George Wood's blog

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.  

Stop Saying That

by George Wood

When the governor of my state announced his plan for a new school funding formula, he said, "this is not about teachers, this is about the students."  I wish he, and others, would quit saying that.

We hear this refrain almost every time there is an announcement about school reform or funding.  It is meant to send a message:  teachers do not care about kids.

I had hoped that after Newtown, with teachers selflessly giving their lives for their students, the 'teachers don't care' mantra would stop.  Wrong again.

But here is the deal:  this type of rhetoric is not only unhelpful, it is just plain wrong.

First, rhetoric like this does not help.  We never hear it about other public policy debates. (Imagine: "This farm bill is not about farmers, it is about cows.")  I cannot for the life of me figure out why policy makers think teachers are the enemy when it comes to education reform.

Four More Years?

About this time four years ago I was on my way to Washington to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama.  I was looking forward to his administration, hoping that having Linda Darling-Hammond as the leader of his education transition team meant good things for public schools.

I have to say I have been disappointed.  While there have been some good things, there has been much to puzzle over.

I wonder why there has been so much support for Teach for America and so little support for teacher preparation and teachers in the classrooms.  I am not sure why Title 1 has become more of a competitive grant program with mountains of paperwork as opposed to the anti-poverty program it started out to be. And I cannot figure out why interest in charter and specialty schools--those that serve so few of our children--eclipses a focus on supporting traditional public schools to which this nation owes a great debt.

I am not making the trek to DC this time.  While I did support the President's re-election, I do not have the same sense of optimism in the next term.  And I have lowered my sights for what I hope he does in the next four years for public schools.  Here is that agenda, though I am not sanguine about the possibilities.

Four Things On My Mind

There is so much going on these days I cannot limit this commentary to just one thing. So, from where I sit, here are some things that I am thinking about:

Thank goodness for the so-called fiscal cliff.  Lame duck sessions of Congress, or any other body for that matter, always worry me.  It is the crazy season when unaccountable legislatures do silly stuff in a race out of the door. (Ohio's lame duck session, for example, is considering new school report cards that will make accountability rules for electronic charter schools different from those for all other schools.) Let's count our blessings this holiday season that the bickering in Washington over the budget has pushed education off the stage for the time being.

Standing Up for Schools and Kids

A couple of recent events, one on the state level and one very local, have given me hope and point out the way each and every one of us can stand up for our public schools.

First, three superintendents and their school boards have decided to stand up publicly against the ill-conceived 'Third Grade Guarantee' here in Ohio.  If you missed it, last spring the Ohio legislature, prompted by Governor John Kasich, decided that no child would be promoted to fourth grade unless they could read by third grade.  Further, at each grade level, kindergarten through third, children had to be tested with standardized instruments to see if they are 'on-track' to read by age eight.  If not, an individualized program was to be designed and carried out for each individual student.

Of course there is no funding for the program, just the advice that schools can use their federal dollars for it and that there would be, sometime in the future, grant funds available. The law, passed in May, had to be implemented by September even though the Ohio Department of Education did not inform school districts of what tests they could use until August.  As of September 13th, the policies to be followed were still changing.

Sign the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing

This resolution is modeled on the resolution passed by more than 360 Texas school boards as of April 23, 2012.  It was written by the Advancement Project, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, FairTest, the Forum for Education and Democracy, MecklenburgACTS, Deborah Meier, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., National Education Association, New York Performance Standards Consortium, Tracy Novick, Parents Across America, Parents United for Responsible Education-Chicago, Diane Ravitch, Race to Nowhere, Time Out From Testing, and the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

Sign the resolution as an organization or as an individual at:  timeoutfromtesting.org/national resolution/

Three Quick Reads for Policy Makers

 

When I left the university ranks some twenty years ago to become principal, one of the first things I missed about my old job was having the time to read.  Now, as both superintendent and principal, reading time seems even more precious but even more important.  So I find myself grabbing quick reads, and three of them hit my desk over the holiday break.

The first was the Atlantic magazine story on Finland's educational success.  If you haven't tired of reading about why we keep getting it wrong while Finland gets it right, this is worth a look.  The new twist in this piece are the comments by Pasi Sahlberg from the Finnish Ministry of Education noting that Americans simply ignore what is crucial to Finland's success:  a focus on equity over excellence.

Almost Another NCLB Victim

"Dr. Wood, I need your help on this one." My assistant is one of the most competent people I know, so when she asks for help I figure it is pretty important.

"While you were out yesterday a young woman came in to enroll. She is eighteen, has missed almost 14 days of school this year, and still has several graduation tests to pass. She says she is living with a boyfriend in our district - so?"

If you don’t deal with the demands put on schools by No Child Left Behind and state accountability models you might not know what the question was. Let me make it simple for you: Do we take this girl--who we do not have to take, who has aged out of public schooling, who is not an ‘official’ district resident--and risk damaging our school report card?

Add This to Your Reform Wish List

On a recent fall Wednesday morning I found myself on the deck of an almost completed cabin overlooking the mist coming off the Hocking River. Two teachers, three fathers, sixteen students, and I had gathered for the once-weekly ‘show and tell’ session in our junior/senior Advisories -- this time at the cabin three seniors had designed and built for their senior project.

The cabin is ‘off the grid’. It has solar power, a composting toilet, water caught from the roof, and a wood burning stove. It is, in the best sense, sustainable. The three seniors had done all the research on the building techniques, worked with local carpenters and solar installers to learn what they needed to know, and had built the cabin from the ground up.

Misreading History

I don’t own a television, but I do watch the box when I find myself in a hotel room. Just small doses of it remind me why we turned ours off some 30 years ago.

Take, for example, the incessant worship of Steve Jobs. Sorry to rain on the parade, but you cannot turn on the television without yet another story about the Apple leader. Just this morning it was an interview on "Good Morning America" with his biographer.

Yes, I know he single-handedly invented personal computing--sort of like how some would have us believe that Henry Ford invented the automobile and built all of them himself. And where would we be without phones so smart we can use them while driving down busy highways or spoil a dinner out with friends while we check the latest sports scores or new hot music video?

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