Response: Five Things Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction
Over at Gravity and Levity, Dave wrote a post entitled Five Things Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction. Dave says schools need to embrace cell phones and iPods, stop blocking internet use, have teachers who police their own ranks, have school-based merit pay, and make sure teachers have experience in the arts.
Upon reading his list, I came up with two versions of my own. The first:
Five Things Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction:
1. Recharge community spirit. There are many negative stereotypes (and harsh realities) about parental involvement in struggling schools. New research suggests parents of children who attend schools in low-income communities want more opportunities to engage with the school. Administrators and teachers must innovate how we reach out to parents of different economic realities, languages, and cultures. Schools should be part of the foundation of community renewal.
2. Invest in intellectual and professional communities of teachers. Schools, teacher preparation programs, unions, and other stakeholders must work together to create a system where mentor-apprentice relationships thrive, collaboration (between teachers in and across schools) is the norm, and all teachers have access to research-based and field tested pedagogical strategies.
3. Allow kids to play and think for themselves. Recent studies link recess and free choice time to academic and social success. As I’ve said in earlier posts, “I’m a constructivist: I think that children construct their own knowledge when they encounter experiences that intrigue and challenge them”. Children form and challenge schema through play.
4. Re-interpret the one room schoolhouse. Americans seem most comfortable in clear hierarchies – especially the ones we have created in schools. Grades are an example – we group children by age and establish rigid definitions for what it means to be at or below grade level. We track students by academic and language “ability” and social behavior. I understand why administrators and teachers prefer tracking: it seems like the most efficient way to deliver content at the level of students. I see classrooms like families. In a household, family members learn from each other even though they are different ages and have different goals/needs. Older siblings learn from younger siblings, parents learn from children, etc. Families are communities of learners just like schools should be. Instead of thinking about classrooms in terms of the supposed age or level of the students, we should think about them as diverse learning communities, where the different abilities of students help them learn from each other.
5. Acknowledge differences in culture without negative comparison to the culture of power. Instead of embracing the diversity we see in our learning communities, we often wage campaigns to rid children of differences. Although students must learn English in school to succeed in our society, we should praise the their status as students who navigate more than one culture and language successfully. Home cultures influence how students interpret and learn from the world we create at school. We must try to understand where are students come from with an attitude of respect.
Now, a more satirical list:
Five Things (“Underperforming”) Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction:
1. “Smoke ’em out”. Cycle through new leaders and teachers each year. As George W would say, we have to smoke underachieving teachers and administrators out of their caves.
2. Scripting: eliminate the “teach” from teaching and replace it with a script. Community building, figuring out student needs, teaching students at their social and developmental pace is too hard. Reading a script, snapping fingers, and waiting for answers in game-show style is better.
3. Woo foundations and nonprofit organizations. There is a positive correlation between money available for grants and sound pedagogical decision-making, right?
4. Keep kids away from their communities and alienate parents. There is a positive correlation between time spent keeping children out of their community and test scores, right?
5. Support programs that bring new, unexperienced, teachers to the most needy students. We want teachers who are young and creative enough to innovate the education system (but whose lack of access to, and practice using, research-based educational strategies leaves them little recourse but to use uber-traditional practices).