Saturday, April 02, 2011

Starting the Change Process Part 2

In my first post examinining The Hartford Courant's article "Windham Schools: Moving in the Wrong Direction," I explored three ways underperforming schools can begin to change the culture. Wanting to feel accepted and wanting to feel successful are primary needs for all students. Once a school has established an educational environment where students enjoy their peers and their teachers, then they are ready to learn. But if a school does not have in place a curriculum that will sufficiently challenge the students, the school will continue to fail in the main purpose--educating students. The Courant reports: "Connecticut Mastery Test scores have declined in many areas. The dropout rate is twice the state average. Only half the students are proficient in reading. And the school district has the largest academic achievement gap — the persistent disparity in academic performance between poor students and their more affluent classmates — in the state." I believe that college readiness should be the goal of all school systems. This does not mean all students should attend a four year or two year college. However, we must recognize that our world is increasingly in need of knowledgable and thoughtful workers. Gone are the days when high school graduates could easily earn a decent living at the local A&P. For a public school system which must coordinate its curriculum from Pre-K through 12th grade, college readiness must be the goal. This means that students should receive instruction in what college students need. By the end of high school, a graduate should look as follows: 1. Read and Write at the 12th grade level--this includes having read from "the cannon." 2. History/Civics--students should have a functional understanding of how history has affected our world today, and how, through civic responsibility, each individual plays a role. 3. Science--a graduate should have an understanding of the interconnectedness of human existence and the world around us. The scientific method is as valuable in Chemistry class as it is in solving everyday issues. And yes, they should know that H2O is water. 4. Basic Math--students should come away from high school understanding Algebra and Geometry. Though I would include statistics and life skills math like loan rates, investment rates, and balancing a checkbook. 5. Research Skills--a college ready student knows how to navigate the world of information in order to come to a new understanding. Today's students need a more critical eye when searching for valid sources and differentiating between facts and opinions. 6. Interpersonal Skills--as we become increasingly void of human contact, our graduates will need training in how to interact with real people. They should have plenty of experience in presenting and discussing. 7. Technology--I believe that all of our students should be taking courses which teach about social media and computer programming. The core classes, though, are of most importance to me. We can not allow our students to fall behind as readers at any point in their education. That a student can arrive at high school reading at the third grade level is a tragic failure on the part of those teachers and that school system. Yet, let me be clear. The school alone is not responsibile for the outcomes. A school needs resources, and clearly Windham's residents are not ensuring that their school system is funded according to its needs: "Town residents have balked at education budgets and whittled them down. And alienation has worsened between town officials and the school district and between the community's urban and rural taxpayers." Schools cannot operate properly without proper funding. In order for Windham to fix the academic piece, they will need resources. Certainly, the district should begin by examining every aspect of its budget. Though Windham does spend near the state average per pupil, it should be noted that this district's needs are much greater than the state average. We should also recognize the great role parents need to have in preparing their child for an education. The persistent state of poverty found in Windham has a negative impact on student performance--but that should not be an excuse. However, the district needs to have greater influence on the families sending their children to the schools. Parents have as much culpability in the low test scores as the school system itself has. For Windham to change its academic standing, it will need to make college readiness its focus. In order for that shift to happen, the district will need to have a much stronger parent network active in the community in order to secure resources. The district and the union will need to make sure that all teachers are focused on that goal.

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