Effective Schools Part IV
Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).
The fourth installment of my Effective School series investigate our commitment to educate all students. This fourth element grows out of Noguera's third characteristic of high expectations. If we are to succeed at educating all students, we must first decide what it means to educate and then determine if all students can be educated at this point in their life.
My attitude towards education and what that means changes regularly. At the core of my education philosphy is a belief that every child deserves the chance to learn. The special education student deserves the chance as much as the AP student. Latino students deserve the same opportunity as our Asian students. Our poorest students deserve an equal opportunity as our wealthy.
Yet, I cannot bring myself to the point where I believe that every student deserves the same education. This is not to suggest that some receive an ineffective education, only that our most advanced students deserve the types of challenges which will foster further growth and success. Additionally, our less advanced students deserve the types of challenges which will foster their further growth and success. However, I do not believe that every child can learn to the same level of expertise; but that is not to say we should not set a minimum standard. I suppose this means that I support a version of tracking students.
In his somewhat controversial, especially for many in education reform, book Real Education, Charles Murray writes, "To demand that students meet standards that have been set without regard to their academic ability is wrong and cruel to the children who are unable to meet those standards" (47). Murray does not suggest no standards or accountability, he simply believes that individual students vary in ability and therefore should be treated as such.
Earlier, I stated that I can't bring myself to believe that every student deserves the same education. I recognize this as a potentially dangerous proposition which lends itself to criticism about the "bigotry of low expectations." Let me clarify. When a student enters the ninth grade reading three grade levels behind, her education should look different from the student who enters ninth grade reading at the 12th grade level. To suggest that the girl with a sixth grade reading level focus on grade level skills or above grade level skills only alienates the student further, creating a cycle of failure. And the fact that next year some of my readers, who are anywhere from three to six grade levels behind as readers, will be held to the 10th grade standard set by the state of Connecticut, only adds to my frustration with a one size fits all education.
This last point leads me to question the current system that moves students along based on age instead of ability. Despite my fear of being labeled as only a complainer, let me offer an example or two. In my reading class this week, I had a student who became frustrated with the skill of analyzing for setting. All he needed to do was identify details about time, place, or mood and fill in a graphic organizer. Due to his lack of literacy skills, this task proved difficult so he threw his paper on the floor and quit. When I picked it up for him and offered to help, he became defiant by cussing and storming out of the room. His age would dictate that he's ready for ninth grade, but his ability and behavior indicate something else.
I would hate for this student to fail so often that he drops out. Unfortunately, the chances are he is headed in that direction. I believe he deserves to learn. I don't believe he is ready to be held to the ninth grade standard simply because he is of age to be a ninth grader.
I don't know what this means in terms of education reform and effective schools. But I do know that I belive the current system is unfair and unattainable.
Finally, in Part III I mentioned I'd list some of the leadership books I've read in the last year. I forgot. So here they are:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
Crucial Conversations byKerri Patterson and others
Influencer by Kerri Patterson and others
How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath
Strengthsfinder 2.o by Tom Rath
The Starbucks Experience by Joseph A. Michelli
And education books (bonus fun):
The Trouble with Black Boys by Pedro Noguera
Real Education by Charles Murray
What Great Teachers do Differently by Todd Whitaker
City Kids, City Schools Edited by William Ayers (uh oh, troublesome connections)
Holler if You Hear Me by Gregory Michie
Teaching In Circles by Nathan Miller