Finding gold in a column by Jay Mathews, author of Work Hard Be Nice about KIPP
Mr. Mathews here is likely referring to the KIPP charters schools, which have a longer school day. He has written a book about KIPP's founding, Work Hard Be Nice.
He also mentions that whenever he steps into "a great high school class," he can feel a buzz. "Something is going to happen. Advanced Placement history students are simulating the Constitutional Convention. International Baccalaureate kids are choosing different novels to read, then discussing similarities."
Having taught Advanced Placement kids and regular program kids both in the inner city, I have felt that buzz among magnet students from low-income communities. I have only occasionally seen it in regular classes of kids while they were doing academic work. I have only taught in high school, so my knowledge is limited to that level.
Mr. Mathews is onto something in that there is definitely a joy deficit in many classrooms across the country, and, I would argue, it is not only harder to bring joy into the classrooms of reluctant learners who are already behind, but the emphasis on gaining small improvements on standardized test scores demanded by the political exigencies of the times makes integrating the joy factor into schooling even harder.
Our schools are becoming more segregated by parental awareness and student commitment every year, with better students transferring not only to traditional magnet programs, but to great charter schools like KIPP, Yes Prep and Idea and to new early-college high schools where inner-city kids earn college credit through dual credit programs with community colleges.
Future urban neighborhood schools, at least their regular program classes, will increasingly be filled with kids who are the least inspired by traditional academic learning. The neighborhood schools, outside the magnet classes, will become factories with teachers desperately trying to prepare students for minimum skills exams by drilling them repeatedly on practice tests. That works but turns out to be meaningless in the trajectory of kids' lives.
The reported drop-out rates for city schools are unreliable. If you take many city schools and subtract the number of freshmen from the graduating seniors, you typically find only fifty or so percent graduated. These kids, and the reluctant learners, and the special needs kids and the recent immigrants, represent the future of the inner-city neighborhood school if current transfer trends continue.
Given this reality, the question becomes, do we reshape the neighborhood high school for the kids we have and try to make them relevant for the kid's own dreams and aspirations; or do we continue to pretend we have different kids, like the ones who are in magnets or who are leaving for the charters and early colleges.
The first option requires some creativity and possibly giving up the idea that we can mandate minimum standards to all students, and that we are preparing all kids for college--it does not fit the current definition of "accountability;" while the second option means more test preparation in pursuit of meaningless two or three percent gains in proficiency scores. It is Orwellian that the second option today is called school reform.
The idea that we are ever going to come close to a level playing field for rich and poor kids is a radically false and rich people's notion because it implies that with just a little effort we can make up for the differences in where kids start from--that the race can be a fair one--and thus the gross inequality of income in this country is justified by a genuine meritocrac
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