- How did you arrive at that solution?
- What other solutions did you evaluate?
- Can this solution be used to advance new knowledge or applied to solve another problem?
- How might his idea have helped (name an historic figure) in (name an historic circumstance)?
Thursday, January 31, 2013
HELPING OUR CHILDREN TO A RICH PUBLIC EDUCATION
Every kid is an oddball kid.
As the United States progresses toward the middle of the twenty-first century, we are finding ourselves more and more immersed in global-scale realities. Many of my memoiric tales tell of growing up in a small town that no longer exists. The local department store no longer anchors downtown. The corner grocer is now a 7-ll with no fresh meats or produce but lots of big, fizzy drinks. The independent hardware store is a dying breed. We shop Trader Joe’s for that local feel, but purchase foodstuffs from as far away as one can be and still be on the planet. A trip to the men’s department at Penney’s finds us buying Levi’s manufactured in Mexico. I did this yesterday. The computer I type this on was manufactured in China. Likewise, the market for the area’s almonds or rice or navel oranges is no longer limited to the roadside stand or the Hershey factory down in Oakdale. It is global.
There is good and bad associated with this evolution. On the plus side, consumers can purchase product at favorable prices. On the negative side, locally based industries face competition from across the globe. On the plus side, we are afforded more and more selection of – on the negative side – things we don’t really need. No longer is there a US economy. The economy is worldwide. We are all in this together.
What does this have to do with schools? Education leaders are discovering that the market for their product – the 18-year-old high school graduate – is no longer limited to the community. The market is global. If a high school student from India is more prepared to maintain the machine that solders together solid-state componentry or uni-body automobiles than the graduate from Happy Valley High, guess who’s likely to get the job? Or, worse, guess where the job is going to go?
Schools of late have been charged with ramping up curricular offerings to produce world-class graduates able to complete on a skills-available basis with any other kid of his or her age anywhere. Thus, in California, students are pushed into higher levels of mathematical application, technical comprehension, and scientific reasoning. Coupled with these new-basic skills are the ability to think critically, problem solve and get along with others. These are the tools with which students must be equipped in order to win bread in 2050.
Parents cannot protect their children from the rigors that will be demanded of them – rigors the parents, as kids, were never asked to achieve. Teachers, for that matter cannot rely upon that which has always worked, because, in essence, the goal posts have just been moved, and they aren’t going to stand still. Therefore, parents and teachers may need to adopt a credo of the life-long learner if only to keep one step ahead of their kids.
How does the global view manifest itself in schools? In the education industry’s most recent past – and I am a huge proponent of the public schools, one who served in a site-level or curriculum leadership position for nearly 25 years – efforts have been made to feed students more content and test it out the other end. (Yes, I know what that sounds like.) Higher levels of mathematics instruction are being addressed at younger ages. Reading more complex works is occurring at earlier grades. More time has been devoted to these old basics as success is measured by objective, easy-to-score tests – while those new basics (mathematical application, technical comprehension, and scientific reasoning, the ability to think critically, problem solve and get along with others) have gone unaddressed. Also unaddressed have been the arts: literary, visual, performing and vocational.
Teachers have had to demand compliance of students because there is too much on the agenda to screw around with the oddball child who learns differently or requires more attention. Besides, the No Child Left Behind Act mandated, yes mandated, that 100% of all students be performing at or above grade level by 2014 – this includes the kid who arrives from the Ukraine the week before annual testing began – or the school will be labeled underperforming. Teachers, administrators, and local realtors hoping to jack up the price of homes, don’t want this. Meanwhile, parents grow frustrated because the child comes home frustrated because the frustrated teacher didn’t take time to meet the frustrated kid’s needs. The whole thing is, well, frustrating.
How should the global view manifest itself in schools? With the advancement of nationally based common core standards, we can expect some of the nit-picky factoid regurgitation to go away. Still for schools to move kids to higher levels of competency, they will need to build curriculum not around facts and algorithms and technical comprehension, but the application of facts and algorithms those things comprehended to solve problems through critical thinking. Checking for understanding (and parents can do this as well as teachers) will need to evolve asking such things as:
Public schools will deliver the goods in terms of creating viable, competitive citizens when they depart from the teach and test cycle and embrace instruction that demands application of knowledge in new and different ways. And they won’t be able to test this type of learning with fill-in-the-bubble assessments. Sure, critics will toss up the straw man argument that Joe-High-School-Graduate didn’t even know that Lincoln was president when the south seceded. That’s because Joe had more important levels of learning to accomplish and, besides, Joe probably knows how to look up the Lincoln answer on his Smart Phone.
What options exist for today’s frustrated parent? Having served 19 years as a site principal, I have heard from parents that the school is not meeting the needs of the student. I have also heard from teachers that they have 32 children who’s needs they feel they must address. As budgets tighten there is less resource available for anyone’s kid.
So, what about private school? Choose carefully. Private schools are not required to adhere to content or curriculum standards. Private schools may not necessarily employ teachers who hold valid teaching credentials or certificates. This doesn’t mean the teacher can’t be successful, but just as there are qualification standards for those who drive semi-trucks on the highway, standards for those to whom we entrust our children’s education are probably a good thing. Private schools are under no obligation to serve students with learning disabilities or who present behavioral issues. Many students who return to public schools after years in private schools find they are behind the curve when compared to their grade level peers.
What about Charter Schools? Charter schools are publicly funded. They may not have to employ credentialed teachers. They get to try different things. (So do traditional public schools, but there are some statutory limits under which traditional schools must operate, particularly when it comes to curriculum adoptions.) Some charters are sponsored by school districts. Foundations or corporations sponsor others. Charter schools may have a focus like basic skills, science and engineering or the arts. Charter schools may not deny admittance to students who apply but they may “be full” and place the interested student on a waiting list or they may suggest that, after review the student’s record that the student would be “more successful” elsewhere. For some reason – hmmm – many charter schools serve fewer students who are educationally disadvantaged or come with an IEP. Thus, some charter schools are able to mine for the cream of the crop students in an area. Oddly, as recently as 2009, assessment results for charter schools in California lagged slightly behind those scores for their traditional counterparts.
How about Home Schooling? Home schooling is a viable option for some but it is not without restriction. School districts or county offices of education are the gatekeepers for those wishing to educate their kids at home. A credentialed teacher meets with the provider-parent for a minimum of an hour per week to set out the curriculum that must be covered. Kids are assessed using traditional public school assessments annually. Scores for these home-schooled kids are figured in with the scores of the student’s home district for some reason. The district or county may revoke the home school privilege if the parent refuses to address the curriculum or the student fails to make progress. There are many sound reasons for wanting to school off-spring at home, but some parents choose home schooling simply if their child demonstrates difficulty with school-peer relationships. This is shortsighted. The way to deal with a problem like, say, a hangnail, is not to ignore it. Parents of home-schooled children often form associations so that their "students" may interact with others. Good solution! Often, home-schooled kids reenter the public arena behind their grade level associates, however, just as often, home-schooled kids knock the socks off of their peer group. Some even enter the university one, two or three years ahead of their contemporaries.
What about another public school? Districts in urban or suburban areas often times have more than one school serving the same set of grades. A shift from one school in the district to another (or a shift to a school in a nearby district) will mean educating the student outside his or her neighborhood. If a child needs a fresh start, this is a good option. If the child is running away from a problem it is not. A child moving to a public school outside his or her attendance area or to a school in a neighboring district may be kept on a short leash in terms of behavior. Some school administrators will dismiss a “visiting” student who fails to perform (because it impacts the school’s scores) or exhibits behavioral problems (because it impacts the teacher/principal’s time) without due process.
My recommendation? The local public school is the best option unless something completely unforeseen happens. Parents working with teachers can generally move the child forward. Ensuring that the child knows that the teacher and the parent are on the same path often presents a mountain just high enough that the kid won’t want to peek and see what’s on the other side.
Schools are under both political and economic pressure to demand excellent performance from their students. And parents need to back ‘em up. If questions arise about how “excellence” is defined, those questions should be asked privately, understood thoroughly and followed through upon religiously. Beyond what the schools can currently offer, outlets for extra-curricular activities in the arts or athletics can give a kid a reason to go forth as well as a valuable means of self-expression. Back in the day, we could depend on the school to provide these. As we progress toward that mid-twenty-first century mark, hopefully we, like the Chinese and many European countries, will embrace the value of returning these elements to a full and well-rounded education. But that doesn’t help the current mom or dad or the current student with the current “right now.”
Bottom line? Even with the sharpest or most mild mannered child, it isn’t going to always be easy. Some children require more malleating than others. (Malleating is a word I just made up. It is based on the word malleable, and it may involve use of a mallet.) But insulating children from the consequences of non-performance, lack of compliance, or inability to be a good friend, in the end will not serve the kid in adulthood. And, collectively, preparing the next generation for success is the most important thing, we as a society, can do.
Finally, consider this: Public education is a little like service from PG&E. The utility company gets the power to the house, but it is our job to flip the switch and turn on the light. No fair cursing the darkness.
Church of the Open Road Press