Saturday, November 08, 2008

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


At 9:10 AM , Blogger Ms. V. said...

5) a safe and orderly learning environment.

This is part of the problem. Orderly.

I have the same students, multiplied by 20, in every period.

I agree. Your student is not ready.

At 6:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you can clarify a little more but I feel like you are contradicting yourself. You do believe that different students can live up to different standards but you also believe that your colleagues are wrong for believing that some of the students simply cannot perform to higher standards. You are very critical of your colleagues but it almost seems like you feel the same way.... that your students are not capable of living up to some of the standards. Maybe I misunderstood... but it does sound like a contradiction.

At 5:01 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

thanks for the comments. I will do my best to clarify, but as I stated in the post, my thoughts are regularly changing on this issue, and I don't know I have a full grasp of my own views.
Basically, I believe that we should expect high standards for all of our students. And those standards ought to be attainable. Which is why I am not against tracking students based on ability.
However, I do feel that at times, and I've admitted my own guilt in the matter, that we are failing to maintain those high standards for each tracked level. Meaning, we view some of our poorest and most disaffected students as if they aren't even capable of reaching the academic standard for their tracked group (which again should be high, but attainable).

At 7:57 PM , Blogger A Dad said...

Hi, just found your site. I recently finished my second master's degree in education and in response to comments regarding high school literacy, I may be able to offer an option for social studies teachers.
Ward Wittman

At 6:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks again for mentioning Teaching in Circles. I appreciate all the word of mouth I can get.

As for your conflicted feelings, the system sets you up to feel conflicted. We don't want to track students, but instead newspapers publish NCLB test results each year for tests that don't actually measure how much individual students improve but how one grade compares to the class before it.

Our district motto is "Educating our students to reach their full potential," which allows for various interpretations of what full potential means for each student, but in practical terms no one here would ever accept me saying, "That's it. That's Jimmy's full potential. Send him away now, please." As much as I'd like to say that sometimes...

At 3:10 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Can you imagine, Nathan, the look on people's faces?


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