Monthly Archives: May 2018

Crisis Education

For some time now our educational system has been awash in too much controversy. Having the current Educational Secretary heading the Department of Education has not done much to improve the nations overall prospects that our children will achieve a higher degree of an educational experience that will prepare them for the jobs of today and tomorrow. The reality facing too many parents is not whether to send our children to charter, or private schools but to face the fact that public schools have been on the decline for many years now. Consequently, the youth of today too many won’t and can’t receive that degree of quality in their education. Now, with the current policies in place there are very little options left for parents concerning the education of their children. We also have to really consider a whole set of demographics when we take into account the quality of education in the United States today.

When we take a hard look at our society much can be said of the sad conditions in too many urban and rural areas. For over 20 years now conditions have only gone from bad to worse. The children of 20 years ago are now parents of today’s children and not much has changed to improve their economic standing. In fact over 70% of parents today don’t have the financial means to be able to pick and choose where their children go to school. And when the economic conditions within the family unit are no longer sustainable to make the choice of either a charter, private or even home school public schools are the only option left. But, what has transpired in public education for many decades now is directly linked to the overall decay of societies norm that was set during the late 1950’s through the 1960’s when our public educational system was the best in the world.

When we take into account what is happening outside of the educational spectrum we find a very troubling trend. For one thing society as a whole has succumbed to a lower standard of ethics, morals, etiquette and behavior. All one has to notice how this has taken place is to take into account what is occurring in many school districts across the country. What has transpired within the educational experience since the late 1960’s has led our society down a path that is jeopardizing our entire future. Sure, there have been bright spots where students have excelled but far too many of our youth continue to fall way short of the academic standards of the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

Recently there have been marked increases in teachers frustration and resignations within the public school systems all across the country. Partly to blame is the increase emphasis on test and achievement scores. This is where base salaries are tied to the performance of students in achievement based almost entirely on test scores. Least we forget that all students perform differently. Some may have the highest test scores but fall short of the everyday academic levels. While others fail miserably on test scores while achieving the highest everyday academic levels in their classrooms. But, this is only part of the problem facing academics in our schools.

With more of our teachers not only wanting to resign but actually quitting the teaching profession entirely signals very disturbing trends in our schools today. Not only are standardized testing jeopardizing quality in education, school boards across the country too many are filled by people who don’t, can’t or won’t realize the failings that have gone on for decades within public education. This excerpt from a former teacher sums up some of the dysfunction within the school systems not only in Florida but all across the country.

“Some misbehave so that they will be the ‘bad kid’ not the ‘stupid kid’, or because their little bodies just can’t sit quietly anymore, or because they don’t know the social rules of school and there is no time to teach them. My master’s degree work focused on behavior disorders, so I can say with confidence that it is not the children who are disordered. The disorder is in the system which requires them to attempt curriculum and demonstrate behaviors far beyond what is appropriate for their age. The disorder is in the system which bars teachers from differentiating instruction meaningfully, which threatens disciplinary action if they decide their students need a five minute break from a difficult concept, or to extend a lesson which is exceptionally engaging. The disorder is in a system which has decided that students and teachers must be regimented to the minute and punished if they deviate. The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.”

Faced with the fact that school boards are increasingly unsympathetic to what really goes on in the classroom but are more interested in test scores. And, when this Republican congress and the Trump Administration pulling the purse strings is another key factor that is undermining the quality of education of our youth. With budget shortfalls all across the country where the tax base is no where near sufficient to offer the same quality in education that some of the more wealthier counties in the country offer leaves a gap that is never going to close until there are enough funds either through taxes, fellowships, grants or other organizations willing to finance school systems that already experiencing financial woes. Sad to say with the latest economic forecast public schools will suffer more financial hardships.

This economic forecast indicates schools all across the country are in for more budget cuts. Employers across the country are paying less each year in payroll taxes. What this means for schools is that there will be far less money to support the institutions that our youth attend for their education. Program offerings will be cut and eliminated. Many of the tools used in education will be outdated or worse non existent. And, teachers will be faced with having to do more with less resources because their salaries will be cut. A financial burden not only for American workers but for teachers as well. You can bet your bottom dollar with this proposed tax plan by the Trump Administration will only ad more misery to an already impoverished public school system.

When we turn our attention to society and what has occurred within the family unit and outside of the school atmosphere we find behavior patterns in many of our youth today troubling. No longer are many of the patterns of behavior that exemplified the youth of the 50’s and 60’s apparent when our children attend school. There are allot of reasons why children behave in manners not conducive to achieving academic excellence. One is the breakup of the family unit. Today, too many children grow up in single parent homes. Again, financial considerations appear to have a major influence in why there are so many single parents. Then there are the other financial factors to consider. Today’s economic environment requires parents to either hold two or even three jobs just to meet financial obligations such as rent or mortgage, food, insurance, and all the rest of the cost of living needs today for themselves and their children.

When parents are caught up in meeting the financial obligations like working longer hours and schools only take a percentage of the child’s time leaves a window of loss opportunity for parents to bond with their children. Without structure, nutriment and proper supervision children deviate to a more challenging behavior patterns when they return to the classroom. When behavior patterns disrupt a structured lesson plan or other students becomes a crisis point in the classroom. What was acceptable reactions by teachers years ago are no longer acceptable in today’s realm of reality. Teachers today are very limited in the way they handle disruptive and disorderly students.

The incidents involving students being so disruptive in schools has only increased. Teachers many of whom have been physically assaulted by unruly students. And just recently teachers were resigning because students in grade school classes behaved so bad teachers couldn’t continue. The disruption has only increased in too many schools form Elementary, Jr. High and even into High Schools. And, when local school boards continue to ignore the plight of many teachers today remains a very high priority that education reform on a national scale be implemented.

A Brief History of Special Education

Perhaps the largest and most pervasive issue in special education, as well as my own journey in education, is special education’s relationship to general education. History has shown that this has never been an easy clear cut relationship between the two. There has been a lot of giving and taking or maybe I should say pulling and pushing when it comes to educational policy, and the educational practices and services of education and special education by the human educators who deliver those services on both sides of the isle, like me.

Over the last 20+ years I have been on both sides of education. I have seen and felt what it was like to be a regular main stream educator dealing with special education policy, special education students and their specialized teachers. I have also been on the special education side trying to get regular education teachers to work more effectively with my special education students through modifying their instruction and materials and having a little more patience and empathy.

Furthermore, I have been a mainstream regular education teacher who taught regular education inclusion classes trying to figure out how to best work with some new special education teacher in my class and his or her special education students as well. And, in contrast, I have been a special education inclusion teacher intruding on the territory of some regular education teachers with my special education students and the modifications I thought these teachers should implement. I can tell you first-hand that none of this give and take between special education and regular education has been easy. Nor do I see this pushing and pulling becoming easy anytime soon.

So, what is special education? And what makes it so special and yet so complex and controversial sometimes? Well, special education, as its name suggests, is a specialized branch of education. It claims its lineage to such people as Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (1775-1838), the physician who “tamed” the “wild boy of Aveyron,” and Anne Sullivan Macy (1866-1936), the teacher who “worked miracles” with Helen Keller.

Special educators teach students who have physical, cognitive, language, learning, sensory, and/or emotional abilities that deviate from those of the general population. Special educators provide instruction specifically tailored to meet individualized needs. These teachers basically make education more available and accessible to students who otherwise would have limited access to education due to whatever disability they are struggling with.

It’s not just the teachers though who play a role in the history of special education in this country. Physicians and clergy, including Itard- mentioned above, Edouard O. Seguin (1812-1880), Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876), and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851), wanted to ameliorate the neglectful, often abusive treatment of individuals with disabilities. Sadly, education in this country was, more often than not, very neglectful and abusive when dealing with students that are different somehow.

There is even a rich literature in our nation that describes the treatment provided to individuals with disabilities in the 1800s and early 1900s. Sadly, in these stories, as well as in the real world, the segment of our population with disabilities were often confined in jails and almshouses without decent food, clothing, personal hygiene, and exercise.

For an example of this different treatment in our literature one needs to look no further than Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). In addition, many times people with disabilities were often portrayed as villains, such as in the book Captain Hook in J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in 1911.

The prevailing view of the authors of this time period was that one should submit to misfortunes, both as a form of obedience to God’s will, and because these seeming misfortunes are ultimately intended for one’s own good. Progress for our people with disabilities was hard to come by at this time with this way of thinking permeating our society, literature and thinking.

So, what was society to do about these people of misfortune? Well, during much of the nineteenth century, and early in the twentieth, professionals believed individuals with disabilities were best treated in residential facilities in rural environments. An out of sight out of mind kind of thing, if you will…

However, by the end of the nineteenth century the size of these institutions had increased so dramatically that the goal of rehabilitation for people with disabilities just wasn’t working. Institutions became instruments for permanent segregation.

I have some experience with these segregation policies of education. Some of it is good and some of it is not so good. You see, I have been a self-contained teacher on and off throughout the years in multiple environments in self-contained classrooms in public high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. I have also taught in multiple special education behavioral self-contained schools that totally separated these troubled students with disabilities in managing their behavior from their mainstream peers by putting them in completely different buildings that were sometimes even in different towns from their homes, friends and peers.

Over the years many special education professionals became critics of these institutions mentioned above that separated and segregated our children with disabilities from their peers. Irvine Howe was one of the first to advocate taking our youth out of these huge institutions and to place out residents into families. Unfortunately this practice became a logistical and pragmatic problem and it took a long time before it could become a viable alternative to institutionalization for our students with disabilities.

Now on the positive side, you might be interested in knowing however that in 1817 the first special education school in the United States, the American Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (now called the American School for the Deaf), was established in Hartford, Connecticut, by Gallaudet. That school is still there today and is one of the top schools in the country for students with auditory disabilities. A true success story!

However, as you can already imagine, the lasting success of the American School for the Deaf was the exception and not the rule during this time period. And to add to this, in the late nineteenth century, social Darwinism replaced environmentalism as the primary causal explanation for those individuals with disabilities who deviated from those of the general population.

Sadly, Darwinism opened the door to the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century. This then led to even further segregation and even sterilization of individuals with disabilities such as mental retardation. Sounds like something Hitler was doing in Germany also being done right here in our own country, to our own people, by our own people. Kind of scary and inhumane, wouldn’t you agree?

Today, this kind of treatment is obviously unacceptable. And in the early part of the 20th Century it was also unacceptable to some of the adults, especially the parents of these disabled children. Thus, concerned and angry parents formed advocacy groups to help bring the educational needs of children with disabilities into the public eye. The public had to see firsthand how wrong this this eugenics and sterilization movement was for our students that were different if it was ever going to be stopped.

Slowly, grassroots organizations made progress that even led to some states creating laws to protect their citizens with disabilities. For example, in 1930, in Peoria, Illinois, the first white cane ordinance gave individuals with blindness the right-of-way when crossing the street. This was a start, and other states did eventually follow suit. In time, this local grassroots’ movement and states’ movement led to enough pressure on our elected officials for something to be done on the national level for our people with disabilities.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation. And in 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provided funding for primary education, and is seen by advocacy groups as expanding access to public education for children with disabilities.

When one thinks about Kennedy’s and Johnson’s record on civil rights, then it probably isn’t such a surprise finding out that these two presidents also spearheaded this national movement for our people with disabilities.

This federal movement led to section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. This guarantees civil rights for the disabled in the context of federally funded institutions or any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. All these years later as an educator, I personally deal with 504 cases every single day.

In 1975 Congress enacted Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), which establishes a right to public education for all children regardless of disability. This was another good thing because prior to federal legislation, parents had to mostly educate their children at home or pay for expensive private education.

The movement kept growing. In the 1982 the case of the Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the level of services to be afforded students with special needs. The Court ruled that special education services need only provide some “educational benefit” to students. Public schools were not required to maximize the educational progress of students with disabilities.

Today, this ruling may not seem like a victory, and as a matter of fact, this same question is once again circulating through our courts today in 2017. However, given the time period it was made in, it was a victory because it said special education students could not pass through our school system without learning anything. They had to learn something. If one knows and understands how the laws work in this country, then one knows the laws always progress through tiny little increments that add up to progress over time. This ruling was a victory for special education students because it added one more rung onto the crusade.

In the 1980s the Regular Education Initiative (REI) came into being. This was an attempt to return responsibility for the education of students with disabilities to neighborhood schools and regular classroom teachers. I am very familiar with Regular Education Initiative because I spent four years as an REI teacher in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At this time I was certified as both a special education teacher and a regular education teacher and was working in both capacities in a duel role as an REI teacher; because that’s what was required of the position.

The 1990s saw a big boost for our special education students. 1990 birthed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This was, and is, the cornerstone of the concept of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for all of our students. To ensure FAPE, the law mandated that each student receiving special education services must also receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 reached beyond just the public schools. And Title 3 of IDEA prohibited disability-based discrimination in any place of public accommodation. Full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations in public places were expected. And of course public accommodations also included most places of education.

Also, in the 1990s the full inclusion movement gained a lot of momentum. This called for educating all students with disabilities in the regular classroom. I am also very familiar with this aspect of education as well, as I have also been an inclusion teacher from time to time over my career as an educator on both sides of the isle as a regular education teacher and a special education teacher.

Now on to President Bush and his educational reform with his No Child Left Behind law that replaced President Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The NCLB Act of 2001 stated that special education should continue to focus on producing results and along with this came a sharp increase in accountability for educators.

Now, this NCLB Act was good and bad. Of course we all want to see results for all of our students, and it’s just common sense that accountability helps this sort of thing happen. Where this kind of went crazy was that the NCLB demanded a host of new things, but did not provide the funds or support to achieve these new objectives.

Furthermore, teachers began feeling squeezed and threatened more and more by the new movement of big business and corporate education moving in and taking over education. People with no educational background now found themselves influencing education policy and gaining access to a lot of the educational funds.

This accountability craze stemmed by excessive standardized testing ran rapid and of course ran downstream from a host of well-connected elite Trump-like figures saying to their lower echelon educational counterparts, “You’re fired!” This environment of trying to stay off of the radar in order to keep one’s job, and beating our kids over the head with testing strategies, wasn’t good for our educators. It wasn’t good for our students. And it certainly wasn’t good for our more vulnerable special education students.

Some good did come from this era though. For example, the updated Individuals with Disabilities with Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) happened. This further required schools to provide individualized or special education for children with qualifying disabilities. Under the IDEA, states who accept public funds for education must provide special education to qualifying children with disabilities. Like I said earlier, the law is a long slow process of tiny little steps adding up to progress made over time.

Finally, in 2015 President Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced President Bush’s NCLB, which had replaced President Johnson’s ESEA. Under Obama’s new ESSA schools were now allowed to back off on some of the testing. Hopefully, the standardized testing craze has been put in check. However, only time will tell. ESSA also returned to more local control. You know, the kind of control our forefathers intended.

You see the U.S. Constitution grants no authority over education to the federal government. Education is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, and for good reason. The Founders wanted most aspects of life managed by those who were closest to them, either by state or local government or by families, businesses, and other elements of civil society. Basically, they saw no role for the federal government in education.

You see, the Founders feared the concentration of power. They believed that the best way to protect individual freedom and civil society was to limit and divide power. However, this works both ways, because the states often find themselves asking the feds for more educational money. And the feds will only give the states additional money if the states do what the feds want… Hmm… Checks and balances, as well as compromise can be a really tricky thing, huh?

So on goes the battle in education and all the back and forth pushing and pulling between the federal government and the states and local government, as well as special education and regular education. And to add to this struggle, recently Judge Moukawsher, a state judge from Connecticut, in a lawsuit filed against the state by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, rocked the educational boat some more when in his ruling he included a message to lawmakers to reassess what level of services students with significant disabilities are entitled to.

His ruling and statements appear to say that he thinks we’re spending too much money on our special education students. And that for some of them, it just isn’t worth it because their disabilities are too severe. You can imagine how controversial this was and how much it angered some people.

The 2016 United States Presidential election resulted in something that few people saw coming. Real Estate mogul and reality star Donald Trump won the presidency and then appointed anti-public educator Betsy Devos to head up this country’s Department of Education. Her charge, given to her by Trump, is to drastically slash the Department of Education, and to push forward private charter schools over what they call a failing public educational system.

How this is going to affect our students, and especially our more vulnerable special education students, nobody knows for sure at this time. But, I can also tell you that there aren’t many people out there that feel comfortable with it right now. Only time will tell where this is all going to go and how it will affect our special education students…

So, as I said earlier, perhaps the largest, most pervasive issue in special education is its relationship to general education. Both my own travels and our nation’s journey through the vast realm of education over all of these years has been an interesting one and a tricky one plagued with controversy to say the least.

I can still remember when I first became a special education teacher back in the mid-1990s. A friend’s father, who was a school principal at the time, told me to get out of special education because it wasn’t going to last. Well, I’ve been in and out of special education for more than two decades now, and sometimes I don’t know if I’m a regular education teacher or a special education teacher, or both. And sometimes I think our country’s educational system might be feeling the same internal struggle that I am. But, regardless, all these years later, special education is still here.

The Problem Is The Parents As First Educators

The long awaited Review of Funding for Schooling has been completed and the Report by the panel of eminent Australians chaired by David Gonski AC has been released.

In this Submission I have only focused on Chapter 3 in relation to equity and disadvantage but also have comments in relation to disabled children.

I have also concentrated on western suburbs schools in Sydney as I live in that area and my children attended a western suburbs catholic school before moving to an independent school.

The panel must be congratulated as the Report is both comprehensive and well researched and makes a number of recommendations that, if implemented may, to some degree, improve the educational outcomes of some Australian children.

The ‘Pink Elephant’ In the Gonski Report

I believe, however, that the Report, (for whatever reason) fails to acknowledge ‘the pink elephant’ in the classroom and that is that parents are the first educators of their children. This is the foundation premise of many independent schools in Australia, including the PARED (Parents For Education) schools, which excel academically year in and year out, although they are not selective and offer no scholarships to secure bright children who will boost the overall marks of the school.

Schools that acknowledge parents as the first educators of the child work in partnership with the parents so that the child receives the same message and expectations at home and at school. This applies not only to academic expectations but also to behaviour. When the parents bring the child up with the end in sight (ie. adulthood) not just the present moment, they focus on developing a strong character in the child by modelling this themselves and expecting the child to display human virtues such as sincerity, cheerfulness, generosity, perserverence, gratitude, respect, honesty and service to others. This means that it is normal for the child to do his or her best at school and in other endeavours, to respect school property, to care about the feelings of others and to help those less fortunate. This is simply the taught character of the child and it is unrelated to socio-economic status. These types of schools run in countries where the majority live well below the poverty line as we know it, such as the Philippines and these children still emerge as strong, independent young adults, full of gratitude and determination to make the most of life, despite the fact that they are among the poorest of the poor. One such school, Southridge (in Manila – Phillipines), runs a program whereby the fees of the day students are used to fund an afternoon school for students who would otherwise have to attend a poorly resourced public school and the university entrance marks of the afternoon students are actually outstripping those of the more financially privileged day students.

Socio-Economic Status and Academic Performance

The Southridge experience shows us that socio-economic status does not have to adversely affect academic performance. In fact central to the Gonski panel’s definition of equity ‘is the belief that the underlying talents and abilities of students that enable them to succeed in schooling are not distributed differently among children from different socioeconomic status, ethnic or language backgrounds, or according to where they live or go to school’. The Report cites the findings of Caldwell and Spinks (2008) that all children are capable of learning and achieving at school in the right circumstances and with the right support.

I believe that the key to success is whether the children have the right circumstances and support and this is not necessarily linked to socio-economic status, although, because of a lack of social welfare programs in Australia, it often is. For decades the children of migrants to Australia have been well represented in the lists of high achievers and their parents have generally had little or no formal schooling (which contradicts the findings of the Gonski Report p 114) and both worked long hours in manual or menial jobs for low pay. These families have always been in the low socio-economic segment but the children were, however, raised with the belief that education is the key to success and with the parental expectation that they would study hard and go to university. This was a non-negotiable given. They were also raised to respect their parents and other elders and to have an attitude of gratitude and service to others, with many migrants supporting family members back in their home countries although they had little themselves.

These migrant parents had a mindset that saw the value of education. It is the same in third world countries such as the Phillipines. Parents support education as the key to a better life. Hence the success of initiatives such as the Southridge afternoon school. How many parents of children from a western suburbs high school would accept a scholarship for their children to undertake high school at say the Kings School (for boys) or Tara School for Girls (Parramatta) if it was a condition of the scholarship that they meet the requirements of these schools including:

1. Having the children up by 6.30am every day to eat breakfast and travel to school to arrive by

8.00am;

2. Encouraging the children to do the minimum 90 minutes homework each evening (Year 7) after

arriving home around 5.00pm (This time increases each year);

3. Allowing the child to devote at least half a day per weekend to homework and assignments;

4. Ensuring that the child represents the school in a sporting activity which will involve driving the child

to and from the venue on a Saturday; and

5. Attending the school as required for meetings on the child’s progress.

I believe that very few parents would accept the scholarship, as the commitment would disrupt their lives and the disruption would not be seen as worthwhile as education is not high on their list of values. As Dr John DeMartini teaches these families do not perceive education as a void, even though they did not get it themselves and therefore do not value it. As a result even if the child took the scholarship he or she would not understand why they were required to put in so much additional effort to their friends at local high schools and would resent the obligation.

The Real Problem Of Disadvantage Is The Inconsistency Between Home and School

The Gonski Report cites the findings of researchers Perry and McConney (2010) who found there are multiple ways in which schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students differ from schools with high concentrations of students from more advantaged backgrounds. These include less material and social resources, more behavioural problems, less experienced teachers, lower student and family aspirations, less positive relationships between teachers and students, less homework and a less rigorous curriculum

The Report warns that new arrangements are needed to:

• Make sure that Australian kids do not fall behind the rest of the world, and keep Australia

competitive, after a decline in education standards in the past decade.

• Stop the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students growing wider.

To deal with these challenges, the Report recommends introducing a Schooling Resource Standard, which would have two elements: a set investment per student, plus additional top-up funding to target disadvantage.

I support the set investment per student and believe that this should be the same no-matter where the child goes to school as each child deserves equal government investment in their education. This is the key to ensuring that the educational standard of our top students does not decline.

I do not agree that there should be additional top-up funding in schools to target disadvantage. Such funding perpetuates the idea that there are advantaged and disadvantaged schools and locks in the idea that children from certain schools are different and less likely to succeed than children from other schools. It also confuses education with social services. The real issue is the academic standard and mindset that each child beings to the school year they are entering, not what is on offer from the school, as most Australian schools offer enough.

All Australian children should have access to the same curriculum (and they do), to passionate and experienced educators (this is sometimes achieved) and to schools that are adequately resourced (generally achieved).

It is irrelevant how much money a school throws at literacy and numeracy programs as although they may improve standards from what they initially were, they will not being the participants up to the same level as children in schools where the children, themselves value education, as the child must be willing to put in the effort necessary to succeed. You get nothing if you give nothing. The child must have the virtues of perseverance and hard work and these must be taught. An education must do more than give a minimum academic standard, it must also build character. As parents are the first educators of a child and have the most influence on them, a school by itself will never over-rule the mindset taught at home and is opening itself up to student resentment and belligerence when it sends a different message to what is taught at home, as it threatens the very foundations of the child’s world.

In relation to the resourcing of the schools I believe that far too much weight is placed on this. The evidence is the fact that students of correspondence and on-line courses achieve high results with no physical resources. In addition many western suburbs high schools are far better resourced than independent high schools where the parents have to contribute funds to buy equipment and build buildings and are already stretched to the limit paying fees. However the results of these well resourced high schools do not reflect the amount spent on resources. Take Glenwood high school for example. The Mindquest program is run there one weekend a term for gifted and talented children (but really any child can go and does) and I was stunned when I saw what was on offer to local children such as technology labs, sports fields, cooking kitchens, art rooms etc.

It is the same with the high schools at Quakers Hill, Rooty Hill high and Mt Druitt. Despite the outstanding resources these schools are not producing results that equal independent schools or indeed public schools in more affluent areas. Why is this? It is partly because:

1. the standard and experience of the teachers is not exceptional in these areas for a variety of

reasons, including the fact that these children are difficult to teach and teacher’s lose motivation;

and

2. the family does not put a high value on education.

What is also missing is the partnership between the parent and the school. The parents are the first educators of the child but they are not educating them in the importance of education and in the human virtues necessary to build strong character and determination in the long term. You will find that in disadvantaged areas many parents do not set high standards for themselves, they have not been taught how to persevere, how to see the opportunity in every obstacle and how to sacrifice momentary satisfactions for long term gain. Take the Kings School and Tara scholarship example above. It would be very difficult for many of these parents to see the value of their children exerting effort and the whole family making sacrifices for a first rate education.

Very often children in western Sydney areas arrive at school without breakfast, without their text books and not having done their homework. There are conflicting messages being taught at home and at school and no amount of education funding is going to alleviate this problem. In fact throwing more funding at children who do not have the capacity to appreciate the innovative learning programs and amazing resources being provided in schools is a waste of precious funding and the government should stop. This funding could be better spent in the independent arena and on public schools where the children have a different attitude towards education and success, to raise the standard of our highest performing students. Yes, this will increase the gap further between our best and worst students but is this a bad thing? The Gonski Report shows that the standard of our brightest students is falling. We need to raise the standard of education in our country and raise the bar even higher, to which our disadvantaged children can aspire.

Change The Mindset

The key to improving the educational standards of our disadvantaged students is to change their mindset. To bombard them with positive messages about what they can achieve if they exert effort and give them role models very different to their own families and community members.

The universal laws say that ‘what you see, is what you’ll be’ as your thoughts and what you focus on, shape your reality. I have concentrated on Sydney’s western suburbs as that is where I live and I have a good understanding of western Sydney schools as my own children attended one. These local schools draw students from the local area and most families have the same values and beliefs as each other and lead the same kind of lives. I make no judgment on whether the lifestyle is wrong or right I am simply stating facts as I have experienced them.

These families often live in housing commission homes, or in low cost rental accommodation, they receive social security or earn basic wages, they often place little value on what is given to them because it is free and they spend most of what they earn on lifestyle and instant gratification, they do not save. The parents generally drink and smoke, buy takeaway meals and ensure that their children have the latest version of any new technology. These families are consumer driven and very focused on satisfying immediate wants and needs. Little time is spent teaching the children the value of persevering to achieve a result, or postponing something now, to get something better later on.

As a life coach who deals with children on a regular basis I have spent much time searching for the answer as to what breeds success at school and I know without doubt that after the parents, the teachers have the biggest influence. The value of an experienced, passionate teacher cannot be over-emphasised and they are hard to find, as in addition to their skills they must be able to relate to the children and earn their respect. They must also have the tolerance to deal with all manner of parents and this is as difficult in independent schools as disadvantaged public schools.

In western suburbs high schools whilst the majority of teachers meet the above criteria too many do not and one bad teacher can destroy a child’s whole perception of school. I have heard countless stories of young, passionate teachers who enter the public school system only to become quickly disillusioned when it takes 20 minutes to settle the class so they can begin to teach the lesson. There is much absenteeism by teachers and the replacement teachers struggle. Also many of the experienced teaches needed in these schools are jaded and opt for an easier life in an area where the children place a greater value on education and respect authority. There is no easy answer here but what is clear is that teachers must be held accountable for the performance of their students when measured against a state or national measure. If a teacher in a western suburbs high school cannot get the desired results they should be asked why? If they do not have a clear answer they should be transferred out of the school as it may well be that they do not have the ability to connect with children of that particular mindset. This does not mean they are a bad teacher, it may just mean that they are not the right teacher for that type of school.

We cannot, however, afford to pander to the sensitivities of our teachers at the expense of our children. In the independent schools if the children do not succeed academically and are not taught the values that the school has promoted the parents quickly demand answers and the teacher is held accountable. The same rules must apply in the public system if we are to achieve the ‘equity’ that the Gonski Report promotes. We must have teachers of such a high calibre in our disadvantaged schools that they have so much influence on their students that they can equal the parents as the first educators.

The Solution

The Gonksi report focused on additional funding for disadvantaged students and more resources. As I have explained above I do not believe that this is the answer. We must be careful not to confuse required spending on education with required spending on social services.

Our schools must offer the same curriculum to all children and be adequately resourced. I think we have achieved this. Our schools must offer teachers of the highest possible calibre who are held accountable and in this area I believe we have a way to go.

Where we are failing completely is in ensuring that children from low socio-economic areas have a mindset that values education and see the unlimited opportunities available to them if they are grateful for what is provided for them and exert personal effort. We are failing to develop a positive mindset and strong character in children from disadvantaged areas.

What we should be doing is trying to show our disadvantaged children a different life to the life that surrounds them daily. We need to change the mentality that these children are poor and will grow up poor and will be taken care of by the government. By showing the children a different way of life they have something to aspire to and have a new focus for their thoughts. Remember the law of attraction says that you get what you think about.

The solution is not giving more money to schools (except for better teachers) but spending money on programs outside the school day that fill the child’s time and reduce the amount of time spent in the home environment that devalues education and reinforces low self worth and the ‘poor me’ mentality of limited opportunities. These programs need to involve:

1. teachers from the local schools so that the children can see them as human beings they can

admire and respect and build a relationship with (pay the teachers to be involved);

2. adults from similar backgrounds who have gone on to excel;

3. life coaches who can work on changing mindset and seeing the opportunity in every obstacle;

4. youth leaders who understand the concept of unlimited opportunity if you, yourself, take action

and promote this; and

5. promoting the value of service to others as it helps develop an attitude of gratitude.

It is going to be a real challenge for these children to break away from the norms of the family as any change they try to make will be interpreted by their parents as criticism of their lives and this may even lead to violence. The children need to be taught how to respond to this.

The children need to be taught self worth. They must be taught that when they wake up they must make and eat breakfast as this nourishes their mind and body. They must be taught that they are valuable and worth taking care of and developing. They must be given the strength to bring new routines and processes into their homes. They must be the change that brings the change to their family and their whole community.

Summary

The government has an obligation to ensure a first rate education for each Australian child. To do this it must provide funding so that each child has access to the same high standard curriculum, the highest calibre teachers who are held accountable for their student’s results and adequately resourced schools.

I believe that it is faring quite well in its delivery of the above, although more work needs to be done in relation to making teachers accountable and attracting teachers who understand that their role is to educate the whole child in terms of both character and academics.

Where the government is failing miserably is in the area of social services. It is failing to recognise that parents are the first educators of the child and failing to take steps to fill the gap when a child is not taught at home that education is valuable and that human virtues such as sincerity, cheerfulness, generosity, perseverance, gratitude, respect, honesty and service to others are integral to strong character and ultimate success as an adult.

It does not matter how much government funding is provided to schools for literacy and numeracy programs and what resources are provided, if the child does not see the value of education he or she will not exert the effort necessary to succeed and will not have a mental picture of himself or herself as a successful adult.

The government must fund social services programs outside the school system that ensure that children are given other positive role models when their parents, as first educators, do not perform their roles well. These programs must give the children an insight into lives very different to their parents so that they can focus on achieving such a life themselves, develop a positive mindset towards success, develop an attitude of gratitude, a belief in unlimited opportunity and a desire to serve others.

When a child sees the value of education and lives a life based on human virtues they become receptive to education and are far more likely to enter each academic year having achieved the outcomes for the previous year. Additional literacy and numeracy programs then have an exponential impact on increasing educational standards.

Our social service programs must teach our disadvantaged children self worth and self esteem. They must be given the tools to be the change that brings the change to their family and their whole community.

The government needs to stop confusing the funding of education with the funding of social services programs.

Tonette also teaches that every hardship occurs for a reason and that there are no victims. This means that her clients are taught to see the opportunities in every occurrence so that they can move forward with life with gratitude. This is particularly effective with children who are bullied as they get their power back when they do not feel that they are victims.

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