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Jay on the Web: Joy and Equality in Public Education

Houston high school teacher, Jesse Alred, of the Examiner, wrote an interesting analysis of one of Jay Mathews' columns about balancing hard work with play and injecting more joy into the classroom. Alred agrees with Mathews on "the joy factor," but then gets into an interesting discussion about how to keep students happy and engaged while preparing for standardized tests, especially for those students who are already behind the learning curve. In the end, Alred decides there may not be an equal solution for all students:


"Mr. Mathews is onto something in that there is definitely a joy deficit in many classrooms across the country, and, I would argue, it is not only harder to bring joy into the classrooms of reluctant learners who are already behind, but the emphasis on gaining small improvements on standardized test scores demanded by the political exigencies of the times makes integrating the joy factor into schooling even harder.

Our schools are becoming more segregated by parental awareness and student commitment every year, with better students transferring not only to traditional magnet programs, but to great charter schools like KIPP, Yes Prep and Idea and to new early-college high schools where inner-city kids earn college credit through dual credit programs with community colleges.
Future urban neighborhood schools, at least their regular program classes, will increasingly be filled with kids who are the least inspired by traditional academic learning. The neighborhood schools, outside the magnet classes, will become factories with teachers desperately trying to prepare students for minimum skills exams by drilling them repeatedly on practice tests. That works but turns out to be meaningless in the trajectory of kids' lives.
The reported drop-out rates for city schools are unreliable. If you take many city schools and subtract the number of freshmen from the graduating seniors, you typically find only fifty or so percent graduated. These kids, and the reluctant learners, and the special needs kids and the recent immigrants, represent the future of the inner-city neighborhood school if current transfer trends continue.
Given this reality, the question becomes, do we reshape the neighborhood high school for the kids we have and try to make them relevant for the kid's own dreams and aspirations; or do we continue to pretend we have different kids, like the ones who are in magnets or who are leaving for the charters and early colleges.
The first option requires some creativity and possibly giving up the idea that we can mandate minimum standards to all students, and that we are preparing all kids for college--it does not fit the current definition of “accountability;” while the second option means more test preparation in pursuit of meaningless two or three percent gains in proficiency scores. It is Orwellian that the second option today is called school reform.
The idea that we are ever going to come close to a level playing field for rich and poor kids is a radically false."

By Sarah Mimms  | July 23, 2009; 2:01 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Jay Mathews, charter schools, equality, public education  
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Comments

The reason many of our classrooms are joyless is because we are focusing on the results rather than the journey. We are obsessed with achievement rather than learning. Additionally we are focusing on skills without recognizing that specific content makes learning interesting.

Instead of force-feeding students an academic program that is equivalent to bread and water, we should be offering an academic banquet, which includes history, geography, literature,
foreign language, classics, art, and music.

We also need to stop all this K-16 nonsense. Education should not be viewed as something students need in order to get a job. It should offered as a wonderful gift, that once acquired, can never be taken away.

The most important word that so few of us use is opportunity. All students should be offered the opportunity to become educated people, not because it's required, but because it feeds your soul and makes your life more interesting and fulfilled.

I applaud Jay's desire that all types of students have the opportunity to take AP courses. But I don't agree with his rationale. AP should be viewed as an opportunity to learn something interesting and challenging, not a joyless exercise of acquiring advanced credit for a college application.

Tragically, NCLB, accountability, and standards have created more educational inequity. Instead of mandating standards for all students to achieve, we need to offer the same rich educational opportunities to all students.

I teach in inner city schools. When I offer rich content to my students, which I do daily, I tell them, "this might not be on a test, and you don't need to learn this to be successful, but this is great stuff that you deserve the opportunity to learn. I can't make you learn it, but I hope you give it chance, because once you learn it, no one can take it away from you."

By the way, it works.

Posted by: Nemessis | July 24, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Whoopsie! I beg to differ a bit from the writer. Seems to me that there is little joy in the classroom, because we've gotten the cart before the horse. When some students are not motivated to be in the classroom, they will not enjoy it no matter how rich the content. That is one fundamental flaw with a free, everyone can (must) attend system. I humbly suggest that schools need to be revamped - make different kinds of schools for different interests of students - and then ask them to "apply", and demonstrate some sense of commitment to their learning, and you'll see engaged, highly motivated students.

Posted by: MomDad | July 26, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

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