Thursday, April 26, 2012

There's a global achievement what?

I attended our school Superintendent's Book Club discussion on the Global Achievement Gap (click back to Tuesday for the book review).  If you are remotely related to schools and live in a diverse district, you've no doubt heard about the achievement gap.  This is the difference in performance between Black and Hispanic students and White students; and depending on where you live, I think Asian kids fall on either side of the gap.  The idea around the global achievement gap is that the racial difference is important, but not as important as the difference between the performance and readiness of American kids as compared to other kids around the world.  When it comes to being creative, thinking critically, solving problems, communicating effectively – our kids are falling behind, way behind.

The Superintendent and his panel of guests, a corporate human resources executive, a local teacher and principal, and representative from an education organization, discussed the ideas and theories of the book, and fielded a bunch of questions from the audience.  However, by the end of the night, there was still one question in my head: now what?

Now that we’ve read this book and understand why our children are 15th or 26th or whatever ranking we’ve fallen to today, now what?

  • Have all the teachers read the book?  Are they now going to ask kids engaging questions rather than expecting rote memorization?
  • Have all the Principals read the book?  Are they going to encourage the teachers to provide innovative, active lessons for everybody in the class not just the kids who seem like they will go to college?
  • Does this mean our kids will no longer report “we watched a movie today in class” when they get home from school?  
  • Does this mean kids won’t be putting their heads on the table in the library and watching their friends scramble to find a meaningful, interesting book to check out in five minutes?  
  • Now that we all agree that teaching kids how to answer standardized questions is not really preparing them for anything, does it mean that our kids won’t get reams of review sheets that take up two weeks of classtime?  
  • Does that mean that we will now stop acting like they are sitting for a test to become master of the world when its MSA week and allow them to do other academic work during that time?
As for my kids, we've had some really good teachers.  We are in a good school district, great actually.   In fact, its the best in the state and our state is ranked as one of the best in the nation. But yet, as Wagner points out in his book, schools such as ours are the ones that can surprise you in not preparing kids as well as they should.  Some of the classroom activities that Wagner observed, I've noticed in my own kids' schools and not until I looked at it through his lense, did I realize how it could've been better.  We expect, almost accepted the notion, that kids aren't learning anything in urban schools, Wagner says.  Just the other day I read an article that said the city of Philadelphia is planning to close all of its public schools by 2018.  My head is still reeling as to how that is even a political or social decision that slipped by its citizens and its parents.  And I don't even understand what it means, really - where are the kids going to go to school?  Anyway, back to our wonderful school district.

Although we do great in all the numbers that are supposed to make a school district great - SATs, percentage of students taking A/P classes, state standardized tests - Wagner says that all that stuff isn't always an indicator that kids are coming out of school as critical thinkers, skilled problem solvers, or good communicators.  They're just good test takers.  Hmmm.  So back to my question - now what?  Now what is my school going to do to help my kids catch up with the rest of the world?

There were some really good points brought up in the book club discussion, so don’t let me make you think that it wasn’t interesting and useful, just because I have some questions left. (One of the main points was kids should learn to ask questions, afterall.)  But its getting a bit long and folks' attention span is short (I'm surprised and pleased you've made it this far), so I'll round up some tips for parents in part II. 

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