, follows predicable socio-economic patterns.  What I think we should do about these two observations will be discussed below.

>>>What do you see as the major challenges in education today?

      Of the major challenges facing education today, I will mention one that is often overlooked and lies at the core of others. We have forgotten why states established public schools. States established schools primarily as a benefit to the state, a way of promoting the general welfare. State constitutions and laws make it clear that the state establishes schools and requires attendance to protect itself (i.e. the rest of us) from the consequences of those who cannot properly exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, contribute to the economy, or who run the risk of becoming a public charge or criminal.  Secondarily, schools thereby—and incidentally—provide private benefits to the individual. Over time, however, the accepted view has become that schools exist primarily to provide private benefits to individual students so they can compete in our economy. Education has become a consumption commodity with student consumers or their parents buying as much as they can affordThis view flies in the face of the rationale for the common public school, which is to develop all students according to shared American values.  Since the public purpose is now secondary at best, it also leads down the slippery slope to the use of public funds to support vouchers, tax credits, and private non-sectarian and religious schools.   

>>>What do you consider to be the appropriate line between politics and education--including the role of Federal, state, and local governments as well as school boards--in establishing standards, content, and policy, particularly in K-12 public education? 

     When I think about the governance structure for public education in America, I despair. We have three levels of general government—Federal, State, and Local—each with three branches—legislative, executive and judicial—and each of which can, and does, set directions for the public schools. In addition, we have three levels of education government, each of which has multiple structures to direct public schools—US Department of Education, Secretary of Education; state board of education, chief state school officer, and state department of education; and, finally, local board of education and local superintendent. It is a wonder that it works at all. In our legal structure, schools are creations of the state that the state has authorized to operate locally. Early 20th Century reforms sought to remove education from partisan politics by creating state and local boards of education. How has that separation fared in the 21st Century?  Under the Constitution’s General Welfare Clause, the US Government, in the mid-twentieth Century, began to expand its inherent powers over the schools.  It is a wonder that the schools can operate at all.  I will make no specific recommendation here except to urge that those who choose to influence education be mindful of their place in this complex and uniquely American governance structure.

>>>What makes you optimistic about education when you look ahead for the next 3-5 years and what concerns you the most over that time period?

     I have always approached education as an optimist, though that optimism is being seriously tested these days. There is one trend in American education that has had, and will continue to have, an upward trajectory. We are all familiar with the term “gross domestic product,” which is the value of goods and services produced by a nation. Imagine now the “gross educational product” which would be the value of all the knowledge and skill acquired by students pre-K to post-graduate. Formally calculating the GEP would be a tremendous and difficult undertaking. A crude approximation would be the number of years of schooling acquired by an ever-growing population. 

     In the beginning education was for the elite.  As democratic norms took hold, more and more students had at least a few years of schooling. As norms shifted, mandatory education was accepted, high school graduation became expected, most graduates entered some form of tertiary education, college graduation became fairly widespread, the number of fields requiring masters degrees increased and professional preparation programs lengthened. At one end of the spectrum pre-school is likely to become universal. At the other end, internships and post-doctoral studies become more widespread. How sanguine we should be about this trend is debatable, but so far there are few signs of a decrease in the growth of education.  In all likelihood this trend, along with population growth, will continue along with the demand for teachers, professors and other educational personnel.  

>>>What would you consider to be the single most important key to positive transformation of education in the US?

      For me the key to improving the quality of education has been, and remains, the transformation of teaching into a profession. By “profession” I mean that the title “teacher” signify readiness to teach independently. The system of quality assurance for teaching has too many “by-passes” for the public to have confidence that everyone bearing the title “teacher” is ready to teach. Many teachers are graduates of accredited teacher preparation institutions, licensed (in some states) by a rigorous licensing process and have completed a supervised internship or closely mentored first year of teaching. Others begin with little or no preparation. At times of adequate teacher supply, states make teacher licensing more rigorous. At times of inadequate supply, like now, they lower standards to find an adequate supply. We must have a system of quality assurance that signals to the public that all teachers have been determined to be ready to teach independently

     This rigorous licensing system must be balanced with commensurate compensation and conditions of work.  The marketplace for teaching labor must be allowed to operate freely to determine the level of compensation necessary to attract a sufficient supply of qualified teachers. This fundamental economic lesson from business has rarely been introduced to teaching; salaries must be such that the supply of labor matches the demand for labor, without reducing the quality of that labor. In addition, the structure of the profession and the teaching workplace must be made more attractive so teaching can compete for the services of top college graduates. As long as there is a shortage, poor and minority students will be assigned “inferior substitutes.” If the supply of teachers is adequate, then all students, including those in urban and rural schools, will be taught by competent professional teachers. If this happens, poor and minority students, as well as other students, will all be taught by competent professionals. 

     Attracting and retaining qualified teachers has long been a challenge.  However, in today’s political environment, we can expect the challenge to increase.  The need for strong independent professional teachers has never been greater.  We need a strong profession of teaching. 

Copyright: Chuck Cascio and Arthur Wise; all rights reserved.

For comments and/or reprint permission, email: chuckwrites@yahoo.com

Transforming Education Today: Third in a series

TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Third in a Series of Interviews with Leaders in Education)
Featuring Dr. James Upperman

Note from Chuck Cascio: Given the difficult issues facing educators today in the USA, I am presenting 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 third interview in this series of the views of Dr. James Upperman, whose profile follows:

Dr. James “Jim” Upperman was a teacher, principal, superintendent of schools and university professor during his 33 years in public education in Virginia. He completed his undergraduate degree at Bridgewater, VA, College, where he was a Dean’s List student and All American basketball player. Jim earned his M.Ed. from the University of Virginia in 1973, and his Ed.D. at Virginia Tech in 1995. As an Associate Professor at George Mason University from 2001-2017, Jim taught licensure classes in leadership studies in the masters and doctoral programs. In 1976, he was honored by the Virginia Jaycees as the “Outstanding Young Man of Virginia” and in 1999 was selected as the Northern Virginia Region Superintendent of the Year.

 

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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’ll always remember the long and scary early AM jaunt from the high school bus drop off to the locker room during my freshman year, when the list was posted with names of those who had made the basketball team. Observing the disappointment on the faces of others was difficult as I silently celebrated my own authentic surprise: A teacher/coach had selected ME to be a part of the team! I played very few minutes that first year but it didn’t matter. From that point forward, goal-setting became the norm for me and remains a major part of who I am today.

>>>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 had so many exceptional teachers…but three high school educators had an indelible impact on my life. Ms. Cacciapaglia, Spanish teacher, taught me that language learning was both challenging and exciting, and might someday open doors that could change my life. Her skills in teaching a new language were in evidence as she moved through the classroom, maintaining eye contact as she repeated the sounds and rhythms that she expected us to master. I’ll always remember Tom Christie, business teacher and head baseball coach, who demanded excellence, persistence and attention to detail from all of those with whom he worked. It’s quite revealing that the personal letter he wrote to my parents after my senior year is still today one of my prized possessions.  And Clint Hannah, business teacher and head basketball coach, became personally invested in my development as an athlete and an individual, nurturing my growth during four years under his leadership and influence. 

>>>What do you see as the major challenges in education today?

One of the greatest challenges moving forward will be the recruitment, development and retention of school leaders and classroom teachers.  Wish it weren’t so, but the culture wars being  fought in our communities are here to stay. School board members and superintendents are now publicly threatened in unprecedented frequency, and their hires are squarely in the cross hairs of the chaos dividing our country. In a recent National Association of Secondary School Principals study, four in ten school principals stated that they would leave their current posts within three years. Hiring personnel is difficult enough, but the focus moving forward must be on development and retention. Resources to support great teaching should be differentiated and focused. And successful teachers should be publicly embraced and celebrated. Those master teachers and leaders who are the backbone of public schooling must be emboldened and supported, lest they become an endangered species. 

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

It’s astonishing that we devote so little discussion to the evaluation methodologies employed in schools today. The undeniable moments when schools reconnect with taxpaying parents most often occur when content area tests are graded, when statewide testing results are released, and when grade-point averages are calculated. Therefore, schools must devote additional resources to the design of clear, measurable rubrics that reflect the learning targets in each classroom. It is essential that locally designed and developed evaluation methods are connected to statewide learning benchmarks that encourage transparency and comparison. 

If we expect student achievement to improve across the country, national standards that are state-supported must become a reality. Just as engaged students learn from each other in dynamic classrooms, the best teachers and schools grow by understanding and replicating best practices. 

>>>Who should have the final say in what is taught in schools?

Love this question! This has recently re-emerged as a hot button, campaign issue in my state (Virginia) as well as others across the country. It is widely accepted that public schools must be responsive to the public, and should incorporate practices that involve parents in meaningful ways.WHAT is taught in the classroom should be driven by curricula that are jointly developed by learning specialists, administrators, teachers, and, yes, parents who serve on such committees in many districts.  Decisions regarding WHEN and HOW approved curriculum is taught should be the domain of teachers, who observe and understand the strengths and deficiencies of the students in their care.

I proudly remember the kindergarten teacher whose class I visited during the first year of my superintendency. Her learning environment was electric, with so many balls in the air that it was impossible to imagine that kids with such varied experiences and skills could thrive and grow. But learn and thrive they did, a fact I know because I observed this cohort of students throughout my twelve years as CEO. This group of students was doing much more than mastering tests. As they moved through the system, they were becoming student leaders in clubs and other organizations. 

It was clear to me that one exceptional, highly creative teacher had worked her magic to leave a mark on those that she touched. And she did it her way, involving parents and the community as a whole in the growth of her students. Parents became her cheerleaders, encouraging and enabling her as she continued to touch lives. This exceptional teacher is far from the only one. Many more teachers like her are out there stimulating learning every day, and they must be encouraged, recognized, and supported by school leaders and communities.

Copyright: Chuck Cascio and James Upperman; all rights reserved.

Send your thoughts to chuckwrites@yahoo.com