“Fixing” Education by Rebecca Rumsey

I know this isn’t a popular opinion these days, but I believe the quality of teaching is better in this country than it was 40 years ago.

Forty years ago, when I was in school, science experiments were rare; we read about science from a textbook. There was no flexible grouping for teaching reading; we had the blue birds, the red birds, and the sparrows. There was only one way to solve a math problem and it didn’t involve manipulatives; consequently, a whole generation believed themselves “bad at math.”

So, yes, I think the teaching is better.

But why does it seem like there are still so many struggling schools? Some of the schools, anyway … those that serve our neediest students.

Everyone seems to have a theory about this. Teachers and teacher unions are a popular scapegoat for those outside the profession. Other folks, often without school-age children themselves, blame the breakdown of the family, or what they consider to be a lack of values in our youth. Still others point to technology and the advent of the iPhone. Educators debate the damage done by the culture of testing, increased trauma for kids, school choice, and unrealistic standards and expectations. Those with money (Bill Gates, Betsy DeVos, et al.) get the chance to push their theories on the American public.

If you’re reading this, hoping I’ll share an enlightened opinion about any of the above, I’m sorry to disappoint. I will tell you that I’m sure several of the above are contributing factors to greater or lesser degree. I do find testing oppressive, and I think we do a real disservice to teachers, students, and families with policies such as the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee” here in Ohio.

But how can we fix it?

I was always of the belief that education could be the great equalizer. Beautiful stories such as the recently popular Educated by Tara Westover, share the impact of schooling over poverty and ignorance. As an educator, I love those stories. They always made me feel that, if we just worked really hard and did our very best teaching, all schools would be great, and all children could succeed.

I’m reminded of an opinion piece I read last summer* which identified my approach as “educationism” – the belief that fixing America’s education system will fix inequality, will give all kids the access to great schools. And as a literacy consultant, fixing (or supporting, as I prefer to call it) is the work I do. But I know it’s not enough. It’s just not enough. Are there things that need fixing in our schools and in our communities? Of course. Many are listed above. But deep down, I think we all know that the real problem is more pervasive and harder to address … It’s the growing chasm between the haves and the have nots. And until we fix the problem of inequality, all students aren’t going to get a great education, no matter how dedicated their teachers are.

I strongly suggest reading the article, below, if you are truly interested in supporting education. Using teachers or families as punching bags isn’t going to get it done. But voting just might.

*Better Schools Won’t Fix America

We’re Hiring!

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Link Education Project is looking to hire a part-time Elementary Literacy Coach to work with our team in schools in the Greater Cleveland Area. This is a one-year, independent contractor position for the 2019-20 school year.

With the support of the Director of Collaborative Leadership, the Elementary Literacy Coach will work on-site with teachers, principals, and students to develop and deliver a comprehensive professional development program that supports school and district goals. The coach will facilitate grade level meetings, model comprehensive literacy instruction in classrooms, analyze student data, and collaborate with teams of teachers and coaches to provide high quality professional development.

Primary Responsibilities:

  • Builds effective working relationships with principals and teachers
  • Develops teacher knowledge and skill related to collaboration and effective teaching and learning through:
    • Facilitating team meetings
    • Modeling classroom literacy strategies
    • Consulting/coaching one-on-one with teachers
    • Using Link frameworks to develop and deliver support and professional development.
    • Promoting collaboration
  • Participates in school-wide planning as requested
  • Remains current in instructional research and practices
  • Participates in monthly collaboration
  • Takes on additional responsibilities as needed

The ideal candidate will possess:

  • 7 or more years of classroom experience – mostly in PreK-3
  • 3 or more years of experience in adult, school-based professional development
  • Experience with professional learning communities, peer collaboration, and developing positive school climate
  • Strong content knowledge and experience in early literacy instruction
  • Experience working with groups of adult learners to bring about meaningful change
  • A growth mindset
  • Ability to analyze student data, clarify instructional implications, and develop learning plans in response to the data
  • M.Ed or Masters in Education
  • Excellent interpersonal and leadership skills
  • Broad knowledge of child development and literacy instruction (including reading/writing workshop and phonics instruction)
  • Able to work with a variety of stakeholders (and personalities)
  • Able to work effectively with both adults and children
  • Values collaboration and understands what it means to be part of a team
  • Able to promote high expectations for teachers, principals, parents and students
  • Strong organizational and time management skills
  • Ability to take initiative, work independently, and follow through with commitments

Please apply by May 24th.  Send cover letter, resume, and contact information for 3 references to connie@linkeducationproject.org

Managing Tim Shanahan

They creep into our classrooms . . . Timothy Shanahan, Lucy Calkins, Richard Allington, Fountas and Pinnell. They provide guidance, inspiration, tools, insights, research. They offer their expertise so that we can inspire and instruct our student while armed with the very best research-based practices. But they don’t always agree with each other. They don’t always like what we’re doing.  They don’t know our kids. 

It’s on us. We need to remember that we are the professionals in our rooms. As professionals, we weave the connections between our students and the sometimes-contradictory information we get from leaders in our field. It’s our job to blend the research with our own experiences and our hearts and minds in a way that will make it real and powerful and meaningful for students. It can feel overwhelming.

How do we respond when we so carefully craft targeted guiding reading groups that meet the needs of all the learners in our classroom, and then Tim tells us, “Research shows that matching kids to books does not guarantee big learning gains.”[i]

And what do we do when we set up beautiful classroom libraries with carefully leveled books and then Fountas and Pinnell tell us that levels are only for teachers, not for kids. [ii]

Here’s what we can do….

First, we read with an open mind. We aren’t fearful of change. We aren’t protective of the way things have been. We don’t assume that our own knowledge has no value. We are open and confident and willing to challenge our own assumptions.

Then, we value the work that we’ve done and recognize that we, and the researchers, are continually engaged in a deep learning process. We ask lots of questions about the new research and about our own practices.

Finally, we reflect.

And in the end, we are careful not to throw away our tools, techniques, and understandings that have worked; but instead, we see our work as always in progress. We use the latest research to see ourselves and our work more clearly. We are open to current research, even when it seems to contradict what we know and do. We cautiously revise, tweak, adjust, and experiment so that we are continuously moving towards deeper learning for our students and greater expertise for ourselves. We value what we bring to our practice and recognize that the expert advice is a powerful source of information that bears consideration, even when it challenges us. But our personal research, our growing expertise, and our experiences are also valuable sources of information. The true professional teacher pulls from all of these sources to continuously grow in her practice. Ours is a growing field. We will never finish learning.

So what can this look like? Don’t make the mistake of tossing out everything you know based on a new nugget of powerful research. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in 10 years rolling your eyes and complaining about the pendulum swinging again. The truth is, each time that pendulum swings, it changes. We see that when we look closely. It’s not actually the same old reading groups. It’s not truly the same research project that we taught 30 years ago.  It may sound like it; but look deeper. Listen carefully. Consider, instead of rejecting new research, making small adjustments that will help you continue to grow instead of starting all over.

So when we learn that our singular focus on instructional level text might prevent students from learning how to engage with challenging text, try adding challenging material to your guided reading groups on occasion. In this instructional context, you’ll have the opportunity to give students the support they need. Don’t stop doing guided reading.

And when we learn that giving kids time to read doesn’t necessarily propel students into deep learning, try embedding some rigorous instruction into your independent reading program during mini lessons, conferring, or small groups. Don’t toss out independent reading.

Look past the alarming headlines and dig deep enough to make truly informed, reflective decisions about your craft. Partner with a trusted colleague to discuss the new learning and experiment together.

Good luck to you. Wishing you and your students a year of discovery.


[i] The Problem with Guided Reading, Shanahan on Literacy

[ii] Fountas and Pinnell, “Guided Reading:  The Romance and the Reality,” 2012.

Building Community – One Book at a Time!

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“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Cicero

This Friday, Link is kicking off the newly formed Slavic Village Parent Book Club, and I’m excited! Of all the parent programs Link offers, Book Clubs are my personal favorite. I love to read and I love to talk about books … what a great job to have!

As with all our Book Clubs, we will start with the young adult novel Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman. Seedfolks, if you haven’t read it, is a beautiful story full of diverse and interesting characters. It is always the first book we read in Parent Book Club, as it tells the story of disconnected neighbors coming together to build community around a garden – a garden started by a young girl. In a way, Seedfolks is an allegory for our Parent Book Clubs. Based at our children’s schools, we come together originally because of our kids. Once we get to know each other, we realize how much we enjoy each other’s company and community is born!

In addition to building community, the Parent Book Club mirrors what children experience in reading workshops in their classrooms – they share ideas and experiences, while getting to know more about themselves and each other. At our meetings, parents will have the opportunity to read and respond to literature with some of the same strategies their children are exposed to in the classroom, enabling them to dialogue with their children using the language of school. Perhaps most importantly, parents model for their children the joy to be found in reading a great book.

The Parent Book Club is just one of several programs Link offers to foster the connection between home and school. Parents are incredibly important to their children’s education; yet the worlds of home and school are often separate, and can leave parents feeling isolated from their children’s school experiences. By providing parents with the opportunity to meet together as a community and explore the home-school connection, we can bridge that gap.

Often, parents are joined by grandparents, friends, teachers, and even administrators at the book club. This opportunity to connect with each other on a social level – and not just around your child’s grades – is particularly special. Once we know each other as people, we’re more likely to understand and appreciate our respective roles as parent and educator. One teacher in a book club really connected the story behind Seedfolks to her own love of gardening. She shared that love – and the story – with her young students. Together, they planted some tomatoes, which she gave to parents at the next book club meeting.  Everyone was overjoyed to have the plants, of course; who doesn’t love fresh tomatoes? But we were moved most by the thought behind the gesture. Someone at our children’s school was thinking of us, and wanted to share her joy and her talents with us.

Link has been facilitating Parent Book Clubs in schools and districts across greater Cleveland for over ten years. And parents have told us they love it: “What a fantastic program! Not only are we as adults reminded of how to read analytically — and thereby relate more closely to our kids, but we are nurturing our souls and building a stronger community through relationships.”

In other words, why should kids have all the fun?


The Slavic Village Parent Book Club is funded through the Third Federal Foundation of Cleveland. It is part of the neighborhood P-16 initiative which brings people and organizations together to create strong communities so that “every child in the neighborhood experiences high quality learning that strengthens their talents, expands their resiliency and prepares to be productive citizens…”  We will meet monthly at the Boys and Girls Club at 6114 Broadway. Join us for one of our meetings; we look forward to reading with you soon!

  • Friday, September 30, 9:30 am
  • Friday, October 28, 9:30 am
  • Friday, December 2, 9:30 am