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Michael Hynes: Where Did We Go Wrong?

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Michael Hynes, who is superintendent of schools of the Patchogue-Medford (NY) district, writes in Education  Week that our nation may still be at risk. He believes the “reform” agenda of the New York Board of Regents is wrong and merely echoes the wrongheaded agenda of the U.S. Department of Education. How did we go so wrong, he wonders.

 

He writes:

 

As a school system seeks to progress one should often ask, “Is this best for kids?” I believe this question was never asked by the U.S. Department of Education or the New York State Education Department. They are paving a road as “we” drive on it. As this road is paved, we have little to no say as to the road conditions that we see ahead of us, how fast we are going and where our destination is.

 

I believe this is true at both the state and national level in relation to public education. Over the years I have seen many things come and go. It’s the perpetual pendulum of mandates, ideas, movements, etc. There are some things that are still around that I wish were gone, and some things are gone but I wish were still here. I won’t mention which things because it really is a matter of perspective. My perspective, my opinion. However; I believe it is a fact that public education is under assault and “we” are driving on a road that will lead to it crashing and crashing hard….As a superintendent it is imperative that I am accountable (for myself and others) as well as building up other people’s capacities to reach their potential. If an employee is not the right fit in my district, it is my job to find someone else who is. Every aspect of the Regents Reform Agenda has very little to do with child development and everything to do with the wrong drivers for improving schools.

My question is, how are they accountable?

 

Where did we go wrong, he wonders. He reviews the findings of the famous 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” and discovers to his surprise that it did not promote the road we are now on (though it may have focused too much on test scores as the ultimate gauge of “success”):

 

This document made recommendations to focus on curricula and learning from other advanced countries. What I found most interesting was that the report doesn’t mention anything about how schools should run and rarely makes any remarks about testing. I was surprised and found that extremely refreshing.

 

Furthermore, Dr. Hynes noted what was missing from “A Nation at Risk”:

 

When I read the recommendations, I found the following items absent:

*Test children into oblivion;
*Use tests from our children to grade and assess teachers and principals;
*Develop new standards that have very little input from the educators who will teach the new standards to our children;
*Do not trust teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards to make informed decisions about what is best for their children in relation to assessments, curricula and best practices at the local level;
*Ensure that state and federal government (Governor and President) has significant influence over teacher accountability systems and assessments. They should decide what is best for children in public education (even if their children don’t attend public school);
*Guarantee corporations will make billions of dollars in the age of compliance and testing

 

Is there an alternative to our present disastrous path? Dr. Hynes believes there is.

 

Some of us believe in trusting the local control of our school systems. I believe in the capacity building of our teachers individually and collectively. It’s about climate control within our schools and trying to work with the command and control mentality outside of them. State Education Departments should be working with school districts, not against them…. I believe the underpinnings of the New York Regents Reform Agenda have never been proven to work successfully AND longitudinally in any school district…. As Alfie Kohn stated, “The goal beyond testing is about building a thriving democracy. It is about helping each child reach his/her potential as a human being and learner.” Strip away the over-testing of students, tying student scores to teachers and principal evaluations, using the new poorly designed standards and the command and control mentality from our state and national education departments.

 

It seems the world of education is divided into two camps. Those who think we are on the wrong road, and those who say full speed ahead, regardless of the warning signs. Dr. Hynes is in the first camp. He is truly putting students first.

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