An Interview with Ronald Holmes: Education Questions to be Answered

Mar 15, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) First of all, let me say that at least in my humble opinion, the vast majority of teachers and schools are doing a pretty good job for about 70 percent of the students- would you agree or disagree?

I wrote the book, “Education Questions to be Answered” to provide solutions to problems plaguing America’s schools, as well as provide resources to improve the effectiveness of schools. If more schools’ stakeholders are exposed to additional resources and best practices to address issues confronting them, this could strengthen the educational environment and, subsequently, improve the overall performance of schools. Therefore, if 70 percent of the teachers and schools are doing a “pretty good job,” just imagine what they can accomplish by having added resources to support their efforts.

2) What kind of radical change is needed so that the American education system can once again thrive?

In the American education system, I see a need for school systems to use multiple measures to assess the performance of students and teachers rather than a single measure. However, the evaluation instrument should be research-oriented and applied to schools with similar demographic backgrounds.

Second, I see a need for school systems to have more autonomy to establish the benchmarks for preparing students for college and careers rather than follow the benchmarks set by the federal government. The NCLB testing targets have proven to be unrealistic for all schools to reach by 2014.

Thirdly, I see the need for schools systems to afford students an opportunity to pursue a rigorous curriculum such as Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (IB) since these courses are predictors of students’ success in college and careers. I also see the need for school systems to provide students a rigorous curriculum through the Common Core State Standards adopted by 48 states to provide a clear and concise framework to prepare kids for college and careers.

3) Let me take a real radical position that I have heard- many teachers believe that NCLB and “ Full Inclusion “ should both be abolished. Would this radical change help?

Thanks for asking this question. It is one of the topics I address in my next book, Current Issues and Answers in Education, slated for publication later this year. Approximately 30,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools in 2010 did not meet their NCLB testing targets and 80,000 public schools were projected to miss their targets in 2011. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “the NCLB law impedes the progress of schools, is four years overdue for being rewritten, is too prescriptive and punitive, lowers standards and narrows the curriculum.” When schools repeatedly fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), they progress into a corrective action or restructuring stage such as converting to a charter school, closing or being turned over to an educational management organization. Therefore, this radical change can give states and school districts more autonomy to establish benchmarks for academic achievement utilizing the Common Core State Standards or other standards to prepare students for a complex and global marketplace.

4) What is the single most important educational question to be answered?

In the book, I address 25 questions or issues plaguing America’s schools. I did not prioritize them because they can all confront school systems and stakeholders in different ways. Therefore, I provide concrete details regarding issues in education to support those working in the educational climate with the hope that the information would serve as a vehicle to help schools overcome their obstacles. I think it would be difficult to single out one question when it is the combination of the solutions that make an effective school. All elements must work together…educational policy, administrators and teachers, curriculum, supportive parents and community and appropriate funding.

5) What is broken, if you will with our current educational system?

The NCLB law appears to be broken. We have too many public schools that are not meeting NCLB standards and, subsequently, closing. In addition, an alarming number of students are not graduating from school, 1.2 million students drop out of school annually which equates to 7,000 students each day and 160,000 students are absent from school daily. This contributes to students not being prepared for college and careers. In fact, Duncan reminds us in a CNN interview with Soledad O’Brien that the education system is basically a 19th century model that is not preparing enough students to be successful in the 21st century economy” leaving over two million unfilled high wage and high-skilled jobs” during the time of a high unemployment rate.

6) Let’s talk directly about parental support- if I hear ONE thing from teachers- they want parental support- BUT- how do they get it? How do they get that commitment?

Some schools districts such as Boston and Philadelphia do a good job of creating a forum for parental involvement. This vehicle is called Parent University. School districts can use this model to enlist parents to become an integral part of the educational environment through various means such as seminars to provide training to help parents with their kids’ homework, gain training for finishing high school, getting a job and upgrading their skills on the job. When parental involvement is an issue, parents need to be taught how to be involved and there must be programs that require them to be involved such as providing them concrete guidelines for how they can be involved. This is so important to the effective working of the school that I devoted time to discuss this in my recent blog post on Parent University at: http://ronaldholmes.authorsxpress.com/

7) Some teachers are burned out, others tired of paperwork and meetings- can you address some of these issues?

The use of educational technology in the classroom can be a lifesaver for teachers in this century. When teachers incorporate technology in the learning environment (computers, interactive whiteboards, wireless classroom microphones, online media, podcasts, etc., this can add to making learning fun and exciting. It can add to students being better prepared for the 21st century economy.

In fact, the integration of technology in the classroom can also reduce the amount of tedious work such as papers or forms teachers have to complete for grading papers and keeping records of students’ performance. As an example, a former teacher was having very difficult time of engaging students, guiding them through the lesson and managing the overall classroom. Once she began infusing technology in the lesson such as computers, interactive whiteboards, wireless classroom microphones, online media and podcasts, her instructional level and overall management of the classroom became highly effective. She became reinvigorated, inspired and excited about teaching. Her lesson became a model for other teachers to follow.

8) Everyone seems to talk about how great Finland is doing educationally, but there are some secrets to Finland’s success- kids don’t start school until age 7 and discipline problems are just about non-existent. We have two perspectives here- which is more important- starting school a bit later- or eliminating “ discipline problems “?

In my view, when you start school is not the point. It is what you do when you start school. Therefore, the American education system must become more research-oriented and assess what works effectively in our public schools according to demographic backgrounds such as region, population and staffing of the schools. Then, replicate those practices to other educational settings with similar backgrounds. In essence, American education system must abolish the notion that one-size-fits all in terms of managing the total operation of the system.
Rather, it must use multiple methods that are researched centered germane to the needs of students and other stakeholders in each educational climate.

9) Are schools really struggling or is our society struggling with changing values regarding education?

If schools are to prepare students for college and careers, there are an alarming number of students who are ill-prepared for such benchmarks. Therefore, the American education system has to adapt to the changing times and equip our students for the new millennium.
In a recent article I wrote regarding, “Pay It Forward,” I talked about a radio personality who described the educational system as being behind the times since kids play with video games and social media outlets all day but then are asked to come to traditional classrooms to “sit down and listen.” Our schools must keep current with how kids learn and need to be taught. If not, our schools will struggle with educating the children of today.

10) Sir, there seems to be a real disconnect between D.C. and the States, and then the States and the local school systems in terms of things. How can this disconnect be rectified?

State education agencies and school districts should have more autonomy in setting benchmarks to improve student performance. Last month, 11 states received flexibility from the NCLB. These states included Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee. In lieu of meeting NCLB 2014 testing targets, for example, these states are expected to establish their own performance targets for graduating students from high school ready for college and careers. They should develop locally designed interventions for their schools instead of adopt a one-size-fits-all remedy of the current NCLB. Also, they should use multiple measures to assess the effectiveness of schools instead of a single test score.

11) The number of students with “special needs” seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. Teachers are in IEP meetings, Section 504 meetings, ITP meetings and the like. Is this the best use of their instructional time?

As a part of the instructional process, schools must address the needs of their students in accordance with acceptable educational practices. An increase in students with “special needs” must not interfere with the necessary meetings needed to relevantly afford students a quality education. Therefore, these meetings must be encouraged and reinforced as an avenue to understand how to appropriately serve our exceptional children.

12) Tell us more about your book and where readers can get a copy.

The book, “Education Questions to be Answered,” provides solutions for improving America’s schools through federal funding, programs, services, community partnerships, accreditation and leadership standards. The book can be very helpful to all school stakeholders such as parents, teachers, principals and district administrators since the topics focus on the K-12 environments. In this book, I provide a plethora of references to support the suggestions; therefore, this book can be useful to graduate students, professors, researchers, university administrators and education state agencies. I end the book with a roadmap for specific actions that successful and struggling schools can use to improve their schools. While America’s schools are faced with numerous challenges in today’s society such as the lack of family stability and parental involvement, the tenor of my message is that educators cannot lose hope. We can and will make our school systems better. To order the book, visit: http://www.authorhouse.com, Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble (bn.com) or call AuthorHouse Book Order Hotline at 1-888-280-7715. To read more about the topics in the book, visit http://ronaldholmes.authorsxpress.com/.

13) What have I neglected to ask?

Well, I appreciate the questions you asked and happy to respond. Thank you.

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