The Right Reform: First Things First Essay Example
The Right Reform: First Things First Essay Example

The Right Reform: First Things First Essay Example

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  • Pages: 9 (2443 words)
  • Published: September 17, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
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The Right Reform: First Things First

In the United States, students are primarily exposed to a traditional method of learning, which includes blackboard lectures and uninspiring teachers. This classroom structure turns students into receptacles, as described by Paulo Freire in "Teaching Method of the Oppressed." According to Freire, education frequently involves the teacher depositing information into the students' minds, leaving them unable to express or think for themselves.

Nowadays, American students serve as mere recipients of a teacher's instructions. Teaching methods have evolved over the past two decades. Students are no longer passive learners who simply repeat information from outdated textbooks. Educators now recognize the importance of using various techniques that reflect different stages of life to provide an education that is beneficial for the future of the United States.

One key aspect of public education reform


is the belief that schools will improve when teachers address the unique needs of each individual child (Fullan, 4, 6). FTF, a reform model developed by IRRE in 1996, aims to address the needs of individual students through effective educational practices supported by years of research.

The approach to education reform in American schools has changed significantly. In the 1980s, reform programs focused on identifying and assisting children and teenagers who were struggling by implementing narrow programs targeting specific issues.These programs aimed to decrease negative school characteristics, such as dropouts, drug use, and teenage pregnancy, for "at-risk" students. However, despite efforts to improve job skills, these initiatives did not significantly enhance youth outcomes. James P. Connell, the founder of FTF, explains how the approach to school policy shifted from a "safety net" to a "youth development" perspective in the late 1990s. Thi

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newer approach is based on research-backed teaching methods and recognizes the impact of the social environment on youth development. Policymakers, private funders, and community leaders now have a better understanding of this aspect. As influential figures in American education gain more power, there is a shift in focus from fixing individuals who fail to fixing the systems and institutions responsible for them. This belief in accountability contradicts traditional American approaches but aligns with the Japanese perspective that it is better to fix the job rather than assign blame. The Japanese acknowledge that any failure is due to the process or system and not individual shortcomings. They recognize that mistakes are made by everyone and that many errors can occur. Japanese businesses thrive because they understand that by fixing processes or systems to prevent future errors, they effectively address all individuals involved.
Reformers in the late 1990s recognized the need for system changes at various levels of education. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform was assigned the task of convening a national taskforce to explore how districts could be redesigned to support numerous high-performing schools. This taskforce aimed to reassess the supports and services provided by districts in light of President Bush's focus on standards-based accountability. In 1996, Kansas City adopted the FTF enterprise, which was discussed by Annenberg. The IRRE conducted research on different aspects of whole-school reform, organizational change, and youth development and developed their own program called FTF. This program aimed to initiate and facilitate change through district-wide restructuring and reallocation of resources. FTF incorporates principles from developmental psychology that emphasize individuals' sense of competence, independence, and connectedness within social contexts as promoters of

positive development. The objective of FTF is to address issues in American schools on a larger scale by transforming school structure, teaching practices, teacher accountability, and administration to create engaging learning environments for both students and adults.The FTF model proposes three key conditions for successful reform: strong and mutual accountability between school staff, students, and families; effective instructional practices involving rigorous and meaningful academic content; and alignment of resources such as time, finances, personnel, and facilities to support these conditions (Connell, 45). This model aims to bring about significant improvement in student outcomes by starting with long-term goals for young people and working backwards to determine the educational milestones necessary for achieving these outcomes. It outlines supports and experiences, describes school restructuring, and details district-level activities required for system-wide change. Similar to strategic planning practices used globally by universities and businesses, this approach underscores the importance of long-term goals for youth like finding decent jobs, building relationships, and making positive contributions to the community. The acquisition of productive skills during early school years is crucial for future success in life (FTF, 4). Experts agree that two critical factors predicting adult results are academic performance and commitment to education during the school years (Kemple, 10).The primary focus of educational systems undergoing change is on achievement and attendance, as they are associated with future success. The question arises: what supports and opportunities improve educational outcomes? According to FTF, significant changes in the education environment are necessary to enhance student performance and commitment. There should be changes in students' everyday lives within their classrooms and schools. Students should experience better interpersonal and instructional support, leading to more positive

beliefs and increased engagement in school. Schools and districts must also increase support and opportunities for adults within schools concurrently, which will result in more positive beliefs and greater engagement from these adults. Another inquiry deals with the execution and appraisal of FTF. How should schools alter in order to increase supports and chances? FTF identifies seven alterations referred to as FTF's "seven critical characteristics of school-site reform," that provide the parameters for alteration activities to better support young individuals and adults (Ashby, 10).The text discusses the goals and challenges of implementing the FTF theoretical model, which aims to improve education for young people and adults. The model includes four changes for young people and three for grownups, all aimed at improving educational support and opportunities. One key goal is to create continuity of attention for children by organizing small learning communities (SLCs) that keep the same group of professionals, students, and families together throughout the day and over multiple years. This requires reshaping the school structure beyond traditional annual timeframes, as well as reconsidering class scheduling methods. Advocates of the FTF model must also focus on reducing student to adult ratios in core subjects like reading and math to no more than fifteen to one. However, achieving this goal can be challenging in overcrowded classrooms, requiring flexibility in scheduling and possibly redistributing professional staff.One school in Kansas City has adopted an innovative approach to scheduling, where groups of students rotate to attend elective classes while the remaining students receive reading or math instruction. This unconventional approach effectively meets a critical goal (Ashby, 11). FTF's third critical goal is to establish high, clear, and fair

standards for academics and behavior. Academic standards define what all students should know and be able to do within key content areas by graduation and at various points throughout their schooling. Behavior standards outline expectations for both adults and students' conduct and are agreed upon by all those affected, reinforced through positive role-modeling by adults in the school. The implementation of this goal focuses on aligning the curriculum with national, district, and state levels. Administrators must also establish a behavior protocol that identifies agreed-upon standards for staff and students alike, along with a system of rewards and consequences (Connell, 97). FTF's fourth goal benefits students in three distinct ways by providing enriched and diverse learning opportunities.When children actively engage in various teaching methods such as cooperative learning, it makes instruction more authentic and real-world based. As a result, students become more enthusiastic about their role in the process (FTF, 5). Implementing assessment strategies linked to different teaching styles also motivates students because they feel responsible for their performance. Additionally, creating individual and collective incentives for student achievement and offering leadership opportunities in both academic and non-academic areas empowers students through recognition (FTF, 5).

The final three goals emphasized in the FTF framework focus on adults involved in the reform process and entail changes in administration and accountability. When all components of the planning process share a unified vision, the chances of success increase ("In most cases people resist...imposed upon them," Guskin 5). Many scholars who analyze educational administration structures recognize that a school's primary asset is its faculty. Therefore, it is crucial for administration structures within schools to allow the faculty's voice to be heard. One

of FTF's objectives is to equip, empower, and anticipate all staff members to enhance leadership skills by establishing a shared vision and expectation of high-quality teaching and learning across all classrooms (FTF).The text states that SLCs (small learning communities) at SLC are supported in implementing research-based teaching and learning techniques to achieve their vision. It also mentions the importance of engaging all staff in ongoing study to improve curricular and instructional approaches. The implementation of this feature requires determining who should make decisions about instructional practice and professional development within SLCs, grade level committees, etc.

Furthermore, the text highlights the goal of ensuring collective responsibility by providing collective incentives and consequences for SLCs, as well as school and district staff based on improvements in student performance. It emphasizes the need for flexibility in schools to allow for the allocation of resources based on instructional and interpersonal needs of students. These resources include people, places, money, and facilities.

To support the implementation of these critical elements and goals, FTF utilizes three approaches: small learning communities, the family advocate system, and continuously improving management. Small learning communities are referred to as "schools-within-a-school," "houses," or "families" where a group of teachers and students have their own physical space, administration system, and budget within a larger school.Multi-age classrooms combine students from different grade levels into one class, regardless of their age. The family advocate system is based on research that emphasizes the positive impact of strong relationships between students, teachers, and parents on student achievement. This system brings families into small learning communities to bridge the gap between school and home. It promotes parental involvement through a designated family advocate who

regularly meets with students and their parents. The goal is to establish shared goals among all stakeholders involved in a student's learning. The FTF model is not seen as a fixed program but rather allows schools to decide how to implement seven changes on their website. Each individual school can determine specific activities targeting these critical features. In 2003, a study conducted in the Kansas City School District showed significant improvements in student achievement due to the FTF reform initiative, which was implemented in 43 schools serving 20,000 students.Some instances witnessed a twofold increase in the number of students achieving proficiency in math and reading, surpassing statewide averages for that particular year. Meanwhile, high school dropout rates were on the decline, while attendance rates in the district reached approximately 90%. The success stories associated with FTF are numerous, yet there is limited discussion on this matter. Therefore, the question remains: how can anyone oppose something that is established upon proven teaching and learning methods? Presently, smaller class sizes are becoming increasingly favored within American education. This reform effort in public schools has been influenced by the belief that private school students benefit from more personalized attention due to smaller classes. In a report prepared for the National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform, Oliver C Moles Jr. outlines three weaknesses of SLCs (small learning communities). Concerns regarding tracking, multi-age group job opportunities, and academic challenges all arise within SLCs. As Moles (2) points out, tracking becomes a genuine possibility in SLCs since superior students may be drawn to specific aspects of such programs. However, decision-makers face the challenge of making SLCs appealing to all individuals, particularly

parents who may wish to withdraw their children from programs involving lower-achieving students (Ashby 13). In SLCs following the FTF model, learners with varying abilities are mixed together; consequently resulting in different students attaining goals at different times and ultimately leading to tracking (Moles).In this model, SLCs (Small Learning Communities) consist of students spanning across grade levels and pairing older students with younger ones as mentors and leaders. However, Moles highlights the challenges that teaching students at various levels can have on educators [5]. The lack of teacher preparation and certification in this area, particularly among middle school teachers, makes it difficult for sub-par instructors to implement and sustain such a complex approach. Another challenge identified by Moles is maintaining academic rigor in a system where students learn at different paces [7]. This was evident in the study on Kansas City School Districts' adoption of the FTF (First Things First) model, where implementation issues arose [Moles]. Instructors were excited about the reform and its ideals but their workload more than doubled. Teachers who were once under the radar were now accountable as household advocators and leaders of SLCs [Gambone 14]. It is important in any reform process to create early successes to maintain enthusiasm [Rowley 2]. The Kansas City School District almost lost momentum in the first and second years of implementation before seeing the results of their hard work [Gambone 14]. Despite these setbacks, overwhelming evidence supports the promise of SLCs. When SLCs are used, school climate, safety, and student attendance improve, leading to increases in student achievement [Moles 6]. The personalized learning environments that SLCs create are key to improving student outcomes.FTF combines

the best practices from various reforms to hold faculty, students, and parents accountable. My experience at a private Quaker school for most of my life resembled a small learning community. Unlike some classmates who had only attended public school since kindergarten, I had the same 10 classmates for nine years. This better prepared me for high school and allowed me to develop stronger relationships with instructors and decision makers. Personally motivated, I found similarities between my experience and the approach of FTF, which I consider to be the best reform. Based on everything I have learned in my pursuit of education, I am convinced that the principles and methods advocated by this reform are correct. If schools nationwide embraced FTF's ideals, students would be seen as active participants in their own learning rather than objects.The given text lists various sources, dates, and titles of documents related to education and research. These sources include the Institute for Research and Reform in Education Website, a document by J. Kemple on the impacts of students' transitions to post-secondary education and employment, a document on small learning communities by Oliver C. Gram molecules, a book on strategic change in colleges and universities by D. J. Rowley, H. D. Lujan, and M.G. Dolence, a guide by the Annenberg Institute on relationships that support systemic change, and others.The dates range from July/August 1996 to April 20, 2005.The documents contain and their corresponding contents

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