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I like to ask my fourth graders what college they are planning to attend. Of course, they think I’m asking them if they are a Duck or a Beaver. I am really serious about this though. Kids and parents need to know that some sort of post high school education is the goal for all Oregon kids.
This economy has taught us all that education is vital. Economists can debate whether current unemployment is cyclical, a downturn that will rebound, or structural, a result of a tipping of economic needs away from low skilled labor to the need for a more educated workforce. Whatever the case, the jobs of the future will require more advanced math skills and the ability to quickly master new skills. We can’t have kids think that ending their education after high school is an option that will lead to future financial security.
Since post secondary education is a necessity, I like to peruse the web in search of what college prep schools are doing. What are charter school expectations? What are elite schools doing for their students? I checked in with the Dalton School (NYC) to see what their fourth graders will be doing. The Dalton School has a $38,000 price tag and 60 staff for approximately 350 students. It may sound unfair but graduates from these schools will be competing with my students to get into top colleges. Their 4th graders have an hour and half of homework a night and an extensive reading list. We should expect our public school kids to have the same. We should also expect families to realize this new reality and do what it takes to support a more vigorous program and to expect their child to attend college.
In looking further I found charter schools in low income areas with graduates in elite colleges. This week the New York Times reported about efforts in Houston public schools to replicate effective charter schools like KIPP and Harlem Children’s Zone where a high percentage of graduates head to college (“Troubled Schools Try Mimicking the Charters” Sept. 6).
I really appreciate these charters for showing us what is possible. It’s too easy to look at impoverished neighborhoods and think that kids there can’t make it at competitive colleges. With concerted effort effective charter schools are cranking out the productive citizens of the future from some of the least productive neighborhoods.
In the article the author cited the 5 common policies of effective charters.
- longer school days and years;
- more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers;
- frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught;
- “high-dosage tutoring”;
- and a “no excuses” culture.
The policies that public school teachers like me can control are limited. Without more support staff, high dosage tutoring is out. Without a better funding structure we are severely limited in the amount of instructional time we can give kids. For example, KIPP kids typically get twice as much math instruction as public school kids. Even the Texas schools mimicking the model of KIPP fell short by 300 hours of instructional time (50 6 hr school days).
My colleagues and I are working hard to tailor instruction to meet individual needs through data collection and targeted standards-based instruction. Along with this comes a beefed-up “no excuses” culture.
Teachers will continue to look at research and mimic what works. Meanwhile, we’ll look to the citizens of this state to fill in the other requirements on the list. How will we provide more instructional time? How will we mobilize tutors to target failing students? When will we start showing kids in Oregon that they are important, and give them the tools they need to make college an attainable goal?
My children are homeschooled. They also attend a fantastic “bricks-and-mortar” school during the standard school year, and prior to that they were in full-time daycare since they were infants. But when they are home with me, we read, count, explore science concepts, and look at the big map on the wall and talk about the world. I cut up little pieces of French toast and say, “How many do you have? If you eat one, how many will you have left?” This behavior does not make me special; my friends do this too. And they do it for the same reason I do—because this is what our mothers did for us.
I have some friends who officially homeschool their children. And in our demographic, the homeschooled kids are not just sitting around at home, as some people not familiar with modern homeschooling might imagine. They are exploring their world and experiencing an impressive array of enrichment activities that have cropped up to serve this growing market. OMSI, Trackers NW, and many others have programs now specifically geared towards homeschoolers, and there are dedicated support communities such as Village Home.
I view the private school that my sons attend as an incredible extended enrichment program. At their bricks-and-mortar school, they experience long, multi-discipline explorations that I personally wouldn’t have the time or creativity to put together, as well as music, art, foreign language, and the advantages of learning from other caring adults. From my perspective, the only difference between my family and an official homeschool family is the percentage of time allocated to parental teaching vs. paid enrichment—I get less homeschool time with my kids, but it is still crucial, valuable time.
I’ve recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Like his other books, the stories and subject matter are both engaging while at the same time wide-ranging. But in the end, I felt that this was his most passionate, and most personal, book to date. I admire his bravery and am also grateful to him for being willing to tackle a subject matter that has been staring us in the face for so long: Cultural legacy affects academic engagement, educational achievement, and lifelong “success.” If we want more of our growingly diverse society to be “successful,” then we need to face that head-on.
Although I thought he was brave for being willing to broach a topic that most policy-makers would avoid like the third rail, I was a little disappointed that Gladwell still falls short of offering much in the way of specific reform recommendations. He does call out the KIPP schools as being particularly successful with low socio-economic demographic kids, and cites personal discipline and hard work (from homework to keeping your shirt tucked-in) as main factors for students’ excellent results.
Perhaps what he offered is enough, however. It is up to our own local policy-makers to tackle the tough issues of what to do with the issues of cultural legacy. The question is: If our representatives take on these issues, will we support them?
A number of years ago, I became very interested in the idea of “chain” charter schools. I think it’s an idea that is immediately appealing to anyone who is focused on efficiency and process: Can you pick a system with great results, and replicate it? Is there a magic formula?
For the most part, the answer seems to be no. Most of the chain charter schools seem to have closed, or to be struggling quietly under the radar. Which is probably why there is such a strong focus now on the idea of “teacher quality” (a tricky thing to evaluate, indeed) rather than schools.
But there seems to be one standout that has survived and proven itself over time: KIPP Schools. (more…)