The Principals' Office Blog

Restoring Humanity Through Lifelong Learning

One of the strategic issues for the Vision 2021 initiative is advocating for early childhood education and networks of support. Research has repeatedly shown that the first three years of a child’s life are crucial to brain development. Dee Dickinson, former CLO of New Horizons for Learning, is a proponent of early childhood education. But she also thinks that this evidence should not prompt us to start piling on the academics as soon as a child’s first steps are taken. Dickinson believes that an active and engaged environment—one that encourages interaction and questioning about anything and everything—fosters more brain development than passive absorption of material from television and direct instruction.

To promote this ideal, Dickinson believes that elementary schools should become community centers for learning. Parents can learn how to provide an enriching environment in the home that focuses on engagement and play—especially as the focus on play has been pushed aside in the atmosphere of high-stakes testing. Because many parents have their own anxieties about school based on their childhood experiences, providing informal opportunities such as pot-luck dinners can help to get parents engaged in discussions about early childhood education and lifelong family learning, as well. This can be especially true in low-income areas.

Dickinson realizes that this concept is not easily executed due to time and budget constraints. But nevertheless, she believes that visionary leaders should work toward involving the whole community—parents, teachers, and students—in a grass-roots effort to promote the joy of lifelong learning and to restore “humanity” to education.

Can U.S. Schools Create Global Citizens?

American schools may have a difficult time teaching students that they must become citizens in a global society where the U.S. will no longer be the dominant power, according to Jim Dator, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

"In the United States, we often don’t like to admit that there is anyone else but us,” says Dator  This, he says, is compounded by the belief that the U.S. will always be the center of power on the planet and that the rest of the world will always follow in its footsteps. 

Dator stresses that educators already understand that the curriculum needs to become more sensitive to cultural differences, more focused on global issues, and less narrowly focused on America. Many attempts have been made in the past to change the curriculum, but these attempts failed because policymakers repeatedly refused to allow a culturally-sensitive, globally-focused curriculum to be taught, instead insisting on what Dator calls a “narrow, triumphal version of American history.”

Finding time in the current curriculum to teach culturally-sensitive, global subjects is also a concern. Dator goes on to say that the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates are pushing American public education into the wrong direction.  “While the rest of the world is waking up to the necessity of a curriculum that encourages creativity, aesthetics, imagination and the like, the U.S. keeps harping on the three R’s plus discipline,” says Dator. He is confident that the NCLB mandates will be radically different, if not completely thrown out and started anew, when reauthorization occurs. 

Changing the worldview and culture of an entire country is not an easy task. What can U.S. schools do differently to teach cultural competency in a global context in spite of these obstacles?

What Can We Learn from Schools in Other Countries?

One of the nine provocative forecasts for the Vision 2021 initiative is that “schools will become the learning portals to a global workforce.” This forecast explores what schools in the U.S. must do to align with the new requirements of a global society. According to Yong Zhao, an education professor at Michigan State University, principals can get a fresh perspective by comparing how educators in other countries get results.

Zhao dedicates much of his research to comparative education in China and other Asian countries. In China, teachers “compose” lessons, having been trained to focus on the movement of the lesson and the timing of instruction and use of materials. Chinese teachers move well beyond team teaching to co-planning and co-execution of lessons, in part due to the fact that elementary teachers in China have more subject-matter specialization. This style of collaboration is also set up to help newer teachers. Zhao says that one of the revelations of the TIMMS study was the performance of U.S. students who had teachers with less than five years experience, a difference not present in some Asian countries such as Singapore.

Zhao is quick to point out that these differences can have some drawbacks. The Chinese methodology of instruction may stifle creativity and produce homogeneity. However, American educators get relatively few opportunities to discover for themselves what might work well in the U.S.  Yet, European and Asian countries spend significant funds to send their principals to other countries, including the U.S. And when China revised their educational standards around the turn of the century, they sent delegates to many countries to learn about their standards and benchmarks.

What opportunities should principals have to learn about how other nations educate their students and what might that mean for the future of U.S. students? 

Education Needs More Street Fighters

One of the five strategic issues identified by NAESP through its Vision 2021 project is that “NAESP should work to realize equity in public schools by championing the opportunity for all children to have learning experiences that help them achieve their full potential.” One way to achieve this goal, according to Jim Grant, founder and executive director of Staff Development for Educators and author of the upcoming book The Death of Common Sense in our Schools: And What You Can Do About It, is to recruit more “street fighters” in education.

The skyrocketing special education population is an example of the growing challenge of achieving equity in public schools. Grant believes that there has been an overall inability to “connect the dots” between this trend and socioeconomic trends such as increases in low birth weight, premature infants, childhood obesity, environmental pollutants and air quality, and fractured home lives. These trends have been correlated with decreased cognitive function, higher absenteeism, increases in autism and autism spectrum disorders, and increased emotional and psychological problems, respectively. Thus, Grant recommends that principals become more politically savvy about socioeconomic trends that deeply affect schools.

Educators also need to hold politicians more accountable for funding not only education but social services as well. Grant firmly believes that educators have to be street fighters willing to “push back” on politicians who act as “punishers” of education rather than “advocates.”

If educators want to champion equity, they will need to be more vigilant in vetting statistics from groups who are against public education, Grant says. Principals must “research the research and follow the money trail,” when campaigning for public education to expose the myths perpetrated in a media world that thrives on the negative.

Join the Conversation on the Future of Pre-K-8 schools

NAESP’s Vision 2021 initiative is creating some terrific conversations about the future of pre-K-8 schools and we encourage you to join these conversations. The Principals’ Office will have a special two-week Vision 2021 chat series that will feature interviews with educators and authors about the future of schools. Weigh in on what you envision schools will look like in 15 years and what needs to be done today to prepare schools for tomorrow.

The series kicks off today with some insights from author and speaker Gary Marx who often looks at how societal trends affect young children:

Keeping an Eye on Change

It goes without saying that the role of principals and their schools is to prepare students for a fast-changing world. In order to do this, Gary Marx, president of the Center for Public Outreach and author of several books on the future of education, believes that all educators need to find time to look at trends affecting the whole of society and consider their implications for schools and students.   

However, principals often find it difficult to look ahead when they are constantly bombarded with issues that need immediate attention. By keeping an eye on trends and issues, Marx says, principals will be in a better position to focus on constant improvement and lead their schools to adapt to the changing needs of society. Vision 2021 provides an additional resource to help principals jumpstart discussions about the future of schools.

Although expectations for 21st century job skills are evolving, Marx says principals can see the larger patterns in trends he has identified that indicate what students may need to know and be able to do. A globalized society increases interdependency and requires communication skills, cultural competency, and diplomacy. Today’s high-stakes testing does not adequately assess these skills or other important education outcomes such as civic responsibility, employability, and the ability to lead an interesting life.

High-stakes testing and future job skills are just two of the many issues principals must monitor as they prepare their students for the future. What other issues should principals consider as they look ahead at what their students and schools will need? 

Are Your Students Insured?

There are more than eight million children in the U.S. that do not have health insurance. Uninsured children are less likely to receive treatment for an illness or injury, which affects their attendance and overall performance in school. As schools nationwide gear up for the return of their students, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Covering Kids and Families Back-to-School campaign promotes the importance of children's health coverage and aims to get the word out to parents that low-cost or free health care coverage may be available for their children.

Visit to order materials and downloads, or contact the communications team at for assistance with planning activities and conducting outreach to promote the availability of low-cost and free health care coverage.

Computers in the Classroom

In the September/October 2007 issue of Principal magazine, authors Richard P. Lipka and Thomas M. Brinthaupt argue in their Speaking Out article that schools should think twice before implementing laptops—or other technology—in the classroom. The authors describe the downside of introducing technology into schools, such as hidden costs, operational malfunctions, and managing students' differing technological knowledge.

What problems has your school faced in integrating computers and other emerging technology in classrooms? Do they do more harm than good to the school in the long run?

Teachers Told to Chip In for School Electric Bill

In Michigan, one school district has implemented a “pay to plug” policy and another district is considering doing the same, which would require teachers and other school staff to pay a fee for plugging in personal desk clocks, lamps, fans, and other electronic devices to help offset rising electricity costs. According to a Detroit Free Press article, Grosse Pointe Public Schools initiated the measure last spring, while Chippewa Valley Public Schools is deciding whether it should too, beginning as soon as this fall.

Budget cuts and subsequent tight budgets are the driving forces behind this policy, which is estimated to offset or save each district between $25,000 and $45,000 per year in electric costs.

The Grosse Pointe school district put the same policy into practice a few years ago but rescinded it after strong negative reactions. However, the district is willing to try again.

NCLB Changes Curriculum and Instruction

The Center for Education Policy released a report this week that analyzes the changes in curriculum and instruction time since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). “Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era” finds that since the enactment of NCLB, 62 percent of school districts increased the amount of time spent in elementary schools on subjects that are tested for accountability, while 44 percent of school districts cut time on science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch, or recess.

Read the full report to learn about the other findings and recommendations, which include staggering requirements to include tests in other academic subjects.

Putting PE to the Test

Texas just added a new exam to its curriculum—a fitness test for all students in grades 3-12. The Dallas Morning News reported that starting next year, students will be measured on aerobic endurance, body fat, flexibility, and muscle strength. To pass, students must score better than seven out of 10 peers in their age and sex group. Students who fail, however, will not be penalized. Texas education officials say the test results will help guide state research into possible links among physical health and student achievement, school attendance, and discipline problems.

In many schools across the country, PE has taken a back seat to such academic subjects as reading, math, and science. But as more and more children nationwide are identified as overweight or obese, Texas will bring PE more to the forefront and will become the first state to comprehensively gauge students’ physical health.

The first round of tests will be next spring. We’ll have to wait and see what the final score is, and whether other states will follow suit.

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