Monday, October 4, 2010

Public School Manifesto

Children are not failures. Our public schools fail millions of children each year. Why do children get failing grades in school, and what should we do about it?

  • The number one reason for failure is that the environment that they are in is not working for them.

We force children to stay in the same class with the same students and the same teacher for a whole school year, when it is obvious that the placement is not working for the child. There is really no harm to try something different for a child who is not succeeding in their current environment.

If we give a student some guidance and real choices about where and how they spend the day, we can improve the value of their personal school experience immensely.

Why don't we give students the ability to find the classrooms and the teachers and the subject matter that work for them. Sure, it would be great if we could successfully train every child to be a rocket scientist, but the reality is that no matter how many recources we place against it, some children will not master rocket science. It would be more effective to let every child get value and learn stuff that moves them towards their educational goals everday that they are in school.

  • If we put children in an approrpiate environment they will learn at their own pace and up to the own personal potential.

The idea that our birth year will dictate how fast we learn, what we should
learn and the appropriate peer group for every child in school is ludricrous. Every child will learn at their own pace. Learning groups should be fluid and flexible and should maximize the number of children in learning environments that let them succeed at their pace through topics and subjects that are at their level, interesting and meaningful to them and fit in with their overall educational plan that has been worked on together with their teachers, their families and others who make up their learning village.

Getting educated is a personal experience that never ends. To think that every child will flourish in specific age-group environments with a teacher who was assigned without their consultation is just crazy. Choice and real alternatives for children who are not succeeding where they are will turn lives around.

  • We shouldn't penalize the children who are succeeding to help the children who need a different plan so that they can be successful too.

Too often curriculum gets watered down and opportunities become limited for the students who can meet the minimum standards that schools and communities have set for everyone. By lumping all children together because of their birth date, regardless of their current mastery level, interests and readiness to engage in the classroom's activities in a positive way hurt all children. The ones who get good grades and give the teacher a feeling of satisfaction are being held back just as much as those children who are not succeeding in the classroom.

  • Current classroom placement are set up to minimize the effort needed to know where a child should be at any point during the day, and who is responsible should something bad occur. We need a system that maximizes flexibility so that as many children as possible can be engaged in meaningful work and learning things at school at school that will serve them well.

I think we need to look at the calculation of how many children are
thriving at our school, for the resources we are spending. I believe that
if this was the measure, we would find much more efficient models to create
learning environments where the vast majority of children are thriving and
making progress on their educational goals.

We might not get every child to meet a minuimum standard set by the current standard setting board, but I believe that we can help every child find a niche that will allow them to become successful, happy and productive adults.

I believe learning how to thrive as an adult is way more important than algebra. However, for those like me who want to thrive as an engineer or a scientist, there is nothing more important than algebra. Let students, with the help and guidance of their teachers and families, do their best to find their niche and successfully prepare for a happy adult life --- whatever that might be.

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