Mr. Smith's Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in the Neighborhood for teachers everywhere! Anything and everything is fair game!

Where (or What) Are We Rushing Towards? February 1, 2006

As a teacher and a graduate student, the word "time" can make you shiver. The school day at The Greek American Institute and schools everywhere is all about time. Planning time, lunch time, class time, recess … they all have specific times and the appropriate sound bytes (bells, horns, tones and more) remind us that there is someplace else we need to be. I can remember having free time somewhere in my not-so-distant past; with two intense technology courses, free time for me has been reduced to being Sammy Spud on the couch watching the remote drag me through half-hour or hour-long electronic martinis until bedtime at 7:30 pm.

Last week, when reading Why Can't We Get It Right by Marsha Speck and Carole Knipe for my class ("Designing Virtual Leaning Communities for Staff Development"), the thought occurred to me that the issue of "time" is an artificially imposed standard in education. It didn't take much to get me traversing off on a broad tangent that makes we wonder what we are doing to children. And, even if we can understand "what we are doing" then I have to ask "Why are we doing it?"

How did we come up with this ridiculous grade level system? Okay, age makes sense even though some children in my class should be with the 3rd Grade based on their achievement level. But who decided that children were going to have to learn this topic this year OR ELSE and then they would only have five days to learn it? Is there an expiration date stamped on the back of kids that I don't know about? It was then I remembered my own ragged five year adventure through college, a journey which included a semester of no school, two semesters of minimal credits, and two semesters with 18 credits. Would I give up that extra year in college?  NO WAY!  In my own selfish way, an experience of 30 years ago had taught me that graduating a year earlier from college would not have mattered one little bit; I also think that I would have stayed in Accounting and would have killed myself by now. 

We are at the forefront of a whole revolution where learning truly will become a lifetime adventure. Changes in the workplace, the schools, technology and society will demand that we keep pace with the speed of life. As many of us have also learned, it's possible that the younger generations may have two or three or more different careers in their lifetime. Our mobility as a society, our economy and our technology give people a chance to reshape themselves at will.

The major complaint that I've heard from teachers is that there is never enough time. Suppose there was enough time?  One also has to wonder the following: does it make sense to "speed" children through school in this day and age? We are no longer a society that needs to get the children into the fields or the factories to bring home money that will keep the family alive. We are a society in transition from our agricultural and industrial roots into a service-based economy but our schools still keep beat with drums from the past. We are not in a desperate foot race to crush Communism anymore, so why not let classrooms be learning centers where knowledge is achieved, not doled out in time-restricted portions?

Suppose we could have the "time" to really let children learn and understand, not on our artificial basis of a "school year" but, rather, on their achievelement levels? Does it make more sense if students worked on an "achievement of knowledge and understanding" basis rather than limited unit days? Is it possible, with some guidelines, that students could learn at their own pace?

Obviously, those are a great deal of questions and I would not pretend to have any of the answers.  It's possible that a transition to more open-learning environments will help facilitate a sensible conversion to student directed learning. To that end, student learning will be directed by the depth and breadth that STUDENTS desire, not what some politicians or education dinosaurs see as their mandated decisions. 


6 Responses to “Where (or What) Are We Rushing Towards?”

  1. Steve Stander Says:

    Smoth wrote
    Suppose we could have the “time” to really let children learn and understand, not on our artificial basis of a “school year” but, rather, on their achievelement levels? Does it make more sense if students worked on an “achievement of knowledge and understanding” basis rather than limited unit days? Is it possible, with some guidelines, that students could learn at their own pace?

    Some packaged accelerated education has been the talk for quite awhile now and put into practice in many third world countries. The way it works is quite simple
    – a test on
    – then a coursebook is given to the student in which he/she has to goal the amount of work to be completed in a day [an end result has to be achieved in a limited amount of time]

    This works well if you are running two curricula.

  2. bluboo Says:

    Hey Steve!

    Thanks for the comment … it makes sense to me. In an effort to head off some criticism that may follow, skeptics are likely to wonder if this practice in third world countries is being done because it is the best practice or because of financial concerns (or a shortage of teachers).

    A second question comes to mind: is there any research to support such a practice? Maybe this is the stuff that will be the basis for my doctoral thesis in the next decade. One thing for sure is that education in America will not change until there are millions of dollars spent researching the idea.

  3. bluboo Says:

    In the following passage from Why Can’t We Get It Right? (Speck, M., & Knipe, C. (2005), Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, p. 64) offers some support for what teachers already know:

    The other benefit of the single-track, year-round calendar — besides teachers’ professional development — is increasing learning for students. It is an important recognition of the amount of learning loss students experience over the summer. Learning loss is less for students with shorter summer breaks. (Cooper, Nye, Lindsay & Greathouse, 1996)

    This is part of a recommendation by Speck and Snipe that student learning and teacher learning (professional development) must occur year-round to be effective. Admittedly, summer vacation is an attractive feature of teaching; however, as a teacher interested in improving student learning, I must agree with Speck and Snipe that summer vacation is a killer to student learning. The 45-15 single track calendar is one option that makes sense as a method to improve student learning and to build professional development into the school year. This also coincides with the statement that “Teachers must believe that they can learn new ways to teach and assess.” (p. 67)

  4. bluboo Says:

    There is a level of insanity when we avoid making changes that are supported by research. If extended vacations are harmful to student learning, we must re-evaluate the practice. Obviously, it is easy to find reasons not to extend school into the summer. It is also destructive and self-defeating when we dwell upon the type of negativity which makes real change in education an impossibility.

    Are there ways to get around “My classroom is too hot!” or “My clothes get sweaty!” when making a case for classes in the summer? Can we find money for air conditioning and electrical upgrades? There is enough money in the federal government to make change become a reality … maybe a few less missiles, tanks, helicopters and hummers might do it. Some of my Drexel classmates offered some solid suggestions to find the funds. How about taxing the owners of “gas guzzlers” and other drivers for their impact on our environment? How about taxing lottery winnings and lottery bets (50%?)?

    It is just a question of commitment and priorities.

    The simple fact is that many people, including some teachers, want to ignore what is really happening in schools. We have increased the demands on students and expanded the curriculum WITHOUT changing the hours or days available for instruction. (Robert Marzano, What Works in Schools, 2003, Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum and Development) We cannot continue this self-destructive practice without penalizing the children AND teachers who are committed to student learning … we simply cannot continue to support a practice that does not make sense.

    Everybody talks about wanting change in education but it just becomes psycho-babble. Real resonant, sustainable change will come from teachers pursuing deep, self-defined professional development and a commitment from school administration to support teachers and classroom changes.

  5. Donna Says:

    I agree a million percent about year-round schooling with everything that has been said here, both why we need it and why it doesn’t happen. In Philly, where I teach, many schools were built in early 1900s and have no AC. But I think it is the single best investment money wise the district could make now that books and supplies are up to par. It is incredible as a teacher the difference I see in the children just after 2 days off before a weekend, when they come back on Monday. I know also becuase most of my kids went to kindergarten at this school last year, and so when I talk to their former teachers, I find out exactly how much they dropped by September. Half the class dropped a reading level, and only two students went up. In some areas, children are not challenged by their parents in the summer. We as educators can’t control (although we can advocate) what the parents do, but we can educate all year long, even if summer is a 9 – 12 day. I would miss the time off, but it is so needed for the kids.

  6. bluboo Says:

    Donna …

    Points well stated. Suppose the pay was elevated appropriately to account for the year round schedule? We aren’t really talking a heavy burden to the taxpayers. Hell … corporate America could throw in a few more sheckles, and parents would save a fortune on babysitters and day camp (although day camp would be an excellent way of extending learning if it includes activities like drama, arts and crafts, nature and hobbies).

    There’s one way to get around the air conditioning issue … have outdoor learning actvities for several weeks. And, in places like Philly and NYC, opening a fire hydrant or running a sprinkler onto the playground would add fun.

    Most jobs are year-round … even several weeks of half-days with outdoor activities would be like a break. But the money must follow!

    It really could work.

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