Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Readiness" School Gimmick

Massachusetts doesn't need a third type of charter school; it needs longer school days, free tutoring and more options for students, so they're interested in what they're learning. Massachusetts doesn't need a new shiny wrapper ("readiness schools") or even a complete overhaul of its educational system; we need to address the nuts and bolts of the problems laying behind why students in some districts aren't performing up to par.

One of the clearest factors in student performance is socioeconomics; that only became even more obvious post MCAS. Simply put, some students have college-educated parents who know how to foster an environment where their children learn what they need to know by the time they enter college. They're parents who can afford tutors, or at least have the extra time (and skill) to tutor their children personally.

Obviously, we can't change all the advantages some students have in particular homes - but there are ways to work around it. Longer school days, with directed study time, would close the gap. Schools with longer hours have shown that time and time again. Part of the problem with Charter Schools - of which "readiness schools" would be a completely new kind - is that while many of them address these problems, they rob the resources of surrounding communities from being able to have any chance of solving these problems. So, again, we don't need the shiny new wrapper of a "readiness school" - we need nuts and bolts fixes for every school in this state. We don't need some good public schools and some bad, we need a universal quality of high caliber education across the board.

The only reason why many inner-city charter schools sometimes do better, in fact, is because they have an abundance of extra resources for their students - personal tutors volunteering their time, longer school days, etc. Give those resources to all of our public schools and the results will be contagious. Teachers know how to teach; what happens in the school isn't the problem. Longer school days with more personal attention for every student would finally close the gap.

So why deviate so far from what we really need? How do "readiness schools" really help the system? Aren't they really just going to further divide the haves and have nots? Why do we need some big, new, shiny wrapper for these new, cool schools? Schools that create imbalances in the system and focus attention away from the schools that need help? This isn't smart governing, it's ego. Massachusetts doesn't need an education revolution, we just need to find a way to effectively get at every student in the state. In fact, we're doing a fantastic job teaching, our failures come in preventing what gets in the way of education. The solutions to our education problems don't rely in some grand new scheme, but in making sure learning happens in school, where we can get at every student - and not at home, where we often lose them.


Anonymous said...

Until the short term mess that is public education in Massachusetts is fixed, discussing the long term is silly. We need pension reforn, health ins reform, SPED reform, and a committment to fully fund the chapter 70 disaster. What the Governor is doing is worrying about the landscaping at a time when the house is on fire. Of course these are my opinions.
Dave Whelan
Chair, Swampscott SC

Anonymous said...

All this discussion about education and how poorly it's functioning in the state, reminded me of junior high algebra.

I sat through each class as if a foreign language was being spoken by the teacher. Came home and complained and arrangements were made for a teacher I had previously had for another math course to spend his study halls tutoring in a 'different language.' I didn't do great, but got a B.

And the same was true in college when I couldn't grasp a course, I aggressively sought help and fortunately, because Bridgewater is a teachers' college, they offer pretty basic high school textbooks for some of the same subjects.

If I didn't understand something that was being taught, I sought solutions, even if it was my fellow students.

Friends, with high school age children, are sending them to private schools if they can afford it. And those who can't afford private schools are willing to support voucher schools.

Maybe it's time to stop looking for band-aids and begin talking about real solutions.

If you review the DOE school funding reports, you'll find per pupil costs and demographics are not necessarily the determining factor.

You'll find communities that are low on per pupil funding, predictably low on the demographics profiles, that perform well in the MCAS.

How much has to do with the Administration? How much has to do with where the money is spent?


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