Saturday, April 12, 2008

No Child Left Behind, or sent ahead

Maybe its because I'm an Italian-Irish mix, or maybe its because I grew up in a house with three sisters and a mother who loved to argue, but I am not one to let the fantastic, spirited and well-founded debate on NCLB end.

A couple of things on NCLB just to defend specific points that were raised against my original post. I shouldn't have placed NCLB at the feet of the administration it was a bi-partisan compromise bill when it launched into effect. While there has certainly been partisan bickering since it was past, it took a village to raise this bill.

On accountability, I don't take issue with our nation's schools being held accountable for the students they turn out. And a national standard seems appropriate for each grade level. What I take issue with is more fundamental than that. Kids are still learning to memorize facts in the age of Google. We are asking them to read, but not think critically about what they were handed. We need want them to do trigonometry in the age of computer modeling.

School curriculum can be geared around holistic education. It's an idea the Gates Foundation has funded and experimented with in model schools throughout the country. The idea is simple. Little Johnny is learning about statistics and probability in his math class right now. The example used? The National Census, how is it tabulated? How does it work mathematically speaking? How do we created projections from the 2000 census about what the population will look like in 2010? But in his Social Studies class they are also talking about the census they are talking about how lawmakers might use it to create policy, why it is important to the nations understanding of itself. In his English class they are reading synopsis of census conclusions and generating their own reports on what the next census might hold and what policies might be enacted because of it. His science class is taking that census data and relating it to climate change, trying analyze what system could be put in place to mitigate the growing problem. The curriculum is wholistic and synergistic. Then using the tools professionals use in the real world today like laptop computers and powerpoint presentations they present their conclusions to their peers for review.

Another example, Little Jane's science glass is studying the hydrogen fuel cell, it's fundamental mechanics how it works and how makes a car move. In math they are analzying the cost-benefit ration mathematically speaking of what it would cost to drive one, and what that might mean for families up and down the economic scale. Those numbers make their way to social studies where they begin to analyze why changes to our energy economy take so long what it might take to change them. In English Class they are competing to write ad campaigns that will convince specific demographics to start buying hydrogen vehicles based on the benefits they learned about in the other classes.

This kind of multi-disciplinary thinking is critical to the future of the world's problems. Raising a generation that is capable of thinking and working in this way can change the scope of public education is capable of.

I recognize that a pilot school in one district of Philadelphia might make for a great example, but a critic would be right to point out rolling out this kind of program on a national level would be costly, and it wouldn't do anything for the most failing schools. You might be right. But it's not even on the agenda, its embedded nowhere in the DNA of NCLB to actually change the way kids learn or are educated. It sets simple standards and gives incentives to reach them. That's fine, but that is 20th century thinking, we need kids that can get ahead in the 21st century and beyond.

1 comment:

Marc Valentine said...

James I agree with you 100% that there are some fantastic educational models that are working, but unfortunately I think you're missing a very big point, that fundamentals are essential to do all those activities you were talking about in your post. Yes those are activities we should be focusing on in education, but the harsh truth and you would see if you spent a few days in classrooms is that students are severely lacking in basic skills. You are right that we live in a Google age, but most kids copy and paste from Google rather than analyze the material and synthesize their own papers. I am shocked at the fundamental skills that students lack when I attempt to do intricate projects that involve cross curricular activities, and it's unfortunate that something is going terribly wrong in education. Therefore what do we do to correct this problem? Unfortunately we need to assess those basic skills, requiring summative assessments such as the PSSA's and Regents. If you analyze these tests, more often than not, they are very basic assessments that every students should pass if they want a piece of paper saying they graduated from high school. Should education be going in another direction, yes. However that is costly to the taxpayer and will never happen. The school you describe is amazing, but is the rarity, and I would also like to know the salaries for teachers in said private school, as usually in charter schools, magnet schools, and private schools what suffers as the education improves is the salaries of the educators. The very basic concept in economics states that "There is no such thing as a free lunch". Such educational opportunities will cost a great deal of money, and the current funding structure of education will never allow for these changes you said are necessary.