Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Nobody ever thinks of stopping to help

school days

Education reform is a controversial topic. Geographic location, income, ideology, personal experience, moral indignation and even apathy tend to rub elbows in a national cocktail party where 17 million schools of thought are fighting for their dissertations.

I suppose I'd even be laughing at a contributor's column today - which opined a longer school day wouldn't work because it's akin to putting new tires on a broken down car along side of a road - if I didn't find the rationale behind the declaration so sad.

Many folks like to say you can't solve problems by throwing money at it. And yet they worry schools are merely a breeding ground of malfeasance and mediocrity. They can't seem to make the connection between money spent doing things differently may be money well spent.

The thing we can't turn away from is that our schools are failing our children.

All of them.

Now some of you don't care what happens to the kids who are disruptive. You don't care about their home lives. You focus on the tenured teachers and the summers off. You think their lives are cushy. And worse ... that everyone is undeserving ... except babyofmine, of course.

Hard work = success.

When these folks look toward positive change, what they see is merely ridding the schools of a "negative influence." If a kid doesn't want to learn ... if his parents aren't pulling their weight in his education ... the solution is to show them the door. Don't let it hit you on the way out.

It's the easiest, most cost effective method, after all.

Thing is ... they're out there, untethered. They're not graduating.

And it's not just them. Even when our kids graduate many aren't meeting a basic standard. You can think other people's kids aren't your responsibility, and technically you'd be right, but what you fail to understand is how important it is for all students to gain a better education.

We can't afford to throw even a small percentage of our children to the wolves.

More frightening to me than just the sentiment of intolerance that is pervasive in these arguments is the unwillingness to do what is not only right but what is difficult.

Saying lengthening the school will only leave more time for the bad eggs to infect others is effectively the same as saying education itself is already obsolete.

Saying the model won't work isn't even true.

In 2006 Massachusetts experimented with lengthening the school day for 5,000 students, adding 300 hours of learning time per year. Four years later it has been declared a success and 19 public schools in nine districts are currently participating. Results have shown marked improvement in grades in English, math and science in schools where ELT was implemented. The effort has also shown improvement in teacher satisfaction, student demand, as well as an increase in community partnerships.

A broken down car at the edge of a road may be a good analogy for the state of our education. But more important than focusing on the condition of the tires is the attention paid to structural maintenance.

We can't put off the inevitable forever.


Anonymous said...

At the top of the class, you see the same parents at every event. They're always there. While my kids are doing 2-3 hours of homework every night, the children of, let's say, less visible parents are walking up and down the street. True, a longer day might cut into their smoking time, but I don't know that it would change their lack of motivation. I find it hard to blame the schools.

The schools don't do themselves any favors by engaging in constantly changing policies, all of which are suppose to fix some problem or other in ways the simple parent just can't understand. Ours has gone around the bend on class scheduling, trying absolutely every possible combination of ways to schedule classes, all justified with some study or other that says this NEW one is the best. Then the next year they try another. Then they go to a system that was tried when I was in school 30 years ago. Then something else. It does make us wonder if they have any idea what they're doing, or if they make change for the sake of change.

toyfoto said...

I'm not really blaming schools, though I would agree there has always been a lot of "grasping at straws," types of policy/curriculum changes. Phonics, whole language, "new math," all debated and derided during my own primary school days.

Likewise, for as far back as I can remember, schools have been blamed for letting kids run wild. I don't think it's ever been completely true.

I suppose my point is that since we know students whose parents take an interest in their kids' education do better in school, and we know there are kids whose parents don't take an interest - or can't be there because they are holding down jobs to secure the rent, or the health insurance, or the food in the fridge - are at risk for falling behind, we have to figure out other ways ensure they meet reasonable standards.

We also should see that students who don't understand the material have a harder time being motivated.

An enormous percentage of students who DO graduate high school don't make it through their first year of college and that shouldn't be happening, either.

I really don't believe most teachers are happy just collecting a paycheck or socially promoting students, just as I don't believe motivating unmotivated students is impossible. It won't be easy. It will cost money. But it can be done.

We'll pay for it one way or another.

Anonymous said...

We don't even need to lengthen the school day -- just stop taking so many days off. We're off today for no reason. Our vacations have grown longer and longer. There are halfdays all over the calendar. I honestly don't know how parents who don't have someone at home manage it.

toyfoto said...

Longer school day is kind of a bad term ... much the same way "global warming" didn't describe climate change too well.

Longer school day could include more time in the day or more days in the year or a combination of both.

It would also mean educational time, and it would require schools to revamp instructional requirements.

For instance, most schools require students to have only three years of math and science for graduation purposes at the high school level. Why not four? Also, perhaps languages should be introduced earlier so children are more apt to become fluent.