Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who Really Wins the Race??

Originally uploaded by flightlessXbird

I have to admit I have spent a ridiculous amount of hours perusing the Dept of Education’s guidelines, press releases, and state applications, desperately trying to find some light at the end of the latest tunnel in the world of education reform.

The carrot is no-doubt tantalizing: 4 billion dollars for states willing to provide evidence of their strategies for addressing the 4 areas outlined by the ambitious plan including standards and assessments, teacher quality, and turning around failing schools

However, as an educator with over 10 years of experience teaching and coaching in primarily urban school districts I am left scratching my head. I wonder how and why is it that so many find the idea of a “race” a viable one for America’s students? Aren’t all students deserving of quality education or are we saying that it’s okay if some lose?

With all the information I was able to find about the requirements and specific areas designated for reform, I am struck by what is missing from the conversation considering what research tells us about best practices in education.

• Funding for preschool education. The majority of my “failing” students have been struggling since kindergarten. Children from impoverished backgrounds have less access to books before entering school and lag behind their more affluent peers in word knowledge. This is a formula for inequity that results in students entering school already at a disadvantage. States should have the funds to make preschool education a reality for every student.

• Equal per-pupil spending. I’ve worked in schools with 38 kids in one class, one outdated computer, and no classroom library to speak of for reading instruction. Believe me money isn’t the most important factor but it does make a difference! Most states use of property taxes results in more funds being spent to educate the nation’s most affluent students. As a result, students who need the most resources receive less. Why not evenly distribute the billions of dollars being offered through Race to the Top to the nation’s poorest school districts? At the very least some attempt could be made to correct the inequities created by current pupil funding models.

• Creating “real-world” partnerships. The disconnect between learning and the real world is pervasive in our schools. I’d love to see school districts being rewarded by thinking outside the box in their attempts to forge relationships with practitioners in various fields. This could include everything from finding mentors for students to long-term apprenticeships based on needs and interests.

• Celebrating Teacher Collaborations. I’m still not sure why anyone thinks teacher merit pay is a silver bullet for improving classroom instruction. Most of us didn’t choose this profession for the money-we wanted to make a difference. Any funds earmarked for teacher bonuses linked to test scores are a waste that will undoubtedly lead to hoarding information and cheating scandals. If the administration wants to pay teachers for anything, it should be for opening up their classrooms to others in the professions, and leading workshops around things that new teachers often struggle with like management and effective lesson planning.

• Lessons from Other Countries. Finland’s students are outperforming many in the world. Yet there is very little standardized testing, approximately 30 minutes of homework and they spend less on education than the United States, according to Wall Street Journal article, “Why are Finnish Kids So Smart”? More importantly “Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards” (Gamerman, 2008). Every citizen attends preschool at age 7 and has the right to attend college for free. Basically the Finland educational system is the polar opposite of what we do I America.

Examining What Truly Works. Although there is dismal evidence at best to support the mass firing of teachers as a viable strategy, there are plenty of examples of models that work right here in America. Geoffrey Canada's work in the Harlem Children's Zone though costly is proof that a multifaceted approach produces phenomenal results. Dr. Steve Perry is able to boast a 100% college acceptance rate among urban students. The list goes on. So why are we not taking a hard look at these models instead of repeating the missteps of NCLB?

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