Tuesday, March 31, 2009
A Simple Plan that Would Never be Allowed
Imagine, if you will, that you taught in a school that was deemed a "failing school" due to low scores on a state test. Imagine if your school now had to undergo state mandated restructuring in order to make the school a more productive school, you know to "Get those test grades up!" I was thinking about just this sort of question and I came up with a simple change that would make it easier to actually teach students in such a school. This is just my quick outline of ideas. In real life no one has actually asked me what I would do in such a situation, but if they asked this is what I would say. Would it allowed? Probably not, I am sure there are some governmental rules that would disallow these easy changes, but here is my simple plan anyway.
One of the biggest problems getting children from non-English speaking backgrounds or from poverty to achieve success in school is to get them to learn to read. They must learn how to read at grade level too, so a lot of attention in the early years is spent on intervention of all sorts to give these kids a chance at being good readers. Unfortunately to give them the extra support they need, they are often taken out of the regular classroom and they miss many lessons: like math, social studies, and science lessons. As they try to catch up in reading they fall behind in other subjects. What if they were good in math but now miss out on math lessons? What if science is the one subject that would attract their attention, but they always miss the science lessons? Well teachers are supposed to "catch them up" but when?
There are five specialist classes where kids are never allowed to be pulled from: art, music, gym, computers, and library. Now I agree that the arts and gym are important in the education of all children and should never be abandoned from the curriculum. But it is silly to think that we protect these classes and instead have kids pulled from academic classes (where the teachers are held accountable to teaching so that students can pass the state tests) because we do not protect these subjects.
Now let's suppose our imaginary school that needs to be restructured has a wonderful after-school program with sports, music, and art activities that children can choose to participate in daily. Here is what I would do. In the "school in need of improvement" restructuring process, I would simply extend the school day for an hour or more. Any child who is not up to grade level in reading and needs the extra intervention time would not participate in the daily specialist classes. During that specialist time that student would work with the support staff and do all the things that the support staff do so well. The students who need intervention would then not miss the other subjects being taught by the classroom teacher. These students would then get their "specialist time" after school by participating in the after school offerings. In may not seem fair to miss the standard specialist classes but now the students have an incentive to work harder to achieve the scores necessary to rejoin their classes during this time. Students who do not need the intervention can go home at the standard end of school time, but are just as welcome to participate in all the after school activities.
I know the government probably has rules against something like this, but it is the government rules who say these kids are "failing" in the first place. Why not have a simple solution that would be easy to implement in any school. But then again, I am not the boss, I don't make the rules, and I don't get asked for my ideas about how I would create a better school. If I were able to restructure a school, this is where I would start.