There is lots of propaganda these days about vouchers and school choice. A favorite line to stir the masses on the topic is to say how children shouldn’t have to attend failing schools.
I think we have to consider what a failing school in NOT:
- A Title I school-“Title I” is just a designation that states a certain portion of the school’s population is economically disadvantaged. Because of this, the school receives additional funds to train teachers and provide additional resources so that students who may have entered school behind because of lack of opportunity. If a Title I school is considered “school-wide” than even those children who are not economically disadvantaged benefit. It is actually a huge benefit to attending a Title I school because these teachers are highly skilled in making a difference with all students, not just the students who learn easily. I took my own child to a Title I school rather than his affluent neighborhood school because I knew they would grow him, wherever he started from. Being economically disadvantaged is not contagious. You can’t catch it by attending a Title I school. Children in Title I schools learn the value of diversity and are more likely to learn to know how to function with others who are different than themselves in the real world.
- A school whose state test scores are below ninety percent –Just because a school appears to have high passing rates doesn’t mean they are a great school. It may simply mean that the students walked into the school with a good amount of skills learned from home. Right now on the Texas accountability test, passing rates are fairly low. The test has changed to reflect higher-level thinking, and they are gradually building the passing rate as schools make the shift from “strategies” to “thinking.” The score in and of itself doesn’t show you for sure if a student is performing higher than they were when they arrived. Sometimes when a student enters school with large gaps, the score may not yet be passing, but it is showing astounding growth. An overall passing rate doesn’t tell you if a school can make a difference with all students.
- A school with diverse ethnicities, cultures, religions, and backgrounds- Our world is changing and becoming more and more diverse. Groups that were once majority are finding that is no longer the case. To prepare children for the 21st-century world, they need to develop the skills to value and collaborate with others from all backgrounds, including those that are significantly different from their own. Students who attend “homogenous” schools are more likely to struggle in college and beyond because the haven’t developed the skill set to work with others besides those who are most like themselves.
Here is what I think a failing school IS:
- A school that doesn’t put children first – Schools should filter every decision they make through what is best for their students. If it isn’t making a difference for children in a school, it shouldn’t matter.
- A school that doesn’t value partnerships with their families –Schools should always be working to invite their parents in, ask their opinions and build relationships so that they can partner in the child’s education.
- A school that doesn’t grow EVERY student – It’s easy to appear to be a good school if all the students are the same and performing on high levels. However, if a child walks in the door with lots of skills, a school should be able to grow the student from that point, not rest on their laurels A failing school is one that takes advantage of the fact that students may already be able to perform skills and doesn’t attempt to grow them more. They may also not be able to grow students that have more difficulty learning. They resort to labels and excuses of why it is the child that is the problem, rather than accepting the challenge and ensuring learning happens.
- A school that doesn’t seek to teach problem-solving, higher level thinking, and 21st-century skills necessary to survive in a future that we cannot yet fully define – Our world has changed drastically, just since I was in school. There are jobs and technology we couldn’t have even dreamed of at the time I was in elementary school. We have to intentionally think about this world that doesn’t exist. We have to make sure that our students are proficient readers, writers, and mathematicians, but we also have to make sure they are thinkers, problem-solvers, collaborators, and have skills to persist when things get challenging, while also being willing to grow. Students can no longer live in a world of “perfection” because learning is messy and they don’t need to waste time memorizing things that they can access easily through technology.
- A school using technology in learning only to consume information –To often schools have lots of technology available, but they are only using it to access programs that allow for practice of skills or looking up information. Truly great schools are teaching students the programs that not only allow access to information but applications that allow them to create and demonstrate their understanding of concepts. Research is showing that this type of creativity is critical for the future.
- A school driven by high stakes testing and preparation –Too many schools these days are trying to prove their worth through high scores on high stakes tests. The problem is that these schools are abandoning real learning for test preparation and drills of skills rather than relevant learning grounded in real-life application. Before you assume a good score means a good school, you may need to look deeper to find out exactly how those scores are being achieved and what may be sacrificed for the performance on a single day.
- A school that doesn’t function as a learning organization – A successful school is one where everyone grows and learns: leaders, teachers, students, parents, and community. Administration and teachers should constantly be learning and evolving to meet the needs of the students and an ever-changing future. They ways students are learning shouldn’t look like the ways we taught them 20, 10, or even five years ago. There should be opportunities for parents and the community to participate in the learning as well. If the only learning is that of the students, there is definitely a problem.
Yes, no child should have to attend a failing school. We just need to be careful to make sure we really know what a “failing school” really is.