Ed Blog pt. 24 - 5 Things in 5 Days: Educational Consultants (Day 5)

Educational consultants are an extreme waste of money.  School districts spend a thousand dollars a day - adding to millions a year - to bring in someone to tell them what is wrong with their schools.  They often do nothing to follow through.  They also could have avoided all of this by listening to students, parents, and teachers.  Educational Consultants don't work for the same reason that child support doesn't make up for the actual love and attention from a parent.  

Throwing money at a problem, without addressing the root need and cause, does nothing to fix that problem.  In some ways, it makes it worse.  In the worst case of child support, a parent gives a lot of money to provide for their child(ren); through this act, the parent believes they are filling the needs of the child(ren).  What the child(ren) wants is love and attention, to matter, and for a positive presence to be in their life.  If someone doesn't get this, they won't be a good parent. 

This is exactly how it goes in a school.  When there is a deficiency, you cannot simply throw a lot of money at the problem.  If you do, the problem will not change and you'll simply have less money to fix that problem.  Rather, you must look at the cause of the problem, dissect the cause, and make a change from there.  

Ironically, a consultant often has almost the opposite incentives from the school district.  It's better for the consultant, the more problems they find.  The more negative they are, the better for them, financially.  The more suggestions they have, the more money they make. 

This sucks.  

True change needs to come from competent people that care and can do something about it.  In almost any school, you'll find a group of people willing to do this for free.  They'll look into how to help, how to train, and how take an active role in doing so.  Why not use that?  

There is obviously a time to ask questions and seek advice, but if this comes through taxpayer's dollars, and goes to someone that has an incentive to extend a problem rather than fix it, you've only got more problems.  Using this person as a crutch is not the answer.  At best it's a bandaid.    

Phones and Sh*t - pt. II

Pt. 2 And Shit

Phones were simply the example that I happened upon in my first year of teaching.  This was all circumstance, the same as will happen to many teachers in coming years.  Maybe one way to think of it is through mention of the printing press.  

Prior to the printing press, it was very difficult and expensive to get things on paper to the masses.  500 years after the advent of the printing press, we cannot imagine not having that thing.  But even more than that, we think we can now do it a lot better through electronics.  They would have never guessed that most people would have a printer in their house, and that paper would be used for virtually everything.  When you walk in most organizations, you're greeted by stacks of paper in all forms.  So what, for them, was beyond a dream, for us is very commonplace.  So commonplace in fact, that we may go beyond paper at some point.

But paper, phones, and any individual issue is not even close to the point.  The point is that things evolve and change, and our job - right now - is to make this particular step in the journey a good one.  We are only responsible for our step, but if we're not careful, it could be a step backward.  That's why phones and shit do matter.  So much energy and discussion centered on the phones being bad, that years passed before technology as a whole was embraced by many people in education.  Which begs the question: where else does this happen?  Where else does it occur that backward thinking leads negative results?  

Here are some ways: (Structure 1. Indicates the problem, bullet point indicated the reason, ex. uses an example)

1. A shitty teacher has been with a district for 26 years.  They never had a good principal, never had an honest evaluation, and when they finally do, they're in their 26th year of teaching.  Yet, because of their tenure, firing them would be very hard.  Admin says: we can't do anything until they retire.

  • This is a problem because 8 years worth of students sit in this shitty teachers class.
  • Ex. Without even trying, I can think of two teachers I worked with where multiple people said, "Well, they have tenure so we can't fire them".  This was said by people in leadership.  It was widely acknowledged that the teacher did not know what they were doing, how to teach their curriculum, and was hurting students.  But, when weighing the pro/con, the choice was to wait them out.  This is so backward, because adults have the luxury of looking at time having a lived a bunch of it.  But, telling a 16 year old to wait 8 years, that is half of their life.  Much different telling a 60 year old to wait 8 years.  Not understanding how important time is to younger children makes schools irrelevant and dated.  

2. A school has a policy where they'll accept anyone as a student at any time during the school year / current session.  Three or four times a year, they get a bunch of 'new students' and all celebrate these new students.

  • This is a problem because the students that had been enrolled are no longer challenged, nor do they feel important.  Their commitment to the program was diminished, and they stop coming.  No one talks about this.  Instead, the backward thinkers think only of the 'new students'.  They don't realize that the 'old students' didn't like the program and what this could do for word of mouth and/or reputation.
  • Ex. I heard of a program that took new students any time, any day.  This was great for data purposes in a number of clicks type way.  It made data and numbers looked good, but was negative for the students involved, as well as for the teachers in the program.  What it meant for them was that on any given day, the enrity of their class/program could change.  Instead of things working very well and a plan being in place with goals and a curriculum, the practicality was that it was a day-to-day thing rather than a smooth program.  

3. The curriculum does not inspire the kids.  The textbooks are old, the novels are irrelevant, the content is dated and boring.  Yet, because a 'curriculum expert' came up with it, they stay with this curriculum for years.

  • This is a problem because it shows a complete lack of evaluation of content.  Also, every year (day, really) that the curriculum is not relevant, the students sitting in that respective class are being passed by any student in any other class that is doing relevant things.  
  • Ex. The Grand Rapids Public Schools are and have been struggling.  To fight this, they did a bunch of shit to their curriculum (and by a bunch of shit, I mean copied from Georgia.  And, they forgot to take "Georgia" off of many documents.)  The State of Georgia had a curriculum designed for the regional students.  GRPS copied that regional curriculum and used it in the north.  It didn't work.  It was also designed by mostly people that didn't teach it, so there was no evaluation to them of how it worked.  This is the ultimate problem because it: 1. takes power away from the teacher 2. puts it in the hands of people that aren't teaching which 3. moves it all away from the students.  

These are all just simple examples of things that don't work, hence: shit.  But the specifics do not matter. 

What matters is how we tackle the problem.  

How We Tackle the Problem - Ed Blog pt 21

Although we don't know what they'll be, we do know that problems will come up.  One example of this where I live - though this isn't the place to delve too deeply into - is the reading fluency of African Americans in the State of Michigan.  This is abysmal, and very problematic.  It's also racist.  But rather than label and shame, our state must do something about this.  (Why I say this isn't the place for a deep dive into the topic is that it's much bigger than simply a 'school' issue.  But, it's a good place to start because since many African American children attend the schools, it would be a great place to deal with a large part of the problem.)

One problem that almost all underperforming districts face is that 'their' students come to them behind.  From a young age, this starts.  Research goes in many different directions on how to deal with this, and one way was like this:

One solution bad districts choose is this: add time to the school day.  Their logic goes as follows:

  • Problem: students aren't in school enough.
  • Solution: put them in school longer.

This is problematic for the same reason that giving a lump sum of cash to a habitual spender will not get them out of debt: it is the habits, not the result that needs treating.  The ole, teach a man to fish.  

Here is why simply adding time to the a class period does not ensure learning.  One district, to make sure that students were getting more learning time, upped their classes from 45-minutes to an hour.  The problem is that an hour is about the worst amount of time to teach.  It's too long for one lesson, and not long enough for two.  Some research shows students attention capacity is about 45-minute, and so many schools do 45 or 90 minute classes and blocks.  With the hour, often there was an issue where you finished one lesson, but couldn't move on very well to the next.  Or, the next day you'd spend a bunch of time reteaching.  Additionally, most of the behavioral problems occurred in the last 10-15 minutes of class.  Some research suggests that 45-minutes is the ideal time to maximize attention.  But these things were never brought up.  When I questioned class length, the only thing people said was 'we need more time in seats'.  

But bad time is wasted time.  Rather, we must tackle the problem, the actual problem.