The truth is this has no business being here. Education, while a matter of universal import, is a local issue under our constitution. As president, my inclination will always be to step back on those matters within the States' purview. To do anything else is to think I know better. And even if I do, it's none of my business. But I'll share my ideas and my suggested plan (for local implementation), and will stand powerfully behind any school or organization that chooses to use a scientifically valid model to foster the greatness within each American student.
To the extent that our legislators don't agree – and there are powerful forces at work here that might cause them not to – my guiding principal will be “First Do No Harm.” Beyond that, I will reference any act concerning education against my mission statement. If an initiative does not square with that, in a manner that respects the State's role, I'll have nothing to do with it.
To stay informed, I invite you to:
Inspired and Engaged Human Beings:
A Systematic Approach for the
Reform of Education
Rigorous scientific thought is not typically the guiding light our systems of education. It should be. This paper proposes a context and operative system for use of science and research to provide the best education in as efficient a manner as possible.
The core elements of this plan are a mission statement, a system to measure mission progress, a structure for the review and implementation of educational research, and a framework for the ongoing assessment, training and development of professional educators and administrators.
Our educational mission should be to cause excellence, to make of our students happy, successful and productive citizens. Currently little more is measured than a student’s familiarity with a certain curriculum (core standards), usually set out as some quantum of facts or formulas. The student’s role has become the regurgitation of these facts over a series of summative tests, often in standard form, and then is given a high school diploma.
To achieve mastery requires more, including a student’s ability to make new connections and pointed inquiries, to work in groups, to relate well to other people, and to act in the public good. While haphazard steps are taken in this direction, they are insufficient in our current context.
The goals of mastery and excellence in education are attainable. Unfortunately, a large corpus of educational research demonstrates that current policies do not align practice with the attainment of these goals. We do not critically assess current practices, and reform has been on a piecemeal approach. The result is that we continue to pursue practices that have been proven detrimental to the healthy development of our children.
This proposal rests on two initiatives. The first is the establishment of a Best Practices Initiative to make sure that those shaping policy know the best practices and know how to make them a part of every child’s educational experience.
The second is the establishment of a robust consultancy and training structure to provide the support teachers and administrators need at the same time it provides a feedback mechanism to measure progress and guide the activities of our policy makers.
To accomplish this mission requires an approach that looks beyond short term political interests. The invitation of this paper is for our politicians and bureaucrats to do what is right for our students, or perhaps better create an environment where those who are expert in the field of education can do so. We can quickly return to preeminence in the field of education and the attainment of greatness by our students. We can also permanently strengthen our intellectual and economic base. But perhaps most important, we can have happy, satisfied citizens who respect each other and work together for the achievement of bold new futures.
- Executive Summary
- The Best Practices Initiative
- Accountability and Assessment
- Accountability for What
- Who is Accountable and to Whom
- A Solution
BackgroundTable of Contents
Current educational practices are not optimized to use all of our human capacity, and we are failing our students. Even when students show up, too often they are not inspired to think. They may be able to reduce 3/6 to 1/2 but fail to appreciate that these represent the same amount. They may know how to decode a word, but be unable to form a sentence or reduce an extended thought to writing.
The focus of this system must extend beyond imparting “traditional skills" to training and developing the ability to draw the connections that make these skills usable in student’s lives.
MissionTable of Contents
In order to accomplish a goal it must be defined. Only then can a set of measures be established to determine if the system is accomplishing what it set out to. This Paper proposes the following:Educational Mission Statement
In order to secure the future growth and prosperity, and to create a happy, successful nation, our guarantee is a safe and healthy environment in which every child can realize his fullest potential as a student and as a human being. Our mission is to foster excellence and apply the best known educational practices to make of our students:
- Moral and Ethical Human Beings, people who love life and who care for their fellow human beings and the society to which they belong;
- Active and Committed Citizens , people who understand history and are willing to take a stand for what they believe is right, for themselves, for their families and communities, and for society as a whole;
- Risk Takers, people who continuously challenge themselves, who set for themselves the highest of standards and strive to realize them;
- Scientists and Philosophers, people who are intellectually curious, who delve deeply into matters, who constantly reflect, evaluate, and incorporate new information in their life-long quest to understand their world and how it works; and
- Individuals, people who are independent, proud, confident, and know what they stand for, while also accepting, respecting and relating with those who don’t share their ideas and viewpoints.
For the purposes of this paper, it will be assumed that the mission our educrats choose will accord in general principles with that proposed above.
The Best Practices InitiativeTable of Contents
Just as one would not call a plumber to fix a broken electrical panel, a desk sergeant for forensic analysis, or a dentist for neurological research, one should not trust other than recognized educational experts and researchers when it comes to the reform of education. Unfortunately, the conversation about reform of education has long been controlled by educational bureaucrats, politicians, and even well-meaning but woefully misinformed parents. This country is failing its children, and risking its economic well-being and political future as it continues to ignore what is known about education. This paper proposes the establishment of the following structure to ensure that the best practices are what drives our educational system.
Research Review CommitteeTable of Contents
This select committee of educational experts will consist of professional researchers in education and educational related fields. It will be their job to review all published educational research, analyze it critically and provide working summaries to the Coordinating Committee of the Best Practices Initiative (BPI), to the Best Practices Committee and, through the Public Information Office, to the press, educational policy makers, students and their parents. This committee will also comment on what areas need to be further researched and encourage the educational research community to look into these issues.
Best Practices CommitteeTable of Contents
This committee will overlap significantly with the Research Review Committee. It's job will be to take the research and summaries provided by the Research Review Committee and establish a set of best practices. It will coordinate with the Feasibility and Budget Committee to set priorities as to implementation. In its ultimate form, it will serve as a training vehicle for teachers in the field. It will do this two ways:
- It will be publish The Professional Educator, a quarterly newsletter to provide teachers with access to best practices and the data and arguments to support them.
- It will run a teacher training unit. Under the committees auspices will be a team of teacher trainers who will work with teachers and administrators in the field on an ongoing basis to bring best practices to the classroom. This will operate as an in house consulting organization.
This committee will also have a special functionary, who is also part of the Public Information Office, to collect information on educational practices worldwide with a view to making available an executive summary of what works and what does not so that the Unions, Government and the Press can get their information straight.
Feasibility and Budget CommitteeTable of Contents
This committee will work with the Research Review and Best Practices Committee to determine the feasibility of proposed changes and help to develop a set of standards for the determination of what programs will be implemented.
Best Practices SchoolsTable of Contents
The Ministry will adopt one each of a failing primary, middle and secondary school. It will have a special team that is responsible for applying the best practices to these schools. These schools will also be training grounds for new teachers. In conjunction with the various teaching colleges, aspiring teachers will work in these schools and learn how to apply what works. These schools will also provide the space for working teachers and administrators to come and experience best practices that they can then take back to their own classrooms and schools. In the event that permanent model schools are established, there will also be on-campus facilities for veteran teachers to spend a part of their sabbatical year taking education courses and experiencing these schools.
Public Information OfficeTable of Contents
This office's primary mission will be to recognize that teachers are professionals and that they know best what education is and should be. This office will establish for the public the value of the professional educator. Just as a person would not trust a reporter or editorial board to diagnose his medical condition, it should not look to the popular press to determine what is wrong with our schools. It should look to the professionals, and when it does, the first place it should look is the PIO. This office will disseminate research summaries and information on best practices and highlight the Ministry’s accomplishments. It will have information packets for the media which will provide the media ready access to research based knowledge about education and to the researchers, perhaps through designated "experts" of the Research Review Committee.
It will hold regular conferences for the press and education policy makers.
Educational Resources UnitTable of Contents
This office will:
Maintain a website with public access materials suitable for teaching.
- It will work with the nations newspaper publishers to put archival materials on line so that students have access to primary sources regarding the history and events they are studying.
- It will provide links and access to math and science that are accessible to students at all levels and that makes these subjects come alive to them.
- It will provide access to diverse sources on the issues of the day so that students can learn to question their beliefs, incorporate new information, theorize about their world and test those theories.
- Provide educational materials in print form in support of the best practices established above.
- Provide access to supplementary materials of interest to students, again to help education come alive for all those concerned.
- Coordinate with bodies and companies outside of the ministry that are willing to make resources available or coordinate activities for educational purposes. This may include companies and businesses that are willing to provide internships, access to facilities, tours or special projects, or access to current and retired experts.
- Maintain a website with public access materials suitable for teaching.
Accountability and AssessmentTable of Contents
Questions of accountability necessarily raise the issue of what is being accounted for. To establish a workable system of education, the Ministry must define what it is accountable for, to whom it will be held accountable, and how to systematically assure that it is producing results.
Accountability for WhatTable of Contents
The focus should be on excellence in the process of learning rather than on the attainment of a set curriculum. This is not to suggest that curriculum is not important and should not be set or measured, but that the near exclusive reliance on such measures orients teaching in such a manner that it interferes with our primary goals and paradoxically the attainment of the very curriculum sought to be taught.
This also extends well beyond the classroom and must include the provision of a safe, healthy and inspiring environment for the attainment of our objectives.
Who is Accountable and to WhomTable of Contents
There are a number of stakeholders in all educational systems. Ultimately, each of these stakeholders is accountable our students to deliver the best education that the budget will allow. As resources are finite, it is also incumbent upon us to balance our priorities and tailor our initiatives for maximum impact and efficiency.Table of Contents
The Chief Administrator is accountable for providing the context in which students can learn. To the students, he is responsible for a safe and healthy learning environment. To the teachers, he is responsible for access to the support and resources necessary to conduct their classes. This support must include access to master educators and programming for professional development, in addition to mechanisms for dealing with student, parent and personal issues. These resources include educational research as well as all the materials necessary for the running of a classroom.
To the public, the Chief Administrator is accountable for efficient use and equitable allocation of resources, advocating for appropriate allocations from the Knesset, and ensuring that students’ educational interests always trump political considerations.
Ultimately, the Chief Administrator is responsible for ensuring that what goes on in the classroom is in accord with best known practices. As a political appointee, it is understood that he may not have expertise in every matter over which he is accountable. It is therefore his duty to select respected professional educators as his functionaries and defer to their expertise in determining educational policy.Table of Contents
The administrator is first and foremost responsible for a healthy, safe, and inspiring learning and teaching environment. It is his job to stand in support of the teacher and to help educate parents as to how the educational methods in use best serve his wards. As such, he must be a partner in the work the Best Practices Committee is bringing to his school and understand the research that underlies the Committee’s work.
It is also his job to work with his teachers in the development of educational goals, methods and measurements on a class by class basis, provide the support necessary to achieve those goals and review progress periodically to ensure that it is being made.Table of Contents
The teacher’s job is to know her students, understand their interests and abilities, and to build on those to develop the subject matter that is her responsibility. Her job is to cause her students to think deeply about the subject at hand, to question it and theorize about it, and to put those theories to the test in order to gain the completest possible perspective and understanding of a matter. Her job is to question and challenge and respect all viewpoints.
Within this, she must design the program she wishes to accomplish and establish a mechanism to assess progress. She must be able to justify the program she is using to her students and their parents, and must inspire her students to take ownership over their own advancement and development.
She must also be an advocate for her students to all other stake-holders. She must explain to parents what she is doing, what she expects to accomplish, and what is expected of them.Table of Contents
The primary job of the students is to show up and be partners in their own advancement. They will be asked to set their own goals and determine how they will know when they have met them.
They will also be encouraged to challenge and inquire, and trained to take responsibility. Opportunity will be given for students to sit on committees and participate in decision making at all levels of their school.
As students advance, they will be asked to consider their own future goals and will be counseled on what is necessary for their achievement and how their studies must accordingly be organized.Table of Contents
Parents are responsible for supporting both student and teacher. They are expected to teach their children manners and respect. They are also expected to take an interest in their children’s education and to provide input into the schools direction and priorities via appropriate structures.Table of Contents
Measurement of a thing often interferes with the thing measured. Think about boiling a pot of water. Every time we take off the lid to check if it is boiling, heat is let out and the process slows. If we keep taking the pot off the flame to stick a thermometer in, it might never come up to temperature. So we learn to be patient and get a whistling tea pot or a glass lid. We also remember that we don’t need a thermometer to tell us if water is boiling. We can hear it. We can also touch the pot to see if it is getting hot or look under it to check for a flame.
As educational policymakers, we must always be wary of the risks of focusing too much on certain measures. We must recognize that learning is a process that must be given time. We must trust that as heat is applied, the water will eventually come to a boil. As administrators and bureaucrats, we must learn how to check the educational flame without lifting the lid.Table of Contents
Most of our students have been indoctrinated to believe that their role is to come home with a grade and pass examinations. Those who feel they can not often believe they have failed as students, and perhaps even as human beings. With this limited viewpoint, students do what is logical to maximize their “success." They “learn" the materials they are supposed to in order to regurgitate what they have been asked to by their teachers, and they “learn" what is going to be on the examinations. Unfortunately, this type of learning often fails to lead to deep understanding of a subject and much of the material learned is forgotten within a short time after examinations have completed. Given the sweeping nature of the many examinations students have to take, test preparation devolves into an exercise in memorization, with the consequence being that the knowledge gained is often extremely superficial and the ability to apply it in an authentic context is limited. In short, setting an external standard often reduces the standard to the minimum necessary, instead of the maximum of which a student is capable.
The Ministry of Education must be responsible for the fact that different manners of measurement are appropriate to different purposes. The Mission set out above is not one suited to evaluation exclusively by way of summative assessments. But progress must be made, and there must be a means of measuring it.Table of Contents
Accountability for this paper’s purposes will deal with how schools, teachers, parents and students can be held answerable for meeting the objectives of our educational system. Assessment comprises the means by which we measure the educational progress of students and the effectiveness of their teachers, administrators and schools at delivering education.
The point of departure should be our objectives for her students. While there is certain basic knowledge that all students should attain, the context in which they meet these objectives is decisive to the people they will become. This paper assumes as our goals the molding of Moral and Ethical Human Beings, Scientists and Philosophers, Life-Long Learners, Risk Takers, Active and Committed Citizens, and Individuals.
When a system enrolls its students in these ideals and work out of this context, students innate drive for their own advancement will take over. Only when a student takes ownership over his own learning – instead of feeling that it is something he is compelled to do – will true learning be available to him.
The primary means of determining whether a student is learning will be to look at his works. He will be expected to keep a log or portfolio in his subjects, encouraged to maintain a journal, and will be asked to explain what he sought out to accomplish, and analyze how well he met his own goals.Table of Contents
There are numerous ways assessment can be characterized. One of these is as summative verses formative assessments. Summative assessment is assessment of status, what has been learned or where a particular matter stands. The Bagrut is an example of this. After a course of study, a test is given to determine if a student has learned the material that he should know for the test. The Meitzav is also summative, being used, to determine where students, and also schools, stand in relation to a desired outcome. It’s focus is on whether a student has learned what he was supposed to. While there is no question that a certain fount of knowledge is desirable, the course of study followed to meet the demands of an exam often simply stresses what will be on the exam and fails to put the material gained in a context that a student will be able to draw on it meaningfully to further his own education. Unfortunately, even when students do learn what they need for a test, they often forget much of what they have “learned" in short order afterwards.
In contrast to this stands formative assessment. Formative assessment is an ongoing process using both formal and informal methods that allow “teachers and students to recognize and respond to student learning in order to enhance that learning, during the learning." Students are trained to self-assess and reflect on their learning and its purposes in order to “grasp what they need to do to achieve."
The teacher’s role in this context is to work with students to create assessments and review processes to determine how best to proceed with a student. Evaluation thus takes on a more holistic approach, one which has as its focus the development of the student instead of the achievement of a grade.
To the extent summaries are necessary, these can be in narrative form with exemplars attached and specifically addressing the competencies expected of a child at his particular grade level.
Similar assessment models will be established for teachers and administrators.Table of Contents
In order to have a meaningful assessment, we should consider why the assessment is being made. In most cases, assessments made under the auspices of the Ministry of Education will be used for military and/or university placement. Considering the many jobs and fields of study in which the current evaluations are used for placement, they can not adequately evaluate the skill sets necessary for any particular one. While they may lead to some reproducible ranking of students, they can not tell us who can formulate a scientific question well and design the experiment to test it, who will likely relate well to patients, who will effectively represent someone in court, or whose artistic expression merits the study of fine arts.
The burden should be shifted to those who are selecting to determine appropriate criteria. These criteria will be communicated to students and they can then plan their studies accordingly.Table of Contents
Though the foundations of this program are a Best Practices Initiative and a revised structure for accountability and assessment, these will only be effective in the right context. Icing on a mud cake still leaves a mud cake. To create something palatable, the ministry must clear the mud before it can produce results. To do this, the Ministry should consider taking the following steps immediately:
- In partnership with all of the stakeholders, establish a mission statement including our goals and a set of core competencies that our students should achieve.
- Take a critical look at current practices, and eliminate those that don’t work.
- Teach students to regulate their own learning and use self-assessment strategies to achieve at their highest potential.
- Give students choice in the matter of their own education. Give them a voice in how the school is run and what they will learn. Encourage them to set their own priorities in line with their future educational and career goals. Train staff, teachers and social workers to help students do this in a meaningful manner.
- Give parents a voice in their children’s education at the level of the management of the school and the setting of its priorities.
- Give schools and teachers the opportunity to set out their own specific goals, and provide a structure for review of methods and progress at various times during the year.
- Train teachers and administrators to most effectively assess and use assessments to guide their teaching and achieve educational goals.
- Train teachers to analyze their own efforts, to measure progress toward their goals, and to adjust their teaching appropriately. At the same time, give them the freedom to experiment and determine what is best in their own classrooms. Training should be intensive, on-site and ongoing.
- Provide our administrators the training to be able to measure defined goals and assist teachers in achieving them.
- Ensure that all stakeholders have access to valid current educational research so that they can place their schools on a firm foundation.
- Provide for an extensive development and review structure within the schools. This should include time for observations of other classes and debriefings to analyze what works and institutionalize it.
- Create a consultancy and evaluation structure, preferably drawn from the best professors at the various teachers colleges in ongoing training and restructuring efforts at schools, and make them available over extended periods of time.
- Use summative assessments sparingly. To the extent status reports are necessary, randomly select a statistically significant sampling of students and administer tests to them. Do not require students to do comprehensive exams, but break the tests into parts that will be spread over a larger sampling of students. Do not divulge individual results to students, but instead use the results for formative purposes only.
- Where particular bodies of knowledge are required (i.e. army placements and university program admissions), put the burden on those making the selections to provide sufficiently targeted evaluations to meet their needs. The military can rely on armed services vocational aptitude batteries and additional tests for special services. Universities can use portfolio reviews, personal interviews, statements of interest and proposals for research – in addition to or in place of targeted tests – to provide a more complete and accurate assessment of a student’s potential than a high school certificate provides.
- Establish a Best Practices Initiative to provide teachers with the research and tools to be the most effective teachers they can be. Continue to train and work with teachers, both in and out of their classrooms, in order to bring these best practices to fruition.
We are about creating Inspired and Engaged Human Beings. Our commitment in the system must therefore be to the excellence, happiness and success of all of our children. To assure that we achieve this, we must specifically define our mission and create a structure in service of that mission. Every initiative and allocation of resources should be viewed in the light of that mission. The lens which must be applied is that of the scientific process. Our thinking and our planning should proceed from that which we know, not from the biases and beliefs we have developed based on our specific experiences. When we apply these best practices, we will achieve our mission.