-Another Keller/Greene thing.

Education, like life, is not about the macro or the big things. Like life, it is all about “the little things strung together.” It’s a lot like the quote that asserts, “There are no extraordinary people, there are only ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”


The reform of education is focused on the big changes as opposed to understanding that change is a step by step process. The educrats are playing for the big moment, yet they fil to understand that they can’t pull big moments out of thin air, consequently, their “big moments” exist in vacuums, totally disconnected and disembodied from reality.


From teaching students to be better writers, better students and better thinkers, to mentoring teachers to be better at teaching, to helping players to become better hitters or shooters, it was and is always about starting at step one and moving forward, step by step.


The reformers and the experts want to be able to say they did big things, that they changed everything, the only problem is, you can’t start out “big” – you have to start with the little things, and string them all together.


Are there poor teachers? Of course there are. There were bad teachers when I went to school, there were bad teachers when you went to school. If I were to ask you how many good or great teachers you had all the way through your college career, how many would you be able to list? I’d guess three or four- if you were lucky. Despite that fact, you are still successful today, you still survived. Good and great teachers don’t grow on trees and they are not “developed” or created in special teaching programs or institutes.


Good or great teachers grow and develop through experience and experience takes time and patience. Step by step. Slowly, based on little things strung together. When you marry that time and patience to extraordinary passion, you have a good or great teacher. Perhaps that is why there are so very few of them.


Parents cannot stand by idly and do nothing. They must challenge the system to work, for as Frederick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has, it never will.” They must ask themselves why they would gladly let someone with almost nothing to lose make decisions that will affect the lives of their children, and which, if those decisions are wrong, will cost their children everything. They must not allow people to “experiment” with their children’s lives


No parents demanded to know where this “plan” had been successfully used before or asked if the people supporting it had used it in their educational experiences. No parent said,” Yes, the graduation rate is low. Can you tell us why?” They are not looking toward the next BIG thing, they are looking for the little steps that help their children succeed.


Not only must they hold the government and others accountable, they must also hold their children accountable. They must demand the very best of their children. As parents are their children’s first teachers and role models, they must model the behaviors and the characteristics they want to see in their children. They cannot wait for others or trust that others will do what they are responsible to do. That is the first little step.


Plainly speaking, no law, no reconfiguration of classrooms or schools, no amount of refurbishing, no revision of testing philosophies or teaching requirements, no creation of new titles or positions and no number of “new and exciting” programs such as “Ramp Up” or the presence of new, all- of -a -sudden educational gurus, will effect ANY change, until and unless parents and their children are “called into the tent” to take on their roles and responsibilities. Period.


Perhaps you can help me. I’m a bit bewildered, flummoxed, perplexed about the panacea-like powers the common core solution is purported to possess. While I agree that we can and must do better, that we must improve our schools, I also understand there is NO one-size-fits-all solution, and that any solution must be in fact filled with little things and will therefoire will take time to become effective. My bewilderment and perplexity revolves around the idea that simply creating, instituting and executing common core standards will turn everything around.


Too many educators over the past century have seen any number of “solutions” and “answers”. Most of them disappeared into thin air. In fact, I daresay that one of the people who currently advocate the “need” for common core standards, (people who have become famous, successful, and wealthy, people who attended public schools, as well as many of those reading this essay right now, would be hard pressed to cite or identify one local, state or national standard enacted or enforced throughout their school careers.


What common core standards were in effect when the United States was on top of the world educationally, or when we came form behind to take the lead in the space race? What common core standards are currently being enforced and enacted in the countries that are beating us now like Finland? If the common core is the answer to our present educational malaise, how was it possible that there was ever any educational success before they came into existence? We learned without SmartBoards, laptops,, computers, scientific calculators, specialized programs and specialized methods like Danielson.


  • Common core standards cannot be the only solution to this problem
  • Instead of trying to “re-find” what BIG ideas make education work, let’s look at all the little things that made it successful before and use that.

When people talk about how everything is so different in the 21st century, as if nothing we did before now has any relevance or value, it makes me ask myself if they are listening to themselves when they talk. First of all, whatever exists in the 21st century is the progeny, the sum total of the knowledge that preceded the 21st century. Centuries are not stand-alone- islands-in-time, rather they are linear, connected one to the other.


The most important question to ask in order to find a solution to any problem is the question, “Why?” Once you know the why of a thing, you can understand it, you get it. YOU know the little things that matter. Many teachers know this, yet arent listend to. Why aren’t they being asked to facilitate more workshops and professional development sessions? Why aren’t they being asked to run schools or superintendencies, serve as assistant principals and principals, or mentor new teachers?


Such “hands on” been there done that experience would yield a far better result than some BIG “maybe-they’ll work-maybe they- won’t –standards based on ideas/theories that will likely be obsolete and outdated within the next year or two.


Making education work is NOT as hard and as complicated as it is being made out to be. Education used to be about asking students to reach a little further than they would be comfortable reaching for on their own. It used to be about making sure that when a student received a passing grade, it was clear that grade honestly represented a percentage that symbolized that he/she had completed in that class as opposed to that grade representing a percentage identifying a teacher as competent or incompetent- it still is. It used to be about how graduation symbolized the preparation to move forward as opposed to an empty symbol that “proves” the reform being enacted is valid and viable.


The truth is that long before common core learning ever occurred, there was learning and that learning produced the computer, iTunes, iPhones, innumerable apps, Kindle, space travel, HIV medicines, etc., etc. The truth is we must look to what has always worked- not just for a year or two, or until it could make some corporation or hedge fund a profit- but what has been true about education since Socrates and Aristotle- that education must be respected, and not simply treated as some political exclamation point inserted into some campaign speech, that everyone must see and recognize its value.


We must return to the idea that learning is extremely dependent on the desire or curiosity of the learner to want to go further, to want to know more, to challenge him/herself. We need to stop “looking for the next magic bullet” or the “next big thing”.


I suppose the reformers mean well, (but like they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”). The fact of the matter is that just because they mean well doesn’t mean what they are doing is right, just as simply because people disagree with what the reformers are doing doesn’t make those who disagree the anti-education or anti-student devil.


As former public school students and an educators with close to four decades of experience, we know the value of education. We know schools matter in students’ lives. We know education is the great equalizer, and we know PUBLIC schools work. They are not perfect- they never were. Nothing is. We also know that many public schools work quite well, and that those labeled as dysfunctional or failing can again. The people criticizing and castigating them must put in the same amount of energy and effort and enthusiasm in looking at all thelittel steps necedssary in fixing them as they spend trying to shut them down.


Stop looking at the next big thing and look at the elephant in the room: The process of little things.