Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

The Teacher Shortage Crisis

I had an unexpected, yet illuminating, conversation recently with a former colleague in education. With just a few weeks before his non-probationary (third year) status was up, he was told he’d be non-renewed at his current school. Until his last evaluation, he hadn’t a negative comment; he had no identified areas of deficiencies. His kids performed well according to the measures of his school and department. He was passionate about kids, teaching, and his subject matter. It was his driving force to make social studies relevant, global, and meaningful for his students.

His supervisor was willing to write him a letter of recommendation and would even hire him back if another position in his subject area were to open up. However, this particular middle school social studies teacher, two sport coach, and highly involved staff member was unable to find another teaching job. He spent several months completing applications, interviewing, and being told he was a strong candidate and was near the top of those interviewed, but still could not find a new position. He was professional through the rest of the school year. He didn’t make a production of his termination with his kids as is often the case with some departing teachers.

As his last official day at school passed, and he still had no job or even job prospects. The inclination to falsely tie his ability to get a teaching job with his worth as a person and husband started to get the better of him. He was disillusioned and shaken on a level much more than the professional. He was getting desperate to find a job. He expanded his search, considered longer and longer commutes, and still nothing. It was difficult to watch the events unfold and my 17 years in education as teacher and administrator proved useless in being of any assistance to him.

However, this particular post isn’t about the inequities or difficulties of finding a teaching job in a tight job market and how that relates to a teacher shortage crisis. It’s about the unexpected part of the conversation I alluded to earlier. He’s now switched job paths completely and is managing a fast food restaurant. He doesn’t make any apologies for it and is doing quite well. My casual inquiry about how it was going turned serious when he said, “Rick, I’m so much more empowered now than I ever was as a teacher.” I didn’t expect that and in my own three years in fast food, I never really felt empowered even in the semi-managerial role I briefly held. We talked more about empowerment and the teaching profession, locally and nationally, and pieces of other recent conversations and experiences came together throughout our discourse.

His story is not unique and many teachers willingly leave the profession for myriad reasons. Teachers leaving the profession concerns me, but not as much as the ones who decide (and are deciding) not to come to the profession at all.

Welcome to the Machine

I was at the Virtual School Symposium in November and keynote speaker former Governor Bob Wise, who is now the President for Alliance for Excellent Education, spoke in his presentation about the mounting teacher shortage as being one of three looming crises that are challenging America’s k-12 education system [1] . (The other two being declining state fiscal revenues and increased global demands for skilled workers.) Two of the statistics he presented to support this shortage were

  1. In 1987-88 the typical teacher had 15 years of experience.
  2. By 2007-08 the typical teacher had just 1 to 2 years of experience. [2]

What strikes me about these two bits of information is where they fall in the milestones tombstones(?) of reform efforts in American education. The connection to the impending teacher crisis may not be strictly causal, but it does give me pause. In 1989, the year following 87-88 referenced above and sparked by the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, state governors convened a summit to focus on education. Out of this the the National Education Goals panel was formed and eventually produced the Goals 2000 legislation [3], signed into law in 1994 . As a follow up in 1996, the National Education Summit convened pledging “to support efforts to set academic standards at the state and local levels” [4]. Also keep in mind in the mid to late 90’s outcomes-based education evolved and messily imploded. Within a few years, states who haven’t adopted academic standards move to do so in the wake of NCLB that is signed into law in 2001. High-stakes standardized testing, school report cards, and the political and continued public vilification of educators soon follow. In 2002 states and school districts that receive Title I funding are required to participate in NAEP in order to keep those federal dollars [5]. High-stakes standardized testing, school report cards, and the political and continued public vilification of educators soon follow.

As the standardized tests explicitly elevated in importance the subjects math, science, and language arts, by extension those potential teachers with a passion for other areas found (and continue to find) themselves marginalized, lost in the hysteria of high-stakes, standardized testing. Math, science, and language arts teachers resent[ed] the building pressure to have their kids perform well on the tests while other teachers resent[ed] the cuts (fiscally, politically, and practically) to their disciplines, especially the arts.

In a world of scale scores, cut points, and proficiency levels, the creative impulse in humans, and its associated propensity toward risk and possible failure, becomes unpalatable.

And, in the name of raising test scores, we continue to educate the creativity right out of our children.

So much so that we have to create “partnerships” and entire buzz phrase endeavors to reintroduce ourselves and our kids to the parts of themselves we’ve tested out of them. Consider also the Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger that reports “Americans’ scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group…” [6]. We’ve heard Sir Ken Robinson tell us that “creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status” in one of his creativity and school talks  from 2006 [7]. If that’s too outdated, perhaps we should pay close attention to his take on the arts, creativity, and divergent thinking in his excellent RSA Animate talk from October 2010 [8].

In an environment where just about everything has to be quantified and translated into sterile, lifeless measurable outcomes where learners are commodities to be grown for higher education or employers (rather than being developed as human beings), it’s little wonder that more people aren’t flocking to the profession. This, as many current educators will tell you, is only one point of consideration. There are many more factors that are contributing to our teacher shortage -perhaps we’ll discuss some of them here.


[1 ] Slide 2, The Online Learning Imperative Report and an Update on the Digital Learning Council

[2] Slides 7 & 8, The Online Learning Imperative Report and an Update on the Digital Learning Council

[3] Goals 2000: Reforming Education to Improve Student Achievement

[4] PBS Frontline, Are We There Yet?

[5] National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Frequently Asked Questions: Is participation in NAEP voluntary?

[6] Shellenbarger, Sue. The Wall Street Journal Online, December 15, 2010, A Box? Or a Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative

[7] Robinson, Sir Ken. Schools Kill Creativity, June 2006,

[8] Robinson, Sir Ken. RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms, October 2010, &

December 18, 2010 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fit: Corporational Education

Well, the blog does have “Fit” in the title…

I took a survey today in order to give “input to understand the expectations that various stakeholders have of Colorado’s graduates.” I think there is an implicit assumption that the input come from Colorado people, but the information is publicly available on the web at the Colorado Department of Education website under the CDE Communications link.

Disclaimer: I have the utmost respect for many of the people at CDE and those serving on the Graduation Guidelines Development Council. I know more than a few of these people personally and I’m excited about the change in direction. More than one of them is absolutely brilliant and I apologize if this is perceived to diminish their work. I really am hoping for the best, but it’s dark, and the iceberg has been spotted. The opinions listed below may not represent anyone else’s but my own. I reserve the right to change my opinion after further consideration and persuasion -and emergence from this fugue. Maybe it’s Dr. Cook’s book, but it’s sure a raw nerve right now.

With that said, some of the questions stood out. Most used a Likert scale that had the items Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. One question read…

6. What should be the primary outcome(s) of public education? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)

a.) Post-secondary Readiness    
b.) Workforce Readiness     
c.) Minimum competencies 
d.) Socialization and general education
e.) Create thoughtful and responsible citizenry
f.) Other

And another…

7. How can the high school experience be improved? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)a.) Increase the rigor and expectations
b.) Provide relevancy for the subjects taught
c.) Integrate more career and technical opportunities
d.) Increase the chance to apply content learned
e.) Provide students with access to programs and curriculum so that they can make informed decisions about their post-secondary lives     
f.) Other
And…8. How can high schools motivate students to excel? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)

a.) Offer students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of course content in order to move through the system at their own rate
b.) Provide internships to apply content learnings to “real work”
c.) Create high schools that are “career pathways” thus enabling students to plan their post-secondary careers early
d.) Offer opportunities for participation in a variety of rigorous academic programming to assure students have the skills necessary to make post secondary choices
e.) Offer students more “dual credit ” opportunities that count toward high school graduation and college credit
f.) Other

First of all, I’m encouraged that some of the choices reflect some more modern considerations and some of the later questions have some of the same types of progressive choices. When I considered the choices and the areas they represent (not counting “other”), one or two of the responses fell outside the corporate realm. (As an aside, as you’ll see below, I group colleges and universities in with corporations.) I hope this is an opportunity to change things, at least in Colorado, but with the disproportionate weighting of choices, I’m discouraged. I gave my thoughts at the end of the survey, right or wrong, practical or not. I submit them here for your consideration…

Our kids should NOT be held to the so-called achievement metrics that have their origins in corporate America. The current educational practice in Colorado and the US to create workers, either right out of high school or eventually out of college, makes us (education) subservient to the corporations who have a vested interest in having a constant flow of employees. Our focus on seat time, and core subject standardization (at the expense, often, of non-tested areas), and school days and calendars that were designed in the Industrial Age have moved us away from the pursuit of knowledge, democracy, collaboration, communication and innovation. The difficulty in quantifying these ideals makes them unpalatable for a culture obsessed with wealth accumulation and proves that we should be educating and developing kids, not producing automatons for colleges and businesses.

We have let colleges and universities in Colorado dictate to us what courses our kids should have in order to attend them. We acquiesced; as a result, we are a party to educational discrimination and elitism. When we examine the source of these dictum, we find that they come from those with a vested interest in maintaining a fiscal bottom line, not a human one. The colleges and universities, who hunger for more tuition dollars, have partnered with corporate entities, like ACT, to produce a self-serving set of requirements designed to increase their capital intake. Meanwhile kids continue to drop out of our schools citing lack of relevance and lack of engagement as primary reasons. They are smarter than we think. They see a life of servitude either to the higher education or corporate machines. In that regard we have failed them.

Our current educational system is designed for a world that no longer exists. Schools are constantly prevented from producing a moral populace of learners and teachers, innovators and communicators, citizens (both local and global) and thinkers, servants and seekers, creators and collaborators. We are stopped by business methodologies and corporate expectations. The world has changed fundamentally especially for the US, yet we want to keep reinventing our archaic, outmoded, and ill-conceived system. This survey seems designed to justify that position.

March 5, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unencorporating Education & The Purpose of Schools Part 2

Click to go to The New Business of Education home.  The writer’s strike may be over, but that doesn’t mean there’s much on. After absorbing only so much of the latest round of school violence, I started flipping channels and came across the Nightly Business Report on a local PBS station and caught the tail end of the teaser for a series they are running about the New Business of Education. Tonight they were talking about educational technology. I was excited to see how ed tech would be represented from the business side. What great timing. For the most part it was about the money to be made and spent. I’m not sure I actually caught much of the content; I got lost thinking about the premise behind the book I’m reading, Unencorporating Education by Dr. William J. Cook Jr and all the business connections to education.

I’m almost a quarter of the way through the book. I’m not buying it all and sometimes it seems that Dr. Cook is often more interested in sounding like an intellectual than with getting his points across clearly. He sometimes makes assumptions that the reader has some background knowledge and content and proceeds without giving any additional information. He doesn’t, at least in the initial chapters, explain why the first word of the title of his book is spelled with an “e.” I get it, but I’d like to have read early on about his thinking behind that. I suppose one could argue that’s the point of the book, but I digress.

Like I said, I’m not buying it all (funny, considering the capitalistic underpinnings of all this), but the idea has been planted and I probably have my business-in-education radar running. Besides all his references to the Scans Report, the Educate America Act, and others in the first chapter, I’m noticing it too. Books Ideas are like that, right? Read the blog entry on the NBR site by the Director of Program Development, Jack Kahn where he asks is education “The next ‘hot’ investment sector.”  Yes, I’m sure, just not the way educators would hope. As if I needed anymore reason to pause consider the statistic Kahn sites: “total education spending in the U.S. is now close to $1 trillion — more than any other service sector except healthcare.” He doesn’t indicate his source, so I went to the Digest of Education Statistics on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Sure enough, the estimate for 2005-2006 puts it at about $921.8 billion, or about 7.4% of the Gross Domestic Product of the nation. If you go to the site, look at the footnotes. The numbers are probably higher when those variables are factored in and we add two years to the table. Does anyone else find it ironic that potentially useful data from the U.S. Department of Education is not available in a timely manner?

Does that kind of money surrounding education alone prove Dr. Cook’s point? The discussion of money and kids has a distasteful, almost taboo, stigma attached to it, but we can’t serve the kids without it. Are we really diminishing our kids to corporate servitude, as Dr. Cook suggests? Worse yet, does the collective unconscious of some of our young people recognize this and cast them into despair manifested by acts of violence or general apathy? Doom and gloom, I know, but the mashup of school violence and educational encorporation happened for me in only one push of the channel button on the remote. Ideas are like that, right?

February 14, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unencorporating Education & The Purpose of Schools Part 1

I have just started reading the book Unencorporating Education by Dr. William J Cook Jr. Already provocative and engaging in the first few chapters, I haven’t made up my mind yet. The thesis of the book as found on the inside flap and on the website reads,

The thesis of this book is simple: the nation’s fundamental institutions, by intent or by default, have abandoned the historical Western idea of education and thus have opened the door for a hostile takeover by corporate America. The result is an educational system, if it may be so called, that has been robbed of its essential human nature (educare) and turned into a rationalized process designed to produce profitable workers, according to industry specifications. The individual is diminished to servitude; true democracy rendered impossible.

There is no correcting the existing system. It cannot be reformed, reinvented, restructured, or salvaged. It must be utterly destroyed and new systems of learning and teachings created -systems worthy of human beings. The suggestions offered here are an attempt to begin the action.

It’s a compelling, unsettling, and uncomfortable premise to be sure. To borrow from Malcolm Gladwell and his book, Blink, my initial “thin slice” is one of resonance with a measure of caution thrown in. A guest blogger, Greg Cruey, on the Dangerously Irrelevant blog has a post that touches on some of the same ideas. Watch for more to come as I work through the rest of the book.

February 11, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments