I’m currently at the National Science Teacher’s Association Conference in Nashville. Yeah, I actually went to conference sessions all day! I just saw a wonderfully inspiring presentation from a school that is doing an amazing curriculum fostering holistic thinking, problem solving, and deep connections between science, social studies, and literature. They build curriculum around months-long themes for children to explore, read, write, do science, crate projects, etc. No bubble-sheet filling practice for these students. I’m not sure how they will get on in life without that important life-long skill!
And why can they do this? They are a private school. Well-funded for both small (well-equipped classrooms) and also for teacher professional development and curriculum research and development. But before you go any further, I AM NOT advocating a privatization of public schools. That is not appropriate for universal access to quality education required of a democracy.
I see two main reasons that this school can accomplish this. One is size. It’s relatively small. Therefore the administration and teachers are able to work closely together to remain nimble to student and family needs. But the main reason (and they freely admit this) is that they are not beholden to state standards and prepping for standardized tests. They do take nationally-normed tests annually and their students do quite well in comparison for what it’s worth. The school has a 6 year scope and sequence for skills and content teachers follow to ensure that as they develop the themes students get balanced curriculum. As these inspiring teachers were explaining their process, and then answered a question about the setting and their freedom from standards and testing, the majority of the teachers in the room visibly deflated. It was heartbreaking.
Our public school teachers (and especially the elementary teachers) are teaching in fear every day. Fear that they will miss a standard (and there are many, they are prescriptive, and they keep changing) and fear that their students will do poorly on the next set of tests. So naturally they develop (or most likely buy) curriculum that is designed specifically to tick off standard after standard and practice for the tests. Ideally, truly educating students (like this school is doing) would lead to high test scores naturally, but that isn’t the case. So instead students spend the majority of their day doing work that is direct practice for filling in the proper bubbles (or clicking the proper answer on the computer) to develop their decoding skills (reading and numbers) though they often don’t have meaningful information to decode (like science and social studies).
To the politicians and policy makers. GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY.
Yes, teachers could do better. Ye teachers could be trained better. But right now, it isn’t educators making decisions about our children’s education, it is corporations like Pearson. Nobody can be their best, most creative, innovative, and inspired when operating from a base of fear. And isn’t it creative, innovative, inspired teachers that you want teaching your kids. We cannot survive as a democracy if the only children that is happening for are those from families that have geographical and financial access to well-funded private schools.