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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Does Bill Gates need a lesson?

Instead of yet another fawning profile of Bill Gates and his education iniatives, most of which have turned out to be absolute busts, take a look at the critique online at the Nation, one of the best that I've seen.

The author, Sarah Seltzer, who spent a year teaching in the Bronx, examines Gates' new Political Action Committee, Ed in '08, and its agenda: longer school days and years, merit pay for teachers, and a uniform national curriculum --- at least for the schools that other people's kids attend.

Instead, she recommends what's offered in elite private schools, including smaller classes:

In smaller classes, where conversation can flow more freely, the qualities that help students achieve are analysis, leadership and questioning. One set of skills puts students in managed mode; the other promotes students into manager mode. I can't emphasize that difference enough.

Since kids from poor and middle-class homes are less likely to have other mentors around--nannies, tutors, counselors and the like--the chance to talk with adults and air their opinions is more important for them. But they don't get that chance. When I taught during the NYC subway strike and attendance shrunk, all my formerly rowdy students turned docile. In the more intimate environment, their attitudes towards school and authority were different.

This kind of individual attention can do more than an extra half hour of classroom time will ever do. Kids are kids, after all--they tend to lose focus. An hour and a half and two hours of math are virtually equal in terms of what a child can absorb, and everyone who teaches knows that nothing gets done in June.

You don't see private schools clamoring for longer years; they have the shortest school calendars around! But those calendars are packed with vital activities--newspapers, sports teams, theater productions, field days. These are a bonus that encourages kids to come to school and help to build self-esteem and passion, not to mention a nice resume for colleges.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here, here! Why are the obvious solutions not obvious!?! Like TERC Math, the powers-that-be try all the long, arduous and least efficient ways of solving the problem totally ignoring the most productive, effective, basic and obvious methods. Unless, of course, they WANT this grand public school experiment to fail? Hmmm...that's seems obvious.

Concerned Parent