Learn about readings by Neil Postman, Lois Hetland, Howard Gardner, Dennis Yuzenas, Abe Fischler, Dan Pink, Thomas Friedman, John Corlette, Will Sutherland, Tom vander Ark, Marshall Thurber and other innovative educators.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
The Size of the School
Let’s think of an example of a small school that receives public money... Hmm... That middle school down the street has 700 or 1,000 students. Most public high schools are over 1,000 students (the big three in my city are all over 1,400 students).
Oh, how about charter schools? -- those hybrid entities that have an agreement with the state (a “charter”) to operate as a nonprofit organization with less of the constraints of a public school (no union, so it’s easier to hire and fire teachers).
There are scores of complaints about charters: - "They don't have a football team" - "They don't have enough students" - "They have to eat lunch in the classroom." - "They don't have a media center." - "The principal of that charter school is from another country and he doesn't understand kids in the USA." - "They have to take a bus to get to a playground or recess area."
- “They are underfunded because they don’t have enough students, so they don’t have enough money.”
- “They don’t have enough students so my child doesn’t have enough friends.”
- “They score lower than the public schools in the standardized tests. I want my kid to be in the big school where the test scores are higher.” - "They ..." (add to the list)
Parents, you can find many reasons to stick with the large school that your child currently attends. People will give you many reasons to avoid underfunded and mismanaged small schools. However, if you agree with Gates, then join the charter school movement and “vote” for a smaller school -- where everyone knows your child's name.
I know of a charter school that needs 130 students to have enough funds to hire two extra assistants and afford buses for field trips. The school has just over 90 students. Each student is “worth” about $400 a month or $3,000 a year in public money (that would otherwise go to a large public school). With 35 more students, that's over $100,000 that the charter school could use for "additional resources." Would you like a school that has an expensive building and cafeteria? Or do you want a school that has fewer than 400 students (and the principal knows every student)?
Most parents at nearby large schools didn't hear Mr. Gates and his speech. They currently send their kids to one of the large schools in the area with over 1000 students. I wonder if the parents would change their minds if they knew what Bill Gates said....
If you’re looking for a way to have an impact, there’s nothing more remarkable or effective as the choice of school. Voting has a chance for changing the outcome of an election (if you join with 10,000 or so other voters). Writing a letter or attending a city commission meeting might make a difference, if you and another five hundred people show up.
Volunteering for a beach clean up might make you feel good, but your child could be one percent of a school. Your child, your “vote,” could shift funding to a small school and send a message to the school district: Gates is right. We need small schools.
What should happen to larger schools?
The Gates foundation has funded the division of large schools in New York, L.A. and Chicago into several smaller schools. Why not apply that same effort in large schools everywhere? For parents wanting to heed Mr. Gates’ advice, however, switching to a small school is immediate. While we petition our school boards to partition large schools, at least some students can be placed immediately in smaller learning environments.
In short, a charter school is an affordable way for your child to get rigor, relevance and relationships in a small school. To find a charter school in your area, go to your school district’s web site and search for “Charter.”
I am a taxpayer and I believe that teachers, students, principals and parents need descriptions of a new way of teaching. I wake up every morning with Dr. Fischler's question in my head: "How do you become a visible change agent in this environment?" and "Time is a variable" and "The Student is the Class." The words of Daniel H. Pink, Will Sutherland, John Corlette, Eliot Levine, Elliot Washor, Charles Mojkowski and Dennis Littky inform my daily work.