Saturday, June 30, 2012

Real School Choice

Instead of letting parents choose their students schools, we should be talking about finding ways to give students choices in what and how they learn.

That's school choice that will make a difference.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The former is politically motivated, the latter learning-motivated.

Our reforms won't matter until we start focusing on the people who matter:  individual students. Every student's needs are different.  Every student has different interests that need to be tapped into, talents that need to be developed, and passions that need to be ignited.

Lets start having that conversation, please.

17 comments:

  1. Michael, you bring up an important shift needed in K12 education- recognizing the rich Funds of Knowledge (Moll, et al) that kids bring with them and working with and from who and where they are. This has potential to be a far more powerful path than our current focus of falsely identifying the same end-goal for all, and effectively creating schools that have and others that have-not... your point about the political nature of school choice as we have it right now is spot on- thanks for speaking up!

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  2. Jenna,
    Thanks for your comment and the kind words. We are of the same mind. I see such potential in our students being wasted in the name of standardization. I hope the time comes soon when education reform is driven by what's best for students and not politicians, corporations, parents, or even teachers.
    -Mike

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  3. Freedom of choice is easily given in reading (independent choice, perhaps within a genre or by subject or simply fully independent selection) and writing (same as reading). But shouldnt there be some standardization by topic in the other core areas? Granted, how that knowledge is acquired - project format, collaboration format, e.g. - can certainly have some flexibility. But don't students need a core knowledge base before being allowed to progress? And don't future teachers need to have some common starting point from which they can start without having to be worried about existing gaps in the pre-requisite knowledge of the 25 students who sit before them. Seems like too much choice has a potentially fatal flaw edpecially when there are accumulated knowledge gaps?

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  4. Right on! But one of the problems (if you are are a conspiracy believer) is that THEY really do not want all of our kids to be thinkers and doers. You cannot control the lasses if they are not all the same...I would ask every citizen of the USA to wake up and make some decisions before there aren't any left!

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    1. Have you by chance seen the most recent platform of the Texas Republican Party? The plank on education says almost just that.

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  5. Don't you feel that this is more about differentiation? Good teachers are already doing this sort of thing by allowing students to maximize their potential. I agree with you that we need to find what our students are passionate about and how they learn and then tap into that passion.

    Your post implies that you want teachers to create and follow IEPs for each and every student and then allow those students to follow their own path to meet the IEP requirements. Teachers already have insufficient time to find resources for all their students let alone multiplying that by 25.

    I, and everyone else, has school choice available to them. You can a) choose private schools; b) choose another school district; or c) home school. Private schools produce top notice students (both academically and athletically) using less $ per pupil than most public schools. Anyone notice how many home school kids win national contests like the Spelling Bee and they do it for free? That's school choice.

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  6. Anonymous #1,
    Yes. There needs to be some base "standards", especially at the younger elementary grades. ie. There needs to be direct reading instruction, etc. so that students have the ability to drive their own learning as they get older. I'm not so worried about "knowledge gaps", though. If you are passionate about construction and want to build a deck (just picking the first random thing that came to me), and you need more background with the Pythagorean Theorem in order to make your deck square, you go and learn it. If you are sitting in a classroom being lectured about the Pythagorean Theorem because it's a required standard, you may or may not learn it. Thanks for commenting!

    ScaryOldGuy,
    I couldn't agree more.

    Anonymous #2,
    Your points are the ones that come up most often in this debate. It's true that there are some amazing teachers doing what I'm describing. But many are doing so while having to fight the system every step of the way, and many, many others feel that they are unable to do so without risking their jobs. Such an environment is not conducive to a great educational system.

    Yes, I am proposing that each student be treated as an individual. No, I'm not suggesting that teachers find resources for each students. In fact, I think that would be another terribly harmful example of how we prevent our students from becoming lifelong learners by not allowing them the opportunity to find resources on their own. I believe that many of our IEPs would be unnecessary if more of our students saw school as relevant. It would certainly cut down on the number of discipline problems.

    It can be done, and it's not as much "work" as you think it is. It does mean handing much more control of learning over to students, and that's something that's scary to teachers and institutions who have never done it before.

    I have no problem with parents deciding that private schools or home schooling are great choices for their children. I don't believe that tax dollars should support those choices, though. I reject the premise that such environments are better based on Spelling Bee results.

    Every child deserves a great education. School choice models out there give choice to some, but many others are left behind. That's unacceptable.

    Thank you for your comment and your point of view.

    -Mike

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  7. Concise and to the point - well done. As long as the students and teachers get evaluated by inappropriate tests, differentiation has little value.

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  8. Michael, I am awarding your blog the Versatile Blog Award! Stop by my blog to learn more about it :)

    Miss L's Whole Brain Teaching

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  9. I have some major problems (mostly with what you said in some of your comments). I wrote a response on my tumblr page.

    http://dkam136.tumblr.com/post/26407202419/shooting-academic-fish-in-a-barrel

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  10. Miss L,

    Thank you. I'm honored. I subscribed to your blog and look forward to learning more about Whole Brain Teaching. I saw that you have some videos and a link to more resources on your WBT page. I'll definitely be checking those out.

    Danny,

    I appreciate you keeping the discussion going on your tublr page. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and the more discussion we have, the more we move closer to finding answers. My experience has been that it is very possible and very beneficial to focus on and meet the needs of all students, regardless of whether they have an IEP or not. Those that need intensive, direct instruction receive it. All are expected to think critically (and all, including those with IEPs and learning disabilities have proven themselves capable). One of the greatest benefits of being involved in the blogging community and Professional Networks on Twitter, Facebook, and Plurk is that I am consistently barraged with examples of teachers that are doing exactly what you claim is impossible and unreasonable. Again, thanks for sparking more discussion on such an important topic.

    -Mike

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  11. Sorry Michael. That doesn't fit with the CCSS or the publishers / testing companies who stand to make billions off their implementation.

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  12. I was not saying that students shouldn't think critically. I was pointing out the fact that sending students on thirty different trajectories would be a death trap for any special day class and I can't imagine it would be possible in a general education class, either. There is a difference between thinking critically in a standards based classroom and sending kids on journeys to research what they find interesting.

    What you seem to be talking about is not school choice, but a fundamental restructuring of the school system to one that is not politically motivated. Such a movement on a large scale would be impossible because school are, by nature, politically motivated (they are sponsored by politicians who have a stake in the way education takes place).

    I'm all for trying to implement this at the teacher level (and I do try to implement some individualization in my lessons), but at the kind of scale you are talking about, I would be getting flack from admins left and right. My job in 180 days is primarily to teach the standards to students, whether it is personally "interesting" to them or not. This is part of making a well-rounded citizen. Whether we agree with the premise that we are making good citizens is a moot point considering the fact that those who fund us require this of us.

    I really to sympathize with your points. Maybe what I should have been more clear about is that I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel for these kinds of student-focused reforms. All of the reforms lately seem to be coming from the top (race to the top, if you know what I mean) and these reforms are all standards-based. Hope I don't sound too pessimistic.

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  13. So, based on what you are saying, teachers are getting in trouble and fear losing their jobs for being good a teacher. That makes zero sense and I doubt it can be backed up with any confirmed research.

    Aren't students being treated as individuals now or are all schools teaching as one collective mind in a classroom? You want to allow students to find resources on their own without guidance from a teacher. How does this work in say kindergarten? As for discipline, that comes from lack of respect for the teachers which starts at home. You also make a large leap in faith by saying that if students are finding their own resources, then school will be more relevant to them. Not entirely true. First, students would have to find relevant resources that meet institutional learning objectives and be something they are passionate about. Then, these resources would have to be combined with an instructional setting that empowers the students to have an opportunity to be creative and tap into their passion. Then you might be getting close to having students engaged and making school relevant.

    Personally, my opinion is that my tax dollars should go where I choose my children to attend. Since you reject one premise what basis (or factual research) do you have that supports the notion that public is better than private or home schooling?

    Anonymous #2

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  14. "So, based on what you are saying, teachers are getting in trouble and fear losing their jobs for being good a teacher. "

    Yes. Well put. I'm not sure what research you are looking for. I'm not sure that we'd even agree on what a valid metric for measuring excellent teaching would be. If you ask any student who has sat through test-prep courses and courses that utilize Project Based Learning or other student-centered pedagogies, I have no doubt that he/she will tell you that they learned more and were more engaged in the latter. Since those pedagogical practices are not the quickest way to get kids to pass standardized tests, teachers are absolutely being told that they should not use them. It doesn't matter that such practices lead to deeper and longer lasting learning; the penalties for schools having students not pass those tests are so crippling that administrators cannot afford to not pressure teachers into using bad practices. We can agree that it makes zero sense.

    "Aren't students being treated as individuals now or are all schools teaching as one collective mind in a classroom? "

    No. They are not. The very terms "standardized", "standards", and "common core" mean the opposite of individual.

    "You want to allow students to find resources on their own without guidance from a teacher."

    No. There is a difference between finding resources for students and helping them find their own resources and evaluate them. The latter includes guidance, and I'm all for it.

    How does this work in say kindergarten?

    Very well, although the students' choices may not seem as interesting to us as those we should be giving in later grades. Instead of asking students to "color in this picture of a cat because 'cat starts with c'", we can have students look through websites, books, etc. to find pictures of things that start with 'c' that they wish to color.

    "As for discipline, that comes from lack of respect for the teachers which starts at home."

    No disagreement there. Any parent will tell you that students are more likely to misbehave when they are bored, though. Multiply that by 7 hours, 180 days, and 13 years. It's not hard to see that students who see those hours as relevant are less likely to be behavior problems. Plus, I'd rather be respected because my students see me as someone who cares about them and is working his tail off to make sure they learn. I'd happily take both, though, even though there's nothing I can do about what goes on at home.

    "First, students would have to find relevant resources that meet institutional learning objectives and be something they are passionate about. Then, these resources would have to be combined with an instructional setting that empowers the students to have an opportunity to be creative and tap into their passion. Then you might be getting close to having students engaged and making school relevant."

    Yes, exactly. All of that. It happens in my classroom every day, and it's awesome. No leap of faith needed. I see it. Feel free to check out some of those awesome things that my students have done on our class wikispace: mrsoskil.wikispaces.com

    More below...

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    1. "Personally, my opinion is that my tax dollars should go where I choose my children to attend. Since you reject one premise what basis (or factual research) do you have that supports the notion that public is better than private or home schooling?"

      You don't pay school taxes to pay for your child to go to school. You pay school taxes so that all children have access to a free public education. This is why even those without children who are in school still pay school tax. Removing funding from those public schools lessens their ability to do what has been vital to our communities, states, and nation for centuries: allow the opportunity for all children to get the skills they need to be successful in life.

      It wouldn't be reasonable for someone to demand the money a community spends on their police protection back in order to hire a personal bodyguard. Because the police force is for the benefit of all in the community, not just that individual.

      Some private schools are better than some public schools and vice versa. Some students are better served by being home schooled. That's fine. Parents deserve the choice to put their children in whatever environment they think is best. They don't have the right to do so at the expense of others, though.

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate the discussion.

      -Mike

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  15. "So, based on what you are saying, teachers are getting in trouble and fear losing their jobs for being good a teacher. " Yes, they are. With the new evaluations that are coming out in my state, if a teacher does not teach CCS and their students do not show growth on a test based on the CCS, then they will get an average evaluation. Two of those and you are gone. Is it fair? No. And who gets hurt...the students. Best practice says differentiation is the way to go, but the people who are not in schools are evaluating people in a different manner. SO, yes, they are fearful for their jobs.

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