November 29, 2011
This week the head of the Chicago Public Schools announced the "overhaul" of ten under-performing schools. This reflected "how poorly many city schools are preparing students for college and the workforce, officials said." (Chicago Tribune, 11/29/2011). The most recent Forbes magazine stated, "more than 12 million students drop out of school every year in the U.S." They go on to point out that, "American children rank 31st in math among 65 industrialized countries... 68% of eighth graders can't read at grade level, and most will never catch up."
The Forbes article focused on "The Best Ideas for Fixing K-12 Education." The authors polled some of the most influential, and wealthy, people in America, asking them what they thought our educational system should focus on.
George Lucas, of Star Wars fame, states that "in today's world students need three fundamental skills: They need to know how to find information, how to assess the quality of information and how to creatively and effectively use information to accomplish a goal." He pushes project-based learning. "With project-based learning, students learn by designing and constructing actual solutions to real-life problems. Other important learning strategies include social and emotional learning, where kids learn how to cooperate, to lead and to work well with different types of people."
I'm sure our Science Olympiad and Future Problem Solving teams would love to have Mr. Lucas as one of our coaches.
Another anonymous contributor stated that one fix would be to "reduce class sizes and stop teaching to the lowest/average student." There should also be raised expectations, "specifically demand more from teachers, parents and students. Like most other aspects of society, specializations works. In K-12, raising everyone's expectation, and then grouping students based upon ability, works."
Ted Mitchell, CEO of New Schools Venture Fund, states that "the big idea is to allow kids to progress at their own pace... as they master their work, not as they put in required time." Another contributor noted that, "the goal of K-12 education needs to shift from teaching children a curriculum more efficiently to one that inspires lifelong learning in students, so they they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy."
Finally, Eli Broad, a Forbes 400 member, states that the best schools have "the freedom... to make decisions in the best interests of students and teachers." This allows them "to do what needs to be done... push nearly all resources down to the classroom..." He promotes schools that avoid the politics of public education, "so parents can choose which school their child should attend and all students have equal opportunity for academic success."
Here at SAA, it is our stated mission to maintain small class sizes and, according to the October, 2011 issue of Chicago magazine, one of the lowest teacher/student ratios in the greater Chicago area (7:1).
All of our science classes are lab based, taught by people with specific training in the field. From Kindergarten on, we attempt to closely match each student with their ability group, and make every effort to have each student work at their own pace while still challenging them academically.
We are the only school that I know of that teaches Future Problem Solving and Philosophy and Logic in the classroom. At best, some schools participate in FPS, but none have a teacher specifically dedicated to these classes.
Within all of our classes, our teachers focus on the social and emotional growth of our students. Our Learning Services team works closely with parents, staff, and students to insure positive growth in this area.
Our teachers are either all highly qualified or are taking graduate level classes to reach this goal. SAA not only encourages course work - teachers are reimbursed for 1/2 of the tuition and are given time off if necessary. Teachers are grouped by curricular area, with department heads that oversee curriculum and budgets. While SAA does follow State of Illinois standards, each level exceeds these standards. Teachers are given a great deal of freedom to create lessons that meet the needs of our gifted population. As I've stated many times, tuition increases these past two years have gone directly to teacher salaries and benefits, as well as classroom supplies.
The Forbes article ends with a quote from John Arnold, where he states that "we don't treat cancer, raise crops or explore for hydrocarbons like we did 50 years ago, yet we educate our children using the same rubric as when our parents went to school." He calls for a "new frontier for education reform," where "this rigid structure [is changed] by creating personalized learning opportunities for every child and by investing in research to determine which techniques are most effective for different constituencies."
Our Science & Arts Academy model for educating gifted and talented students is research based, and unique among schools that serve the gifted population. No other school goes to the lengths SAA does to reach the students where they are, instead of forcing the student to conform to a "rigid structure."
This is why we are not just the "gifted choice," but the only choice.
Have a great weekend.
Head of School