Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thoughts on Education From Three Perspectives

I've had lots prompting me to think about education the past few weeks. 

First, and most importantly, as a parent.  You all are probably familiar with my thoughts on public schools and home schooling.  Yet, we find Noah in a public pre-school for special needs kids.  And I am generally very impressed with his little school.  I think there are a total of 42 students that go there.  There are two morning classes and two afternoon classes.  They have a fantastic playground, a lunch room, a special area for kids to go blow off steam or energy by jumping on a little trampoline or some similar activity. 

Mostly, though, the teachers are great.  It takes very special people, with special skills and patience to work with special needs kids. 

As you know, Noah loves school.  He's not the best behaved kid, but he follows along pretty well and has fun with the other kids.  His language ability has come so far since school started.  They're also trying hard to help us figure out how to get him to eat new foods.  We send something new and they have him try at least one bite of it.  That's more than we can usually get him to do at home!  And now, even better, they're really helping us move him along in potty training.  This week he's finally wearing his underpants and not diapers.  At school they made him a sticker chart and every time they ask if he's still dry they give him a sticker and high five.  Praise really works for him.  This started last week.  We'd put his underpants over his diaper, then at school he'd pee when he got there and they'd just not put the diaper back on.  So yesterday we just started the day with undies.  It wasn't until they helped him that he started making real progress.  And I'm so glad they help us come up with a plan and help him with it.  We were really at a loss as to what to try.  Before that he'd absolutely refuse to let me put undies on him. 

So this is an area that for now is really great for Noah and us.  They have the years of experience and the tools and resources we would never have. 

I'm still not sure I'll be as impressed when he's out of the special ed programs.

Second, I'm also involved in the school's advisory council which means once a quarter to go over the goals and progress of the school.  This led to me also being on the Superintendent's Advisory Council, which meets monthly.  I've been to two meetings so far and have really learned a lot about the school district.  This is a group of 75 or so people from all of the schools that really does give recommendations to the school superintendent.  At the meetings we get different presentations.  Last one was about how the district is trying to serve the Gifted population, and then the other was on how they're teaching math at the elementary level. 

So far, I've also been really impressed with the school district.  They seem to have a good approach to things. 

But...  it's a huge bureaucratic organization.  There are FOUR curriculum people for example.  In a future meeting we'll do budget stuff.  That really interests me.  I know big budgets are hard to read.  I was thinking it would be nice to have it broken down by building - the budget and staff at each school and each administration building. 

Anyway.  It's really made me think about just how hard it is to really accomplish real change in "education".  For one thing, they're about to start making their plans for 2020.  It's taken several years to overhaul the Gifted program, and so far they've only done the middle school programs. 

Of course, in some way every teacher and every principal can have an impact - for good or bad.  But for big change it comes from "big government" - the school board, the city council, the governor.  Etc. 

And we saw what happened to Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee when they tried big, serious reform in the DC school district.  They were pretty much run out of town.

Third.  As you also know, I score standardized tests from home.  I read everything from middle school and high school essays to short answers.  I'm currently doing a project of high school short answers that are just terrible.  They wouldn't be passing if written by 6th graders, much less high schoolers.  Some are literally a jumble of words.  Forget grammar and spelling, they can't even understand that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address - it wasn't about him. 

I know a lot of people are against standardized testing.  I'd challenge any of them to find a way to read even 20 essays from students at their school.  They would be appalled. 

Sigh.  So how does it all tie together?  How can the district have all the specialists, all these people working so hard, so dedicated, and the results sometimes be so terrible? 

I know...  parents, society, economics... and on and on. 

But.  Whatever it is that's broken has to get fixed.  

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