A Final Thought

Number 300

And there is enough for another 300.

Twenty-eight years ago, I helped bring this magazine into being, but I was not in a position to run it. Instead I asked for an opportunity to serve as a columnist, to observe what was going on in and around schools and to provide a “Final Thought.”

This is my 300th column since 1985. During that time a lot has happened in schools — some of it very good, some not. I’ve had the opportunity to comment on such varied items as the need to upgrade buildings and the advantages of small schools; on the importance of keeping school buildings open and the importance of community schools.

The early columns came during a period of rapid school facility growth, and I wrote about providing places for individual study and group activity. I remember distinctly a column titled, “Architects should not plan schools”, that said educators should do the planning, architects should do the design. The column led to a face-to-face confrontation with an architect from New Mexico.

I used this column to discuss the importance of kindergarten and pre-K, and was an early critic of the “test,test,test” mentality of so many of our politicians and business leaders who like to dabble in education. I wrote supporting charter schools 25 years ago as an opportunity for experimentation, but more recently have opposed them because they no longer serve that purpose but only pull public money into private hands.

I’ve been encouraged by Diane Ravitch’s stepping out as a leader opposing attacks on public education, and remember a column almost a decade ago where I questioned the education associations for their failure to take leadership and suggested they turn to Dr. Ravitch to head such an effort.

Three hundred opportunities to comment, to criticize, to encourage, to view the entire education scene and to write, argue, persuade and, occasionally, be wrong! Who could ask for anything more?

Unfortunately, despite my efforts and those of many others, America’s public schools are not doing as good of a job as they should in preparing our children for a future that is very different from the one into which most of today’s adults were raised. Many changes need to be made. It does no good to insist that the public schools are as good as they can be. They’re not.

The real question is how best to improve them. Should it be done through passage of new laws, imposed tests, and political and market pressure, or should it be done by adapting and adopting educational programs that exist, have been proven, but have not yet been implemented by a great majority of public schools? I’d vote for the latter.

For example, smaller class sizes and smaller learning communities do work, in part because individual children in smaller classes and schools are more likely to be noticed and to get the help they need and less likely to fall through the cracks. And yet, school districts continue to create large schools and close the small ones.

Facilities make a difference — more space, more learning tools, more opportunity to move about and collaborate, elimination of no-purpose rooms, etc. allow better programs. Being comfortable — not too hot, not too cold — and being able to hear and see, helps. And yet, the number of schools with physical deficiencies grows and grows and the dollars needed to provide a fix becomes astronomical.

There are programs that have been proven and work. Lloyd Trump’s approach to secondary schools, as updated in Breaking Ranks, published by the NASSP, is an example. But very few high school principals have studied the book and fewer still have adopted its principles.

Non-grading that allows children in the early grades to work and advance at their own pace works. Providing children with experience in music, art, dance, drama and physical activity works. But, many schools have closed or limited these programs in order to use the time to add more reading and math in order to pass the tests.

These are just a few samples of educational programs that work but have not yet been fully adopted and implemented. The public schools do have to change but that change should be instituted by teachers and administrators using the many tools and programs that are already known and available to them.

I know I’m a dreamer, but I do care about education and children. I want educational leaders to make the schools better using tools they already have without allowing outside forces to set the agenda. There’s enough for another 300 columns on that subject alone.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management December 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Paul Abramson is education industry analyst for SP&M and president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, an educational facilities consulting firm based in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He was named CEPFI’s 2008 "Planner of the Year."

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