Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Key To Education Reform: Know Your Schools

There is the story that to improve or reform education in this country, we must track standardized test scores, fire teachers, spend more money, spend less money, end the layers of bureaucracy, add more administrators, abolish credentials and licenses or make them more difficult to get, issue vouchers and privatize public schools or turn every school into a charter school.

There are the hair-brained schemes of idiots and the solid ideas from veteran teachers and people with common sense who know and understand that improving education means challenging students and holding them accountable while teaching like the fate of the world depends on it, because it does. Ethics, morals, values, history, languages, cultures, sciences, mathematics, physical fitness, music, art, acting, theatre arts, writing, poetry, imagination, religion, philosophy, political science, geography, spelling, grammar, literature, ideas—teach it all, teach it all, teach it all. Teach our children well and let God take care of the rest.

But the questions continue to haunt us: how do we do this? What makes a good school, a good teacher? How do we give our kids a life of the mind, a chance to excel, the opportunity to grow and learn and realize their dreams?

Recently, I’ve started writing a blog for the website LocalSchoolDirectory.com. The creator of the site, a former student of mine, believes that there should be a resource for parents, teachers, and students that brings together public and private school information from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center For Education Statistics, demographical data, and information from the schools themselves whose administrators, teachers, and parents can submit the material directly to the editors. He envisions a clearinghouse of education data that allows everyone, for no charge or spam, to access the information and use it to better our children’s education, and make informed choices about where we send our children to learn.

And what a wealth of information this site contains.

The homepage has a listing of the largest cities and districts with the total number of schools; links to articles on K-12 education; recent education news; and lesson plans that can be searched by grade level or subject. There is also my humble blog contribution to the enterprise.

Once a visitor has found a school, he can look at an overview/description, school reviews, enrollment figures, test scores, lists of alumni, a calendar, nearby schools, libraries and tutors, maps, and school contact details. One can even search for homes in the school’s neighborhood with a link to HomeGain.

The main site boasts no agenda. The editors simply put the data from more than 130,000 schools into properly organized and easily searchable files.

If one is looking for good schools in America, public or private, this site is an excellent place to start that search. It may also help people steer clear of poorly performing schools, but they must know how to analyze the data.

To that end, my first blog post is called “5 Things To Know When Picking a School For Your Child.” I break down the essential factors that might separate a good school from a troubled one.

In the future, I will be filing stories twice a week discussing the latest developments in American education, the on-going process of reform, and an analysis of trends and culture regarding life in the classroom.

To change education in this country for the better, we all must take a role. Parents, teachers, students, and administrators are the obvious stakeholders, to use a current buzzword. But a good education in America should be the concern for every person living in this country. We are only as smart as the best student in the class. We all know that, and through this knowledge, we can extrapolate that better schools, tougher standards, and innovative, intelligent, savvy, resilient students only make us all better and our lives richer.

I invite you to drop over to LocalSchoolDirectory.com and crunch the numbers and read the stats. Look up your child’s current school. Revisit your high school as an alumni. In short, know your schools.

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