Education Policy in Short
*To read the policy in full, see further below
"I want my children learning as much about helping others as I do them learning about reading, writing and arithmetic", said Schriner -Ohio Magazine
"We need to teach much more conflict resolution in schools", said Schriner. - Crescent News, Defiance, Ohio.
"The Columbine High School shootings didn't happen in a vacuum", said Schriner. - Cheboygan (MI) News-Tribune.
Schriner told the Nebraska City (NE) News-Press that it is essential that students not only learn about the environment, but become good environmental stewards.
During a talk at Ohio's University of Dayton, Schriner said that schools Chaminade Program (which teaches students how to approach career as a "vocation") should be emulated in schools all over the country.
Develop a new education paradigm.
One-fifth of American curriculum should be community Service Learning work. (This would unleash a lot more help to societal areas that needed help. And it would help form students in the ways of being more caring.)
Reduce classroom size considerably. (This would include more teachers, more teachers-aids and more parent, and other adult community member, involvement in the schools.)
Develop Learning Teams in every school. Teams comprised of the student, an advisor, a family member(s), community mentors. Not only does this team create a tremendous amount of support for the student, but it also draws more community members into the school system.
Replace the Common Core and No Child Left Behind - type programs, which are top-heavy with standardized tests and rote learning protocols, with a much more creative, individual teacher-led approach -- in synch with the needs and talents of a particular classroom of students.
For some schools, particularly some inner city schools, have no formal grades of grade levels. Cleveland, Ohio's, K-8 award winning Urban Community School meets students where they're at in a non-shaming way, said Director Sr. Maureen Doyle. Grades can be so punitive, especially for kids already experiencing failures in life down here, Sr. Doyle continued. UCS students have gone on to be Presidential Scholars at Boston University, the University of Notre Dame,and Georgetown University.
Experience related learning should be incorporated into curriculums in a much more prolific way. That is, a traditional school math course would include, say, multiplying rather sterile numbers. Whereas the students at Cleveland's Urban Community School learn math through things like adding, subtracting, multiplying the Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron Jamess' field goal percentages, number of assists, and so on. Sr. Maureen said this becomes much more meaningful and memorable.
Turn every school into a quality charter school. With the better students currently getting vouchers and heading for quality charter schools, the other students are left further abandoned in decaying schools. The focus should be on improving all the schools, and creating incentives for some suburbanite families to move back into the cities to help change, not only the class atmosphere, but the infra-structure (improved tax base, as an example) of the schools, and cities.
An increase in shop classes that teach about quality craftsmanship, like in the old days.
More Physical Education classes. With childhood obesity and youth sedentary lifestyles on the rise, more Phys. Ed. classes make sense, common sense. What's more, some of these classes should focus on teaching about lifetime sports, like walking, bicycling, kayaking, jogging, canoeing... And the Phys. Ed. stream should include classes on healthy nutrition.
Much more Multi-Cultural Education. Because we are such a melting pot, if we're really interested in strong community building, we need to learn about each other, that simple. These studies would cover African-American Studies, Latin-American Studies, Hispanic-American studies, etc. This would also include a dramatic increase in emersion experiences, where students went to such geographic locations like Appalachia, the Southern border, and so on, to learn about people in their home settings.
More Work/Study options. For students not going to college, Vinton County High School in Ohio allows students to spend part of the school day working. What's more, in this stream the school teaches core classes on topics like the various fundamentals of running a business. At a collegiate level, Antioch College has a Work/Study Program that allows the student to go to school for a semester, then work in their chosen field for a semester. This cycle repeats for the entire four years.
Career should be viewed in light of vocation, for some. The University of Dayton's Chaminade Program is oriented toward getting students to look at career as a vocation choice centered around the common good of society. Students visit a seminary to learn about discerning prayer, they volunteer at outreaches to the poor, and they spend their Spring Breaks volunteering around the country
More focus on trust-building and conflict resolution in schools. Ohio's Euclid High School has peer mediation and support groups. Wilmington College's Peace Resource Center stages two and a half day retreats between various opinion leaders from various clique groups. This goes a long way in starting to break down barriers.
Incorporation of farming classes and Farm Schools in much more American curriculum. Our platform calls for a shift back to an agrarian-based society and this would be the building blocks for some of this.
Schools should be open much longer hours, with them doubling as community centers in the evenings, especially for latch key kids.
Classes on the environment, recycling (practically everything), and alternative energy should be taught from elementary school on up.
Education Position Paper
“I want our children learning as much about helping others, as I do them learning about reading, writing and arithmetic,” [said Schriner.] –Ohio Magazine
Categories covered below include: 1) New Paradigm; 2) Service Learning; 3) Classroom Size; 4) Learning Teams; 5) No Child Left Behind?; 6) No Formal Grades or Grade Levels (For Some); 7) Experience Related Learning; 8) Charter Schools, Vouchers… and an Alternative; 9) Vocational School and Trade School; 10) Quality Craftsmanship; 11) More Physical Education; 12) Multi-Cultural Education; 13) Work / Study; 14) Career as Vocation; 15) Trust and Conflict Resolution; 16) Farm School; 17) School Hubs, 18) update addendum
1) New Paradigm
America must develop a new educational paradigm. A paradigm that places relatively equal value on the following categories: reading, writing and arithmetic; craftsmanship; community volunteer work; environmental consciousness (or “stewardship”); multi-cultural awareness; the dynamics of healthy family life and community building; physical education, trust building and conflict resolution, farming…
For so long, education in America has been top heavy with “reading, writing and arithmetic.” This has primarily been about preparing students for a career in a highly competitive market. (And the education system has helped foster this highly competitive market.) Most of the other categories listed above have taken a back seat. As a result, we have a society that is top-heavy with cut-throat career ascension and hyper levels of materialism.
So, things like GDP and other economic indicators dominate our consciousness in America – while craftsmanship has been replaced by mind-numbing assembly line work devoid of human dignity; sparse levels of community volunteer work, at best; an environment that’s being trashed (global warming, unchecked urban sprawl, acid rain…); significant divides (and ongoing prejudice) between races; dysfunctional, and totally broken, families; rapidly diminishing community camaraderie; a sedentary / obesity epidemic; and, the decline of the family farm, which used to be the backbone of the country.
So common sense would say we have to retool the education system to refocus, and re-distribute, learning to emphasize these other areas as well. That simple.
2) Service Learning
We believe one-fifth of American curriculum should be community “Service Learning” work. And this would do several things. It would form youth in the ways of helping more. (A tenant, for instance, of most faiths.)
I once told Ohio Magazine that I wanted our children learning as much about helping others as I wanted them learning about ‘reading, writing and arithmetic.’
In Freehold, New Jersey, we interviewed a youth who really emulates the ethos of this. Marie Feely was a senior at Notre Dame High School. Notre Dame required 10 hours of community service a year (similar to many high schools). Marie did 137 hours. She worked with the homeless at a shelter, at a home for teenage mothers with AIDS, at an organization for runaway youth.
This all changed her, Marie told us. She had been thinking about a career in business. She was now thinking about a career in social work. Marie said that prior to these experiences she had grown up in such a protective “suburban bubble,” sheltered (to a large extent) from the needs of those on the margins.
And as ramped up hours of “Service Learning” in the community would help form youth in a more well-rounded way, it would also unleash much more help to areas of the community that need help.
In Jefferson, Ohio, I interviewed two high school juniors who were involved with a “Service Learning” course at their school. Some of their community work had included helping with: a Buddy Walk for Down Syndrome children; helping paint the high school stadium, walking dogs at the local Humane Society.
What a better country this would be from community to community if scores of youth were regularly involved like this.
And we try to practice what we preach. As part of their home schooling, our children have volunteered at outreaches for the homeless in urban Atlanta and urban Cleveland, Ohio. They have also volunteered at an urban farm in Cleveland. And they have pitched in at any number of outreaches that we’ve come across around the country as we’ve traveled.
This hands-on work has exponentially increased their awareness of societal problems, as well as learning how to address the problems.
3) Classroom Size
One of the keys to quality education is classroom size. And many classrooms, especially in America’s cities, are overcrowded. Our administration would lobby for smaller classroom sizes and more teachers and teacher’s aides.
In Gallup, New Mexico, we interviewed Priscilla Smith, former president of Gallup’s School Board. She said teachers these days are so burdened with policing activities, study halls and paper work that they don’t have much energy to teach.
With the smaller classrooms, this would cut down on teacher workload. And with, say, an aid or two to help with lesson plans, grading homework, helping tutor students, there would be a much saner (and productive) classroom atmosphere.
And besides professional aides, teachers could tap into the expertise of parents and other community members who could regularly, or periodically even, come in to teach about their field of work, or their avocation, hobby, sport, etc.
Cleveland’s award winning Urban Community School does this. UCS’s Director Sr. Maureen Doyle told me UCS parents (and other community members) are encouraged to lend their expertise, or just time in general, to the education mix.
For instance, one parent, who is a speech therapist, volunteers each week at the school. Another parent with some science background regularly comes in to help the biology teacher with lab experiments, and so on. Yet other parents help supervise field trips.
“In the last year, there were 41 field trips,” said Sr. Maureen.
As parents (and others) can help supervise field trips, they could serve as supervisors in study halls and as hall monitors.
And all this not only helps teachers, it connects other community adults who otherwise wouldn’t be connected to the school(s).
Note: Our administration would also look to a ‘retro-model,’ if you will. That is, in North Morristown, Minnesota the Trinity Lutheran School features an old-fashion “two-room school house.” On a tour of the school there, the principal told me that the one room has grades k-3 and the other 4th grade through 8th grade. He said a hallmark of this kind of classroom dynamic is that the older students slow their academic ascent in order to help tutor the younger students. Through this, patience and a large measure of love grows, qualities hard to quantify with a grade. But they are qualities that, if infused more and more into society, will shift the society – for the better. (At the time, the principal told me that some progressive leaning schools in California were experimenting with similar models that combined, say, two grade levels, or three.
And as an addendum to this orientation, in Defuniak Springs, Florida, we met with Beth Stanley, who is a former board member for the National Down Syndrome Congress. Her son Patrick, 31, has Down Syndrome. She has consistently lobbied for main stream teachers to be more inclusive curriculum wise for students like Patrick. And this type of slower-paced, multi-grade classroom format, with a larger measure of tolerance, might be just the ticket.
It is our belief the classroom should be, in essence, a microcosm of society at large. And as people on a regular basis come across the physically or mentally challenged, so it should be in the classroom. It is in learning to navigate this that society will improve.
Note 2: At a stop in Ft. Lupton, Colorado, we toured the Ft. Lupton Public/School Library. The Library is physically connected to the local high school. This allows for a lot more interfacing between town youth and adults. What’s more, the PA announcements are piped into the library so the adults can hear more about what’s going on in the school. With this closer connection, more adults are apt to help the school.
And the following is yet another extremely creative way to connect even more adults with the school, while getting a lot more support for the students…
4) Learning Teams
We stopped at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where I gave a talk to an education class. I also sat in on the 2nd part of the class. Professor Cheryl Keene told the class about a tremendously creative “Lab School Project” in Rhode Island that revolved around “learning teams.”
These teams are comprised of the student, an advisor, a family member(s) and community mentors. They meet regularly to discuss student class choices, progress, career thoughts, etc. The mentors are, say, business people in the town who are in a field the student might be interested in pursuing.
Not only does this “team” create a tremendous amount of support for the student, but it also draws more community members into the school system – community members who then may, for instance, vote for a school levy to get more funds for more teachers, more books, better facilities…
5) No Child Left Behind and/or Common Core
The American education system now has Common Core, and it previously had No Child Left Behind under the Bush Administration. Both programs, primarily, include a lot of standardized learning, and testing, allowing little room for individual teacher creativity in crafting education for students from various: geographic regions, demographics in general, teacher's strengths...
To look, for instance, at President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Program (and Obama followed up with Common Core), there was a goal of 100% proficiency in Math and Reading.
Yet this, apparently, hasn't gone well. According to the often cited documentary on American education, Waiting for Super Man, eight years into the No Child Left Behind, math proficiency in Alabama was at 18%, in Mississippi it was 14%, in New York it was 20%... And the scores for Reading were commensurately low around the country as well.
How this translates is that by the time these students get to high school, they are, say, reading at a 1st to 3rd grade level – and were simply pushed through elementary and middle school. However by the time they get to high school, according to the documentary, they can’t keep up.
So they drop out.
In the cities, this drop-out rate is as much as 40%. “Millions of kids are walking the streets (of America) with no vested interest in living,” notes the documentary. [We saw this graphically in Cleveland: kids dropping out, getting into drugs, getting into all kinds of crime – until some land in prison.]
Also according to the documentary, 68% of prisoners were drop outs. And we spend, on average, $33,000 on each prisoner a year. With the average prison stay being four years, that translates to $132,000 for each incarceration. Money that could be going into much better and more creative schools so these urban students, for example, have a way better shot at life.
And to stay with the No Child Left Behind Program, it seems there are other problems.
In Piqua, Ohio, I interviewed Wendy Wion who has taught at Piqua Junior High School the past 20 years. She was at a training in town this day to understand more about the criteria for the No child Left Behind proficiency requirements.
She said the standardized requirements have her limited as far as how much creativity she can use in a classroom. She is a language arts teacher and said she likes to expose her students to wide arrays of literature on a specific topic. (For instance, in the past she used to devote a whole unit to the writings of Anne Frank and other books on the Holocaust because of its historical significance.) However, because of all the criteria now around learning the rudiments of literature (facts, opinions, author’s main intent…) so that the students grade well on the standardized tests, Ms. Wion said she has had to limit the Holocaust reading (or other broad band book pursuits) to much shorter periods of time.
“There’s so much more I want to show them, give them,” said Ms. Wion.
Another concern, said Ms. Wion, is just who is devising these tests, and what criteria they were using to come up with the test questions.
In the book Test Scores and What They Mean, author Howard Lyman writes: “Any time we prepare a test, whether for classroom use or for national distribution, we must decide what items to write, what elements of information to include, what wording to use, etc. Inevitably there is some degree of subjectivity in test-making.
In other words, what might be deemed a priority in education by some might not be by others. And do we want the Federal Government determining this? Or do we want local teachers at local schools with local students assessing those educational priorities based on the student needs they see and using their own creative professionalism to meet those needs?
Like the creativity that is being used to help students at the Urban Community School in Cleveland, Ohio.
6) No “Formal” Grades, or Grade Levels (For Some)
Mentioned earlier, Urban Community School (UCS) in Cleveland has received the prestigious Excellence in Education Award from the U.S. Department of Education. UCS is a private Catholic/Christian k-8 school.
While we were on a stop here, UCS Director Sr. Maureen Doyle told us that UCS is relatively unique. For one, there are no real “official” grade levels and students learn at their own pace. This considerably diminishes elements of competition and senses of “failure,” which ultimately lessens stress in students. With less stress, students often start enjoying the learning process more and consequently learn more.
Sr. Maureen said a significant number of students here are “inner city kids” who are in touchy home situations and haven’t had the same learning advantages as other kids of similar age. So not having formal grade levels helps “meet students where they’re at” in a non-shaming way, said Sr. Maureen.
The environment at UCS also fosters a good deal of “independent learning,” she continued, as opposed to a lot of the collective rote learning that goes on in many traditional classrooms these days. This, in part, is also fostered by the lack of an “A, B, C” grading system at UCS. In fact, they don’t grade at all.
“Grades can be so punitive, especially for kids already experiencing failures in life down here,” said Sr. Maureen.
This philosophy psychologically frees students to explore more diverse things, to allow for the making of more mistakes – all key ingredients in learning more.
And while UCS doesn’t grade in a traditional sense, they do have a system to evaluate the general progress of a student moving along a learning continuum. In addition, the school’s data tracking shows over the past 40 years a phenomenal 91% of UCS students have gone on to graduate from high school and 62% have gone to college.
Some have been Presidential Scholars at such schools as Boston University, the University of Notre Dame, and Georgetown University. Significant numbers of these students are now giving back to their respective communities as social workers, teachers, businesspeople, artists, blue collar workers, and church and community volunteers.
At the time that I write this, UCS’s enrollment is 450 students.
Sr. Maureen said another quite creative, and tremendously effective, school component for these students is “experience related learning.”
7) Experience Related Learning
“Experience related learning” is tremendously impacting, but it requires more creativity, flexibility and energy on the part of teachers, as opposed to a lot of the straight rote learning currently going on in mainstream schools.
As an example, often in a traditional school math course there will be an exercise to find, say, the average between three numbers. Three rather sterile numbers from a text book will be added together then divided by the number three.
At UCS (which is about a mile and a half from the Q Arena where the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team plays) students might be encouraged to take LeBron James’s point totals for the past three games, add them, then divide them by three to get the answer. Sr. Maureen explained this becomes a lot more interesting, and memorable, to some students. And it is a technique that is applied across the board here.
As another example of this creative outside-the-lines experience learning model, I point to the Christopher Program, an alternative school in Columbus, Ohio. Sponsored by the Franklin County Educational Council, the program has served high school juniors and seniors from Franklin County since 1991.
The philosophy behind the Christopher Program is “that every student is in charge of their own education and that teachers should have a different role that involves guidance and support, rather than coddling. They, in essence, facilitate learning.
For instance, CP instructor Todd Stanley invited me in to talk to students who were taking part in his Political Science class. Throughout the semester, students were encouraged to go out and work on a campaign of their choice, whether it was around an issue or a candidate.
Stanley told me that, going into it, most students were apathetic about politics. However, through this very hands-on participation that changed, a lot. What’s more, during the talk I gave, I found these students to be tremendously good at critical thinking and the “town hall” part of the class was quite dynamic.
Back in Cleveland, I talked with Cleveland Public School teacher Judith Hokky. She is a high school art instructor who works with inner city kids. She told me she believes in “authentic learning.” That is, she is continually trying to set up the art lessons to connect students to the outside world – in the most creative of ways.
For instance, she recently did a unit on “eco-art.” She started by showing the students the documentary An Inconvenient Truth with Al Gore. The gist of the documentary is that global warming is, indeed, real. And that people should not only be aware of the crisis, but that they should become as conservation oriented as possible.
In an attempt to raise student awareness, Ms. Hokky designed an art project that revolved around making art out of “recycled and found objects.” Students collected bottle caps, lost board game pieces, aluminum cans, plastic juice bottles… The young artists then creatively arranged them in a series of art sculptures, collages, and so on. What’s more, the pieces were exhibited at Cleveland’s City Hall Building. .
8) Charter Schools, Vouchers… and an Alternative
Charter schools are primary or secondary schools. They are subsidized by both public money and private donations. They are opened and attended by choice. Like other public schools, they don’t charge tuition. Charter schools are funded by teachers, parents or activists and are not subject to some of the rules, regulations and statutes of mainstream public schools. This allows for more teacher flexibility and creativity.
Because charter schools seem such a positive alternative to mainstream public schools (in many cases), especially in urban centers, there are often more students applying than there are available spaces. Thus, a public lottery is held for those school slots.
The documentary Waiting for Superman included several scenes from these lotteries that were heart-wrenching. Parents whose children were caught in urban school systems wracked with overcrowded classrooms, violence, and poor teachers sat in a room next to their child hoping against hope that they’d hear their number called in the lottery.
Given this, we think that it is only common sense that our administration would push for “raising the bar” so that each public school emulated the spirit and ethos of quality charter schools.
On a campaign stop in Clarkston, Washington, I talked with former high school principal Curtis Bowers. He pointed to federally funded vouchers used by some inner city families to allow a child to attend a private school. He said where this rationale is skewed is that with these vouchers [as with charter schools] the “cream of the crop” of students gets dispersed to these private and charter schools, leaving the other kids abandoned in the old schools, with the quality of the school declining in kind.
Again, our administration would work exhaustively to make sure each public school was on a par with the best private and charter schools, including providing incentives for some people who are better off to move back into the urban centers.
As we saw in Cleveland, it’s been “white flight” that’s added to the decline in the school systems. That is, the schools not only lost scores of good students with this, but as people moved to the suburbs the tax base in the cities declined commensurately. This meant less money to hire teachers, for text books, for extra-curricular activities…
When Urban Community School started in Cleveland some 40 years ago, some suburban parents brought their children into the school to sit side-by-side with inner city students. They were motivated by social justice reasons. Over time, people from the suburbs started moving back into this Ohio City neighborhood (where the school is located at). They moved back in to help the poor, or to be closer to the city because of gas prices, etc. Whatever the reason, better off students from the neighborhood were sitting side by side with those more disadvantaged.
Conversely, there was no need for students from the suburbs to commute all the way into Cleveland anymore because of the changing demographics of Ohio City.
Note: To help with the education system, and a myriad of other things in these decaying cities, our administration would support a reverse of the “white flight” exodus. Our family, for instance, intentionally moved into this Ohio City neighborhood to work with an outreach to the poor. My wife and I also coached sports at a local Rec. Center for youth that often don’t have a Dad (or Mom) at home.
Award winning Urban Community School in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo by Joe
Spokane, WA: Gonzaga University's Bob Bartlett has developed the course "Race and Ethnicity." He said because America is such a melting pot, if we are really interested in strong community building, many of these types of courses should be introduced at elementary and high school levels.
Yellow Springs, Ohio: Antioch College professor, Sheryl Keen, teaches about a new kind of public high school being developed in Rhode Island, where the student, advisor, family members and community mentor(s) meet regularly over a "customized learning plan." Photo by Joe