Tag Archives: social promotion

CRUCIBLE

Three weeks remain in the 2009-10 school year an we have just finished testing. We expect to see significant growth over the year before and we expect the schools down the street will  have gotten even more growth and we will be reminded that the schools down the street did it right and we are somehow not as efficient or effective or committed or skilled or blessed or insightful or something.

In the meantime, we also moved the ball down the field on our plan to implement more multi-age classrooms and transform our teaching. We are preparing to return to a curriculum that inspires our children to think and create and spring out of bed in the morning and race down the street to El Milagro because there are things happening here that are worth learning.  In the post-test celebration our students danced on the playground and I was reminded how much I miss seeing them find their rhythm.

Along the way we even challenged ourselves to find a solution to that stubborn dilemma that all teachers face in June: what to do with the kids that aren’t ready for the next grade.  Retain them? Socially promote them?  Transfer them to the schools down the street that have all the answers?

We decided that no one zeros in on student needs like we do.  We decided that we wouldn’t have to retain or socially promote kids that weren’t ready… if we just get them all ready!  And since kids learn and develop on their own time , we decided we would give each struggling learner their own timeline and gameplan for promotion… and multi-age classrooms allow us to do that.

So much is happening at El Milagro… even in the face of opposition and cynicism that we are somehow cheating or taking short cuts.  If you read this blog you know… we are totally focussed on finding a better way.  So we dip, even for a moment, into the fires, searching for that wisdom that even those schools down the street might learn from us.

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Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, innovation and change, school reform, Un-graded schools

Mañana Nunca Viene

What if our curriculum was as rich as it has ever been?  If children learned to think again?  To create and play with ideas and innovate and imagine and stretch their  logic and bring their innate gifts to bear.

What if kids learned science and economics and geography again?  What if they traced the footprints of Monet? Sang like John Legend.  Wondered at the vastness of space.  The mystery of the ocean floor.

What if we switched off the conveyor belt and closed the factory school?  What if we just abandoned the archaic systems altogether?  What if kids had the time they needed to learn the things that you say they need to learn?  The standards.  The important stuff.  What if we quit pushing them forward as if it is some long inexorable march? What if they stayed till they were ready to fly?  Then we gave them wings.  No more grade levels to box them in… no more rigid tracks that consign them to a direction that is pre-determined and pre-ordained.

No more instant promotions to grade levels for which they are not ready.

What if merely staying upright in one’s desk until June was no longer the crietria for promotion, but rather, a clear and thorough demonstration of mastery?  Authentic. Beyond bubbles and the swift utility of a standardized test.

What if we awoke– as if from some long and stubborn nap that is neither refreshing nor productive– awoke in time to remember that children aren’t standardized and neither are their minds?  Nor their hands.  Nor their dreams.  Nor their journeys.

What if we knew it would take a revolution to set our children free of this?  Would we fight?  Would you?

What if we pushed against the stubborn status quo?  I mean… all of us.  All at once. Pillar by pillar piled in mounds of Ephesian dust. Just like this.

We’ll go first.  We’ll go now.  Mañana nunca viene.  El Milagro.

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Filed under El Milagro, gifted children, innovation and change, spiritual intelligence, standardized testing

JOURNALING CHAOS 2: “Heel Kick”

chaosjpeg

The “I Ching” teaches that “Before there can be great brilliance… there must be chaos.”

This is PART 2 in a series of blog posts that document our research, strategic thinking, observations and debates as we take on one of the last vestiges of the industrial revolution: the practice in schools of organizing kids into grade levels according to their chronological age.  

This past week we completed the 2009 version of the California Standards Test.  It is a standards-based test designed to assess the degree to which children mastered the standards at their grade level.  If they get higher than a scaled score of 350, they will be considered “proficient” and everyone will be happy. 

Of course, anything less than that means they are “not at grade level” and it will be a reason for great concern.  And if 45% of our overall students or 45% of our Latino students or 45% of our English language learners are not at grade level, the state of California will declare us to be a “Program Improvement” school.

So here is what I don’t get.

If we have a standards-based curriculum, and students’ mastery of those standards is determined by a standards-based assessment (in our state: the California Standards Test), then why aren’t kids grouped in classrooms according to their mastery of those standards ? In other words… a true, standards-based school. 

Where do we see standards-based schools?  In that Taekwondo studio down the street– the one in your neighborhood strip mall.

200px-WTF_Taekwondo_1In Taekwondo and other martial arts, students are assigned a white belt until they demonstrate mastery of ALL of the techniques, blocks, kicks, forms, and philosophies that are taught at that beginning of the learning continuum.  They advance through the curriculum- color belt by color belt– until they reach the level of black belt.  There is a high price to pay for not mastering all of those blocking and striking techniques if you spar with another black belt so Taekwondo instructors tend to promote students only when they are ready to be promoted.

Not so in your school or mine.

The significant difference is that in Taekwondo we group students by their demonstrated competence.  In public schools we group kids according to 1) their chronological age and 2) the grade level they were sitting in when the clock ran out at the end of the game last June.  Our 11 years-olds are fifth graders no matter what level of mastery they have attained in school.  And next month, they will become 6th graders and they will struggle to catch up all year until it is time to take the California Standards Test again.  When that time comes, they will be handed the Sixth Grade Test– not because they are ready for it… but merely because we placed them in a student grouping called “Sixth Grade”!

So what if we organized our students for instruction like they do in so many of the schools for the martial arts– in a mastery-based model that is thousands of years old instead of the archaic system that we all perpetuate today where students are promoted merely because it is June outside.  

I have a pretty good idea what would happen and I’ll bet you do too.  Some of it would be good… especially for students and teachers.  But some of it would create such profound dissonance within the “testing and accountability system” that my school will face absolutely blistering criticism.  And maybe worse.

So we are going to have to think this through. And we are going to need your help.

Cross-posted, in part, on Leadertalk

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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, public education, standardized testing, Un-graded schools