As a child (and even as an adult, truth be told), I rather enjoyed the “What’s wrong with this picture?” on the back of Highlights magazines. There is a picture with several humorous “impossibilities” or “extremely unlikely” nuances, for instance, a fish walking a dog. Or a car with a doughnut wheel. Or a fire hydrant spitting out grape juice.
When looking at the school district, there are several things that just seem wrong. Unfortunately, they are far more serious.
The NG put out three aritcles recently about AYP Scores (taken from the extremely helpful NIU Illinois Interactive Report Card):
- School Report Card: a summary of which school districts passed AYP (9) and which did not (a whopping 38!)
- Schools take steps to improve test scores: Article by Noelle McGee describing the frustration of trying to meet NCLB and the hope of getting the new “AYP-relaxation” waiver in Illinois
- ‘Some ups, some downs’ in school report cards: Article by Meg Dickinson that bespeaks how it is a small, specific segment of the school population that ultimately is holding the grades back.
Obviously, there is something wrong with this picture. Can you find all of them?
I have been talking about “reform” recently. When I read these kinds of articles and hear about the frustrating experience teachers face with NCLB, I have two thoughts:
- If NCLB is hurting us so much, what are the positives that balance it out? Surely, there must be a balance because nobody in power wants to get rid of NCLB, and of course, D.C. would never ever do anything that didn’t make sense.
- If the evidence shows that certain folks do not test well, what are we going to do about it?
To the latter, I have a strong desire to be very active. The former…. at this point in time, that whole realm is just overwhelming to me, rather out of my league.
As to addressing underperforming lower SES kids, I continue to be heartened by reports of Garden Hills’ Homework Club and Stratton’s Wednesday evening afterschool program. Why don’t we do more of that? Why don’t we invest (and it truly is an investment) a much higher percentage of our resources to helping out those kids? I know, I know, I hear it already – “That’s not fair!!” Yes, I realize that proud parents of super genius kids (and also the not-too-far-behind wannabees) want “what’s best” for their precious ones. I get that. They want access to technology, the best curriculum, the best teachers, the best school. I also have heard about this thing called “White flight” and the more general concept of well-to-do families and parents with means sending kids to other (more expensive, not “free”) schools. What exactly defines “fair”? That is not an argument I wish to get into right now. But I do like to hear opinions, so feel free to speak up. 🙂
Back to the point. Either we need to change the tests, or change the focus of our efforts. I prefer both. I have always hated standardized tests, and I continue to look for viable alternatives. (Trying to offer constructive criticism means I need to work on building up and not just tearing down.) In a recent thread, there is the idea of allowing kids to be grouped on ability or skill level, not age. I am convinced that the “best” road is not the “easy” road. In fact, at this point in time, I am almost convinced that the “easy” road is never the “best” road. Embracing the wide range of children, all with different strengths and abilities, is a messy, onerous, time-consuming, inefficient, labor-intensive task. And yet, at the core of my heart, I believe that is exactly what we should do.
How? I laugh when people ask me this. Because I am no expert, I have not studied this issue, I hold no degree in anything Education. From my naive perspective, it would seem to me that we need to start with community engagement. Increase the number of mentors and tutors, not by 100%, but by factors (ie, LOTS!). Drastically reduce the size of classes. Take the time to evaluate kids on an individual basis. Find their strengths and capitalize on that. Find their weaknesses and gain their cooperation in addressing them. Teach kids life skills. Heck, teach kids how to be involved in their children’s education! We were never taught that.
There are lots of folks, acting alone or in small contexts, already living out their passion to help the underprivileged. There are many stories happening all around us. Many good stories. Go out, find them, become one.