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18 September 2016 @ 05:06 pm
Prophets who profit?  
I noted in yesterday's blog post that I was watching a report on the PBS Newshour about a private for-profit school in California that hopes to set the standards for what teaching needs to be. I should have changed the channel, but I am always intrigued to see what journalists think is the "solution" to the education "problem" (nothing like starting with a deficit model, is there?). After watching the piece (and muttering throughout), I think I can see some applications from this school that might just work well in other schools and districts and states.

First, keep class sizes small. This school, in part because of the hefty tuition of more than $25K) had very small classes. Despite the evidence we have shared time and again, there are those who continue to say class size is not an important factor in the classroom.

Next, allow students to direct some of the curriculum (at this school it was 25%). We do this in many schools, labeling it genius hour and other terms. When I first began teaching in 1976, we had this as a part of the curriculum. Kids were also able to select how they would demonstrate what they had learned. We called it differentiation. This new for profit school simply calls it by another name.

Have limitless funds to expend for classroom needs from furniture to technology to supplies. Most of my colleagues use their own funds for things they want or need for their classes. Look at all the Donors Choose requests. Books, paper, pencils, art supplies are all in short supply. Do not even mention the shortage of technologies (tablets, computers, smart devices, etc.). In this school, it was possible for each child to have access to the materials she or he needed or desired.

However, there were some elements I would hate to see become part of the classrooms (though some of these are already in place and being used poorly). Data, data, data. There was an endless stream of audiotapes and videotapes (the classrooms are always recording) in addition to data from tests and other assessments. Of course, we are reassured that all data is being used for improving student performance. However, some of what I saw was traditional skill sheets. Kids were filling them out, getting scores, and then having a "program" determine which sheet would come next. This fascination with data has become more of an obsession and an unhealthy one at that.

The scrutiny of every word, gesture, and meeting seemed a bit troublesome. BH commented that it was very Big Brother, and I tend to concur. I find peer observation and feedback valuable. I request others' input on my writing and teaching frequently. However, having an "eye" always on mowed not, I believe, make me a better teacher. It certainly does nothing for my autonomy.

Finally, I would not recommend having so many folks in the classroom without substantial teacher education. It's nice you worked for a tech company. But kids are not smart devices; they are human. They need to be treated as such, and teachers must have some knowledge of how kids learn and grow intellectually, culturally, socially, morally, etc. Teacher prep was never mentioned in the Newshour piece. What education (not , not, not training) did these "teachers" receive?

And a P.S.--let us not be too enthused until this new concept of school has been in place for a length of time where things such as the Hawthorne Effect no longer come into play. Let us examine scores and achievement between traditional school and this one once the other variables are the same (like those mentioned above). Let us offer traditional schools all of the funding of this for profit school, controlling for poverty, and see what happens.

Before we declare a cure for all that ails education, let's take a step back and see how we can add to the education of ALL KIDS.
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