Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Moving Into a New House: Framing the Case for Charter Schools Part 2

This post is cross-posted at

<---Go to Part 1---

Identifying Need:

In 2006 Civic Enterprises in Association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released a study, The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. This was a comprehensive look at high school dropouts in all 50 states in the U.S. that included statistical analysis and interviews with students who had dropped out of school. The findings identify a clear need for some kind of change in public education. According to this report, 33% of students in the United States do not complete high school. The numbers are disproportionate when looking these statistics within demographic subsections of the population. These findings are supported by and are nearly identical to the findings that standardized tests administered under the dreaded No Child Left Behind program. There clearly is something that needs to change. The questions are what and how. The following is a sampling of data the report obtained through interviews:

  • Nearly half (47 percent) said a major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting.
  • Thirty-five percent said that “failing in school” was a major factor for dropping out.
  • Forty-five percent said they started high school poorly prepared by their earlier schooling.
  • Fifty-nine percent of parents or guardians of respondents were involved in their child’s schooling.
  • Sixty-eight percent of respondents said their parents became more involved only when they were aware that their child was on the verge of dropping out.
  • Four out of five (81 percent) said there should be more opportunities for real-world learning and some in the focus groups called for more experiential learning.
  • Four out of five (81 percent) wanted better teachers and three fourths wanted smaller classes with more individualized instruction.
  • While two-thirds (65 percent) said there was a staff member or teacher who cared about their success, only 56 percent said they could go to a staff person for school problems and just two-fifths (41 percent) had someone in school to talk to about personal problems. More than three out of five (62 percent) said their school needed to do more to help students with problems outside of class. Seven in ten favored more parental involvement.

Another report that clearly identifies a need for schools to change is the 2004 report, A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students, by the University of Iowa. Here are a few quotes from that document:
  • "America’s school system keeps bright students in line by forcing them to learn in a lock-step manner with their classmates. Teachers and principals disregard students’ desires to learn more—much more—than they are being taught." (Assouline et. al. 2004)
  • "Study after study tells us what so many bright but bored students already know—challenge is lacking in the regular classroom." (Assouline et. al. 2004)
  • "When educators confuse equity with sameness, they want all students to have the same curriculum at the same time. This is a violation of equal opportunity." (Assouline et. al. 2004)
  • "Before major corporations and large school systems became the norm in our nation, individualized education was standard practice. The one-room schoolhouse let students learn at their own pace. Teachers knew their students well, and nothing held back a student’s progress." (Assouline et. al. 2004)
  • "This was not an educational decision. It was an organizational decision based upon a narrow understanding of child and adolescent development that supported the goal of keeping kids with their age-mates. This represented important progress in acknowledging and responding to group similarities. It also paralleled the American belief in the efficiency of the industrial model of organization.

    What was lost was an appreciation for individual differences. Individual differences in educational needs are most pronounced at the extremes. Students lost the right to direct their own education based on how fast they were able to learn new and complex material." (Assouline et. al. 2004)
Both of these studies clearly identify just two of many types of students who are undeserved by our traditional public schools. One answer to these problems was a practice that came in vogue in the 1980s of modifying curriculum to address a wide variety of cognitive styles. Influenced greatly by Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences this arguably improved instruction but it still did nothing to address the individual needs of learners. Rather than a student receiving instruction 100% of the time in a manner that worked for them they were lucky enough to receive a portion of the instruction delivered in a manner that fit their cognitive learning style. What these two studies show is that this clearly is not enough for many kids. What is needed are new schools and new programs where differentiation and individualized instruction can truly take hold. Charter schools are one option. This does not mean that there is no place for traditional schools, on the contrary. Traditional schools provide a learning environment necessary for some learners. Should they go away entirely I am sure a similar or identical model would spring up in their place.

---Go to Part 3--->

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