Everybody is a Genius

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein saId this long before NCLB, TAAS, MCAS, FCAT, CAT and all the rest. The idea of standards-based education and testing was to make education equal; students would have the same rigor of instruction and learning expectations no matter where they went to school. This concept is hard to argue with. But, the reality is that equality of results relies on so many factors beyond teachers: equality of funding, student health and nutrition, availability of good tutors, emotional stability, parental and community support, culture etc. These variables are enormous. Yet the statisticians insist on comparing schools based on these assessments, to the detriment of the school and the student. No school wants to be labeled underperforming. No principal deserves to be fired for the variables that impact student performance. (Some may deserve to be fired for doing their job poorly as a manager and an instructional leader.) Where will “underperforming” schools find top-notch teachers? How can they do a good job in an atmosphere of low morale and high pressure?

It’s the students who suffer most from low self-esteem, are labeled and put in remedial classes. These kids go through life believing they are stupid. This is the real crime of the system. There’s a high school in Massachusetts with a 50% dropout rate. Yes, I said Massachusetts. Many of these students would make great graphical designers, historians, physical education or world language teachers, EMTs and a wide variety of other professionals. Yet they gave up because they had no hope of passing the MCAS in math or English/language arts and graduating.  Howard Gardner at Harvard elucidated the theory of Multiple Intelligences 30 years ago, yet the current educational system totally ignores this valuable concept.

Every student needs certain basic capabilities in reading, computer literacy and mathematics. These expectations are essential. We needed to move beyond “social promotion” of a few generations ago where it was possible for a student to graduate unable to read. We must look to the options available for graduates to be able to earn a living and to the talents of the individual students. Education should be nurturing their multiple intelligences. Surely our next generation will need science and math graduates, but many others as well. Education in some countries prepares the students for the opportunities available in the workforce. By the end of 4th grade, every child in Aruba is fluent in three languages: Papiamento, English and Spanish because the number one industry there is tourism. Tourists are primarily from the US and South America. Most can do mental math with money faster than you or I can use a calculator. But if these people had gone to school in the US, they would have no future, no high school diploma, no opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness would be beyond their reach.Image


A Teacher’s Voice: On Leaving with a Sad and Heavy Heart

Of all the research in education, the one variable that consistently shows an impact on student learning is the teacher. Yet teachers currently have the least amount of influence on our current educational system; they are treated as workers on an assembly line who turn students into proficient test takers.

If you don’t believe that our public education system is broken, please watch Ellie Rubenstein’s video. Her first-hand experience tells how legislation and policies have resulted in misdirected priorities, attrition of good teachers, and schools that are failing our students.

Teacher’s resignation video: ‘Everything I loved about teaching is extinct’

Typing showing the words I quit.

From the Washington Post,
May 23, 2013

Time for a New Paradigm: A Model of Education for the Future

Education is not about test scores. It’s about preparing students for a productive life. It’s about helping all students find a purpose, a passion, and a meaningful way to make a living. It’s about teaching students:

  • Reading in English to open countless doors;
  • Math to solve problems logically and to have the tools for financial literacy;
  • Writing to communicate effectively,
  • Social studies to understand the meaning of good citizenship, our place in the global economy, and world politics;
  • Science to understand nature, health, and spark innovations for the future; and
  • Fine and performing arts to find beauty and to appreciate expressions of culture in our world.

Education should foster child-like curiosity and creativity, key ingredients of life-long learning. If we are spending billions on creating standards, tests, accountability systems, and a myriad of curricular materials, we are not spending this money on educating our students. Our current system demands that one size fits all. Our students are not all alike. They have distinct talents, diverse backgrounds, and very different needs. Future engineers need four years of high school math; future landscapers, artists and chefs do not.

What a costly, horrific mess we have made of public education in America. It has perpetrated a whole industry of test makers, consultants, statisticians, and curriculum developers, costing us billions of dollars. In the name of accountability, we strive to preserve an ineffective system, where educating the student is not the priority.

We urgently need to stop, re-examine education, and create a new vision before it’s too late. As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

An example of a geodesic dome based on Fuller's design

The geodesic dome based on Fuller’s design at Epcot Center http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Epcot07.jpg

This new model needs these elements:

  • Dedicated, visionary leaders and respected teachers who focus on the students;
  • Unlimited, organized curricular materials in all subject areas;
  • Student leaders who are rewarded for their efforts and recognized for their talents;
  • A parent, guardian or involved adult; and
  • A system that makes this possible.

Successful schools build a leadership team that understands what their students need and finds ways to meet these needs; this includes students with language, cognitive, emotional and social issues as well as those with abilities and talents that require nurturing. Leaders need to understand the mission and be able to implement all aspects of making a meaningful education a reality for all their students.  In James C. Collins’ book From Good to Great, the author starts with importance of “getting the right people on the bus.”

All curricular materials should become part of a national repository, available to all online, coded to essential standards, vetted for accuracy, and keyed sequentially to depth of understanding. Wikipedia has made encyclopedias obsolete; similarly, this repository would make textbooks a costly thing of the past. The power of technology vastly improves curricular resources with embedded videos, assessments, hyperlinks, text-to-speech, ease of access, and lack of printing costs.

Grade levels would be based upon student mastery, not chronological age. In the early years of schooling, students would work on basic skills on the computer, in small groups with the teacher, whole class activities, and in pairs, as appropriate. Skill mastery would be measured by the computer assessments. Students would progress, as in martial arts or scouts, by earning their badges or belts for completion and then moving to the next level.  Students demonstrating proficiency and a desire to tutor may be paired with others needing more help.  More mature students can be formally developed as tutors to assist struggling students. Groups of students with similar interests can work on projects that foster creativity, apply knowledge, and develop collaborative skills.

The teacher’s role will be one of a good coach. Teachers will be expected to:

  • Have in-depth knowledge of and a passion for their subject;
  • Know their students, their strengths and weaknesses;
  • Schedule class and group activities;
  • Monitor each student’s progress;
  • Encourage students’ talents and keep them challenged.

The school leadership will set a culture of high expectations with all students and teachers working to realize their fullest potential. Collaboration among teachers, peers and parents will be the norm. Every teacher and student in every school will have a portable electronic device with access to the repository. Instead of one mass of marginally meaningful data that our present testing scores provide, computer systems will set standard competency levels in all subjects and then include multiple paths for students to pursue until they have met sufficient requirements for graduation with a marketable set of skills or preparation to pursue advanced studies. Parents will be able to access the repository as well as their child’s progress electronically.

The need for legislation, policies, and earmarked funds for specific groups of students would no longer be necessary. This new model would meet the needs of all students and truly provide an appropriate education for each and every one. It’s time for this new paradigm.

The National Curriculum Project: A Repository for Universal Access

What the world of education needs now is a National Repository of Curricular Materials. This would be an online library of lessons on every subject with pre-assessments, instructional media, practice tasks, quizzes, and tests all linked to the common core standards.

Can this be done? There is a precedent, the federal government funded the National Genome Project at a time when gene-sequencing work was fragmented, competition in the field was rampant and yet, the entire human genome was sequenced for all scientists to access worldwide.  This made possible exponential progress in science because the common good prevailed.

Analogously, private interests by textbook publishers and educational consultants would need to allow funds to be allocated centrally for this to happen in education. Currently, the common core standards have spurred a flurry of disparate activities to create texts, units, and lessons by teachers, professors, consultants, publishers and others. Yet teachers and students don’t have the materials they need at their fingertips. Over 40 years ago, we had a textbook that was the curriculum, complete with quizzes, tests and tips in the teacher’s edition. Teachers planned, taught, and focused on their students.

But the world is far too complex, the classrooms of today far to diverse for static textbooks. We need appropriate, engaging materials available for all students: for helping struggling students, for challenging proficient ones and for addressing the needs of all students in between. The vast majority of these curricular materials already exist: in published and online texts, states’ extensions of the standards, uTube videos, online assessments, educational games, etc.  They need to be vetted, indexed and made available to all.

The intended consequence of this proposed curricular project is access to an appropriate education for all. With this tool, students could progress at whatever pace is most suitable to them: delving deeper into areas that interest them and repeating lessons similar to ones they find difficult. Teachers would finally have all the tools for differentiation in their classrooms. Every student would have the world at his fingertips.


The Repository would allow the system to break the mold of education by chronological age. Students would be grouped by progress, as in martial arts. Classrooms would be different. As communities of learners, students could shine in their areas of strength. Students would learn that practice and perseverance lead to success and recognition. Teachers and student leaders could spend time in small groups, clarifying concepts, discussing issues, making one another think, and providing encouragement for the pursuit of excellence.

Teachers’ roles would be re-defined as coaches, mentors, progress monitors, and discussion leaders. They will have time to know their students, encourage them, and build on their strengths. Sparking students’ interests and passions is how education will give us future successful citizens.


In 1868, Ezra Cornell said “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Today internet access for all and the organized, vetted materials of a National Repository of Curricular Materials can make this possible!


Photo from dreamtime.com _______________________________________________________________________

First Grader from Honduras Becomes a Hero

In October, a new student, Manuel, came to our school from Honduras.  On his third day, the substitute said I was coming to take students to the computer lab. When the class lined up and he was to go with them, Manuel looked at me with fear in his eyes. He crawled under the desk, watching me as if I was marching them to their execution. Then, the substitute said something to him in Spanish. Slowly he crept out and got at the end of the line. As we went down the hall, I kept looking back to be sure he was still with us.  The other students seemed to pay little attention to him, and I wasn’t even sure if he understood much English. When we got to the lab, the students took seats at their computers. They were working on addition in a program called Math Workshop.

screeen from the computer game Math Workshop

Math Workshop by Broderbund Software

In this program, the graphics put them in a bowling alley where they were given a math problem. After solving 10 correctly in a row,the gorilla bowled a strike for them and the animated pins made a funny comment. Most of the students had completed two or three sets of ten, when Manuel had done over 70 problems correctly. By the end of the half hour session, he had finished the whole set of 100. His classmates noticed and suddenly he became as big a hero as any winning Patriots quarterback in their eyes. Manuel walked proudly back to class with a huge smile on his face.

Editorial comment: How often do school staff members take time and use resources to recognize talent? This is how to build self-esteem, not through social-promotion, false praise and “being fair.”

Life is like a game of Pac-Man: Priorities in Education


Life is like a game of Pac-man. It’s hard to remember that the objective is to clear the board of dots when you are busy running from the monsters. Take education, for example, we are busy with school security, gun control, bullying policies, teacher training, standardized testing, evaluating teachers to name just a few of the monsters distracting us from the real task of education. Because of an obsession with data, we label students, schools and districts underperforming. When the true significance of the data is questioned, the response is to collect more data, to slice and dice it longitudinally, and to try to justify it.

We have forgotten that the real task is to clear the dots, to prepare all students to be self-supporting, contributing members of society, to be educated to make their life’s work something they are passionate about, or at least interested in.  Education involves such life skills as the ability to plan ahead, to problem solve, and to work with others. To achieve this goal, it is essential that we recruit and train good teachers and provide them with the resources to teach. They will be able to build self-esteem through high standards, hard work and encouragement. The monsters of false fairness, unearned praise, social promotion and fear have kept us running for too long.

To clear the board, we need to find the talents and abilities of our students and to encourage and build on these. The more we try to make the future Isadora Duncans into scientists and the gym class klutzes into athletes, the less likely we are to succeed.