Saturday, June 27, 2009

Brilliance Emitted from the Roots of Grass

Arne Duncan, the members of the board of directors for Democrats for Education Reform, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Walton billionaires, and the others pushing for punitive measures and hours and hours of excruciating testing – supposedly their main solution for "inspiring" our nation's children to learn – are desperately in need of an epiphany before they drive us off a cliff with their faulty ideas for how kids should be treated in school.

If only they would take the time to read
– and contemplate the message contained within – this chain of insights produced by a set of Oakland parents and teachers. Henry's summary should be read at least twice.

An exchange from the Oakland Public School Parents listserv:

Topic: Art is Education

Drawn animation from Ms. Rosario's 4th grade class at Peralta Elementary:

Take a look at the thank you scroll at the end. A heck of a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into funding the art education program at Peralta. This kind of classroom work should be funded as a matter of routine in California public schools. My kid will certainly remember this science lesson more than if he just read about Yosemite Valley's geological formation in a textbook.

Yo, yo, yo Yosemite.



You got that right! I'll never forget the time I had my 2nd grade students make nutcrackers for the holidays (this after having seen a performance of the Nutcracker itself). The project was a rather elaborate one; felt, sequins, piping and googly eyes etc. My students were so focused, so happy and so into whole thing. I had several variations of the story in book form and the kids just devoured them. And they always wanted me to play the music thereafter (this admittedly got a bit old). But two things that I'll truly never forget is the time one of my students spontaneously held up his halfway done nutcracker and gleefully shouted, "Mr. Lopez, now I will never ever forget you!", and the time when many years after the project, a former student of mine told me that her mother continued to take out the now ratty nutcracker and put it on their mantel during the holiday season. Art is education, indeed!


Oh, man, this cheered me right up! My almost-7th grader helped edit the math and science films in her 5th grade at Peralta. We all got copies on CD at the end of the year (not sure if it got to YouTube). I agree with M., this is what my kid remembers most from that whole year. Hands-on learning makes all the difference.


You put your finger on the crux of the debate around education reform: hands-on education. The authentic education reform movement came out of the civil rights movement and culminated in the most important initiative in all of the 20th century: Head Start. Head Start has three primary components that make it work: (1) small adult-student ratios, (2) hands-on, developmentally appropriate learning, and (3) collegial relations between teachers and parents. Children who have attended Head Start have consistently performed better even on the inappropriate standardized tests than their non Head Start peers -- up through the third grade, when the gains taper off.

Head Start has been criticized for this tapering off when in fact the real problem is that the Head Start reforms need to be implemented to scale through the K-12 system. This is the reform movement that we need to rally around over the next few decades, the authentic response to No Child Left Behind.


Henry Hitz, Executive Director
Oakland Parents Together
440 Santa Clara Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610
(510) 325-8680

This conversation is that bright light in the tunnel showing us what we need to do. It is called Truth.

Here’s hoping for a domino effect.


AVParodi said...

Wonderful post! The three criteria mentioned by Henry seems so pretty fundamental and yet how these so-called reform-minded folk seem to discount them. I had the last two criteria in my room this year and had a very successful year. My scores were high but, more importantly, their sense of achievement in terms of what we worked on in the room, in the hands-on work, was even more important. Their sense of accomplishment enabled them to treat the tests as simply something they had to get through but that they could get through. I only wish my class size were smaller because I would love to see what would have happened if I could have spent more time with some of them. In DC Rhee recently dismissed a principal whose school was scoring 88% on reading and 78% in math on AYPs (pretty respectable numbers). Moreover this principal was highly regarded by the parents of the school - they rated the school 10 out of 10 in terms of satisfaction. But Rhee was heard to say that as soon as she could find a "rock star" to replace this principal that she would. This is what we have come to: a rock star mentality in education. The age of the teacher/principal as cartoon super hero. I guess we can thank all those wonderful "teacher-as-miracle-worker" movies that have fed this notion.

nikto said...

We need to point out how truly sophomoric the school "reform"
mentality actually is.

But what else can you expect from
a bunch of over-empowered adolescent-types handed
sweeping powers by a corrupt political system?