This is the first in a series of posts I’m going to do on “good schools”. The phrase “good school” is one that floats around a lot in conversations between parents, educators, and policy makers. I’m nearly positive that every person who uses the term “good school” is actually referring to, in some cases, wildly different things.
It’s time to, as academics say, interrogate this phrase. I begin with a discussion of my own son’s public school. He is in kindergarten and I refer to him as “SP” which is short for “serious play-er”. He LOVES to play and takes it very seriously at all times. He is an expert at play.
“Throughout our daily math activities, SP is counting, comparing and combining numbers, breaking numbers into smaller ones, creating simple and complex patterns, writing numbers and measuring using non-standard form. SP is able to explain his mathematical thinking as we try to figure out a problem. For example, while counting how many days left until his peer’s birthday, SP shared that “you can’t start at one because those days have passed.” He then shared with us that we need to count down the days starting with the day we were on.”
This is an excerpt from the narrative report we received during our 30 minute parent-teacher conference yesterday. The report is single spaced, 6 paragraphs long and talks about SP’s social-emotional, language, writing, cognitive and math development over this year. Attached is also a more standard checklist which rates him as “INDEPENDENT” in most areas, and “DEVELOPING” in some.
We left from our conference with a clear sense of who SP is as a member of his classroom community and who he is as a learner. We know what his strengths and weaknesses are, which in most, but not all ways, is consistent with who he is at home. We left feeling that his teachers adore him and care about him- as they expressed this repeatedly- and gave examples about why they enjoy his presence in the classroom. They also talked about SP’s grandma as an important part of the class, as she’s attended many of the class trips with them and all the kids call her “Grandma T” (So cute!)
SP has 2 head teachers because he’s in a CTT (Collaborative Team Teaching) class, which is basically an inclusion class. 40% of the children have IEP’s (diagnosed special needs) and he is one of the 60% who are “typically developing”. He has benefited so much from this model of teaching and learning. He is a methodical, routine oriented person, and he has responded really well to having things laid out in clear steps for him. He also gets very connected to adults and having 2 teachers, plus a full time (male) paraprofessional and multiple student teachers has made him feel that his needs are being met- he’s told me so.
I’m not sure what grade the school receives (which is based on test scores) but I think it’s a B or B-. I actually don’t care. They do not believe in teaching to the test. When he gets to 3rd grade, he’ll become familiar with the test, but it will not be the focus in any way shape or form of his experiences at school. In 3rd grade I believe they study Ancient China. They take many trips, create art, and learn through hands on activities.
By 3rd grade, he’ll have homework. He doesn’t get homework in K and he won’t get it in first grade. Did you know that every study of the impact of homework on children’s educational performance has shown NO significant positive impact and in some cases, a negative impact? SP’s school actually follows what is known by educational researchers.
SP attends a good school. It’s an extremely high quality school, actually. I wish that all parents and children could get a glimpse into this type of approach to education. As it stands, it seems to be an option only for a) those with the money to select progressive private schools or b) the knowledge of how wonderful this approach is and to actively seek it out in public schools who will get this experience.
It makes me scared for what we will see in the next generation of children- parents need to do lots of research about what has been traditionally considered a “good school”. It may not be what you think.
I encourage you to share your thoughts about “good schools” either in response to this post, or from your own personal experience.