An (aspiring) Educator’s Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘policy

Response: Five Things Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction

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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).

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Sometimes teachers use computers like badly written worksheets

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I’m intrigued by a debate sparked by this post on Dangerously Irrelevant:

Dangerous Debate

I agree with the principal who asks for advice – technology should not be treated as an “add on” to our curriculum. Teachers should weave technology throughout the curriculum and their practices – not only as a way to increase learning, but for networking, tracking professional development, and making life easier in the classroom (it’s possible!).

Schools that give equitable access to 21st century learning experiences value community building (home-school, teacher-student, student-student, neighborhood-school, etc), use informed and child-centered pedagogy, and help teachers connect to a wider professional community. Just having technology in a building does not ensure children learn how to use technology appropriately. Currently, our classrooms are filled with literacy, math, science, and social studies artifacts (textbooks, worksheets, libraries, posters, curriculum guides, art supplies, etc). The mere presence of these artifacts has not ensured equitable access to appropriate learning experiences.

Many professionals misuse technology (there are tons of websites about bad PowerPoint presentations). Teachers are prone to the same error. Sometimes teachers use computers like badly written worksheets. Instead of using technology to provide students with rigorous challenges, many teachers provide cookie cutter, linear experiences, where the emphasis is on product rather than process. In my professional development and classroom management plan, I say:

“students need experiences that build upon understandings they already have while challenging them to form new understandings. Vygotski used the term “Zone of Proximal Development”. Learning requires a delicate mix of challenge, conflict, safety, and familiarity. There is not a single linear progression that fits the learning trajectories of all students.”

I guess the question I would have asked, if I were the principal, is “How do you align technology use with what you believe are the best practices in education and the needs of your intellectual community? How can I create a technology plan that provides the equipment and professional development for teachers to use these technologies appropriately?”

How would you answer these questions?

Big lenders drop community college students from rolls

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Our economic crisis is disproportionately hurting lower-class citizens. Big lenders have cut off loan services for students of community colleges and less-selective four year colleges (NYT article here). Over 40% of college students attend these institutions. These institutions of higher education are often the bridge between the lower and middle class – they offer innovative professional tracks, serve students who do not fit into traditional educational settings (including students with disabilities, parents/caretakers, and gifted students) and provide many other important services to communities. In recent years, states have looked toward community colleges to shortages in the fields of nursing, teaching, transportation technology, air traffic control, and many other careers.

Cutting off funding opportunities for students who attend these institutions destroys another path toward economic mobility for millions. Moreover, there are may be a ripple effect felt in critical sectors of the economy.

What’s the solution? For the time being, students are able to find fallback loans with higher rates and less perks (ex – no more rate cuts for students who pay loans on time). Also, students who are not able to get as many loans as before have to assume credit card debt and/or work extra part-time jobs. This makes students less-likely to finish school or decreases their earnings once they leave college.

One solution, is to have professional organizations, nonprofits, and state/federal governments promise students repayment of loans if they finish school and take jobs in critical areas. This solution would be a band-aid for issues of equity and access that ripple throughout our education system. Lenders are dividing schools into a tiered system because they see the difference in earnings potential between ‘elite’ and ‘non-elite’ students.

Sadly Relevant/Cheesy Poster: