Strong American Schools

Observant visitors to TeacherJay’s blog may have noticed a new button (down towards the bottom of the left-side column). It is to the ED in ’08 site and their campaign sponsored by the group, Strong American Schools. Today’s post gives an overview of the organization and their primary goals.

First, a little background of snippets taken directly from the site:

Strong American Schools is a nonpartisan public awareness and action campaign offering a voice to every American who supports “ED in 08.” Our goal is to ensure that the nation engages in a rigorous debate and to make education a top priority in the 2008 presidential election. We hope that candidates will offer genuine leadership rather than empty rhetoric and tell voters how they intend to strengthen America’s schools so all students receive the education they deserve.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, two of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world, have provided grant funding for Strong American Schools.

The organization’s drive to put education in the forefront of the 2008 presidential campaign is a noble one. They want candidates to focus on three main issues:

  1. American Education Standards
  2. Effective Teachers in Every Classroom
  3. More Time and Support for Learning

American Education Standards would entail creating a list of benchmarks that all students should be hitting at every grade level. These standards would form the basis for teachers, schools and districts to write lesson plans, but would not actually be a curriculum in of itself. TeacherJay applauds this idea even more than the creation of a national curriculum as it defines what is expected of schools and ensures that students all over the country are learning the same material. While this has some benefits in fairness and equality when measuring progress according to NCLB and the doling out of money, it also would ease things like students moving to a different state and would be especially beneficial for the children of migrant workers who move to different schools frequently.

Effective Teachers in Every Classroom includes the ideas of merit pay for outstanding performance and tough assignments. TeacherJay is not averse to this idea, only to the way that it has currently been implemented, i.e. as it is now merit pay simply forms an incentive for schools to cheat as has happened recently. If the first goal were accomplished, however, and school officials were not them ones deciding how they should judge themselves, then perhaps an equitable manner of establishing merit pay should be awarded. However, it should always involve assessing the progress of individual students and the gains that each one has made – not compared to every other student.

More Time and Support for Learning would involve providing more individual attention to students who need it and providing additional support services for all. TeacherJay, of course, thinks this is a wonderful idea. Moreover, the limited number of hours in the school day and school year need to be put to better use. Classroom management for administrative times needs to be covered in teacher education programs, using methods such as the ones that Harry K. Wong has developed. A longer school day is NOT the answer to this problem, though a year-round school calendar may be. Stay tuned for more on that idea…

ED in ’08 has some wonderful goals and will hopefully drive the discussions during the campaign towards education, and more than just the simple rhetoric of “more accountability” and “back to basics” that has happened in the past. Those slogans did not get us anywhere as they did not offer solutions. The organization has some big name funders, and is getting some good press so hopefully candidates will start to pay attention as well. Singer, Kanye West, who was once quite vocal about his feelings towards George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina (what natural and shocked reactions from Mike Myers and Chris Tucker! – poor guys), is featured in their Public Service Announcement, and for that he receives a gold star.


One Response to “Strong American Schools”

  1. JP Says:

    While I agree with most of what I have read here and while reading over the site, there is one item I would like to contest: merit pay.

    As an enrichment, or specials teacher (music), I would probably never see a dime in pay. I do not see students every day, although I am made to make sure my teaching includes many of the same standards and anchors that the CA, Math, and other teachers focus on. This seems to be a rather biased view of education and how to deal with professionals, especially when it concerns the testing as is currently being administered.

    Also, some teachers are placed in positions where they teach students who would naturally be making the passing grade. Think of high school teachers who teach primarily AP courses. Or honors level courses. How about special education teachers, or ESL teachers whose students history and previous learning would make it a near impossibility to make the grade, even though in the 10 months they see the student that student has made unbelievable gains in achievement.

    Ideas? Perhaps the governments could plan for bonus money for schools that show continued improvement that would be delivered as bonuses to all teachers? This would make sure that all teachers and administrations are working together to see that standards are being addressed. This might also be used to support the schools – newer and better textbooks, better technology, things that all schools could use.

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