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It's Finally Here

by George Wood, Superintendent of Federal Hocking Local Schools, Executive Director of the Forum for Education and Democracy and Board Chair of The Coalition of Essential Schools

Our Lake Wobegon moment has finally arrived. This year, all children shall officially be above average.

For those of you who have forgotten, 2014 was the target date by which all children were to be proficient in reading and math. At least that is what the politicians in Washington decreed when, over a decade ago, No Child Left Behind replaced the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

I doubt those who dreamed up this rhetorical sleight-of-hand caught the irony of having the "proficiency" target date fall on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of war on poverty. Ironic because ESEA was a very small part of that war.

Johnson and his allies knew that public education was a crucial weapon in the fight against poverty--especially in still-segregated schools of the South. But the president had no way to influence educational policy because the federal government was, constitutionally, out of the education game.

No Excuses

by George Wood, Superintendent of the Federal Hocking Local Schools in Stewart, Ohio; Executive Director of the Forum for Education and Democracy; Board Chair of The Coalition of Essential Schools

The National Center for Educational Statistics says low-income children now make up 48% of the children attending public school.  In my district, which sits in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in rural southeast Ohio, that percentage is 63%.

For years, educators and children's advocates have pointed out that educating poor children requires more time and resources.  By simply pointing out this fact, they have been accused of "making excuses."  Former President George W. Bush accused them of engaging in "the soft bigotry of low expectations." The "no excuses" crowd chimed in that poverty should never be an excuse for a lack of student success--and that only poor teachers or schools should bear such responsibility.

More Than A Doghouse

by George Wood, Forum Executive Director and Superintendent of Federal Hocking Local Schools

At most high schools, fall means football, homecoming and writing college application essays.

Add a fourth task at our high school: getting your Senior Project approved.

We take seriously our charge to get young people ready for life after school. Since Class of 2001, we have required all candidates for graduation to plan and carry out a Senior Project.

The project has multiple parts--choose an area of interest, develop a proposal including any funding, find a resource person outside of the school to mentor you, carry the project out, present it to a panel for review and approval.

All of these are needed in the world outside of school. When so much of school is now driven by mandated curriculum and tests, students have very little opportunity to learn on their own and to manage their own work. And from what we are told by our graduates, our senior projects prepare them for the work at college, on the job, and in their communities.

Fewer, Better Tests Can Boost Student Achievement

by Linda Darling-Hammond, John Jackson and Marc Tucker

(This Commentary was published in Education Week in print on October 9, 2013 as Note to Congress:  Fewer, Better Tests Can Boost Student Achievement, and online October 7, 2013)

Both Democrats and Republicans have submitted proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal law governing K - 12 education that has not been revamped since the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act--the latest iteration of the ESEA--was signed into law in 2002.  Among the few things both parties agree on is continuing to require grade-by-grade testing and a new requirement that would focus the draconian consequences that once threatened all schools on the lowest-achieving schools exclusively; in other words, those schools that primarily serve low-income and new immigrant students.  This is a big mistake.

Taken together, along with our continued failure to address equity in school resources, these two provisions would virtually guarantee that the overall performance of our students will never equal that of our toughest international competitors and would further widen the gap between the top performers and our disadvantaged students.

Read full article in Education Week here

Summer of Discontent

by George Wood, Forum Executive Director and Superintendent of Federal Hocking Local Schools

In Steinbeck's The Winter of our Discontent, the well-meaning Ethan Hawley compromises his ethical compass to fix his family's economic distress.  Recent revelations regarding similar ethical lapses in the education community make me wonder if we have not seen a summer of discontent.

The signs are everywhere.

In Florida, new state superintendent Tony Bennet resigned soon after it was revealed that he 'fixed' the education accountability system in Indiana--when he was state superintendent there--to make a charter school look good.  That charter school, sponsored by a major campaign contributor, was held up as a model of how privatizing public schools would save the system.  

Ted Sizer's Vision for The New American High School

(first published July 24, 2013 in The Washington Post)

by Jay Mathews, Washington Post columnist

When Theodore Sizer, known to friends and admirers as Ted, died of colon cancer at 77 in 2009, we lost the nation's leading scholar on high schools and one of the best education writers ever.

So I was glad to get his just-published book, "The New American High School," which explains his vision for the future of educating our teenagers.

The school reform organization he founded, the Coalition of Essential Schools, has only three listed members in this region: Arlington County public schools, the New School of Northern Virginia and the National Education Association.  But many area parents and educators have read Sizer's works, including his 1984 masterpiece, "Horace's Compromise."  Because this area has some of the most ambitious high schools in the country, I looked for ideas in Sizer's new book that might help us.

Just Be Nice

by George Wood, Forum Executive Director  

(Dr. Wood will retire this year after serving as principal of Federal Hocking Secondary School in Stewart, Ohio for 21 years.  He will stay on as superintendent of the Federal Hocking District.)

Some 21 years ago I swiped an idea from my friend Dennis Littky and started sending out what I call "TGIFs." The idea was to inform, and perhaps provoke some thought about how we keep school.  This will be my last one.

I have grappled with what to say in this for weeks.  It is part of who we humans are that 'starts' and 'ends' of things seem to call for profundity.  But profundity eludes me.  So I'll leave you with this one small thought:  Be nice.

Personalization or good marketing?

by George Wood

"Personalization" and "engagement" seem to be the new catchwords in education reform these days.  Too bad the concepts are not credited to the person who first talked about them.  It was the late Ted Sizer in the Common Principles that he developed for the Coalition of Essential Schools who pushed for personalized learning environments that engaged young learners.  These days, he is seldom mentioned when these terms are rolled out.

There may be a good reason for that.  As polite as Ted always was, I think he might object rather passionately to the way "personalization" is being tossed around today.

I was reminded of this while attending a workshop this past week on using technological tools to "personalize" student learning.  The speaker felt that it might be appropriate to give examples of such personalization.  He cited the way Amazon offers you other books or items you might like based on your last purchase;  how Apple will customize the computer you purchase; or how the grocery store offers you coupons at checkout for your favorite items.

Transforming Education: An Interview with Larry Myatt

This Q & A interview with Forum Convener Dr. Larry Myatt was published on the National Institute for Student-Centered Education website.  The founder of Fenway High School in Boston and the founder and president of Education Resources Consortium, Dr. Myatt served as the Honorary Conference Chair for INSPIRE 2013, the NISCE conference held April 5 in Boston.  The interview shares Myatt's reflections on the life of Fenway High School, a model small school for the nation, and on strategies for broadening meaningful and effective educational opportunities for all students. (To read Part 1 and Part 2 on the NISCE website click here and here.  They are combined below.)

Lucky Me

by George Wood

Every morning as I wind my car along the Federal Creek to my school office I worry about plenty of stuff.  Global climate change, the state budget, sequester, deficits, Syria...maybe I should stop listening to NPR in the mornings.

Then, I get to school.  Here my day is filled with joy.

That joy comes from working with a staff that seems to never give up on a chiid.  And who know how to laugh at their own shortcomings and the oft-confusing lives of adolescents.  

It comes from being able to give a kid a break, write a young adult a recommendation, tell a mom that her son is doing fine.  From knowing that the same young seventh grader who bedevils his math teacher today, will, in just a few years, be making us proud as he gets his acceptance letter to college.  

I think I am a very lucky guy.  For the past two decades plus I have been able to come to school.  I get to start each day afresh, see kids grow up, talk with teachers about learning, and figure out ways to make the place engaging, challenging, and, yes, fun.  Lucky me.  

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