Imagination in Schools – But Not For Teachers

MiddleWeb, an excellent site that deals with reform in middle schools, has published a great essay on imagination (or more the lack of it) in schools. The writer is Hayes Mizell, an activist for changing middle schools, which are still seen by too many as "junior" high schools rather than as the bridge between the elementary grades and high school.

The essay is rather long but here are a couple of selections I especially like.

But if we are honest about the cultures of most schools and most school systems, they downplay imagination, particularly among adults. Schools and school systems do not encourage teachers and administrators to form, as the dictionary definition states, "a mental image of something..never before wholly perceived in reality." If anything, schools are mired in reality.

Teachers and administrators will never unleash their imaginations unless it is safe for them to do so. Schools may delight in students’ poems, science projects, essays, and art that are the products of youthful imaginations. Schools may even relish the imaginative pedagogy of a few highly effective teachers, even though most schools do nothing to help other teachers become more effective by making greater use of their imaginations. But when it comes to the schools’ governance, management, structure, curricula, assessment and professional development, there is less enthusiasm for imagination. Perhaps this is because schools fear there will be imagination run amok, with so many competing ideas for reform that it will breed conflict. However, most schools are far from becoming cauldrons of bubbling imagination.

I dare say that the administration – and faculty – in most schools I’ve worked with would only tolerate a few teachers with "imaginative pedagogy".

Florida Update

In the latest installment of the poor Florida students who couldn’t graduate because they failed their standardized tests, the state legislature passed a bill (which brother Jeb says he’ll sign) allowing students to substitute their ACT or SAT scores. But after all the screaming, the measure only helps 405 kids out of the 12,500 who didn’t pass the test. 405 who got at least 370 on the verbal part of the SAT and 350 on the math part! On top of that about 5000 of the total didn’t finish their course work in the first place.

Why do I have images of the Marx Brothers in Horsefeathers?

Who Gives a Rat’s Ass? Friday

This Friday, instead of ranting about assorted stuff (sing along Leslie: It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to :-), I’ll send you into the weekend with the wise words of Don Henley.

You say you haven’t been the same since you had your little crash
But you might feel better if I gave you some cash
The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ’em tonight
You don’t want to work, you want to live like a king
But the big, bad world doesn’t owe you a thing

Get over it!

Get Over It, from the album Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles.

Chartering A New Course?

Few innovations in American education are more controversial these days than charter schools. Supporters claim that they are the salvation of public schooling and detractors say charters will ruin it. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. Quality Uneven, Despite Popularity, a two part article in the Washington Post (part 2) is a good overview of the state of the 39 charter schools operating in the District of Columbia (and the District’s educational system itself).

Unlike many people in public education, I really like the concept behind charter schools. The originial idea was that a group of educators would use public money to create a school based on different learning concepts from those commonly used in "regular" schools. Or they create a school designed for a specific population that is not being adequately served. The concept is excellent. It’s the execution that has generally been less than stellar.

Charter schools, especially in DC, are a real mixed bag. Some are very good, while many never should have been allowed to open in the first place. But considering the poor quality of most public schools in DC, charters look awfully good by comparison.

Some charter advocates say the marketplace weeds out weak charter schools, as parents tend to pull their children out of those institutions and the schools are forced to close. But that has not happened so far in the District, perhaps because even a poorly functioning charter school can look good to parents compared with the regular school their children used to attend.

In the interest of full disclosure I need to tell you that my wife teaches in one of the DC charter schools discussed in this article. I’ve watched the school develop over the four years she’s taught there (it’s been open five) and it seems to be generally good academically. The school, however, is on probation with the charter board for financial problems. Looking both at DC and other areas of the country, that seems all too common. The founders of charters often have a good idea of what they want to do educationally but have poor management skills.

On the other side of the country, the LA Times is reporting (free registration required) a new study that says students in California charter schools showed greater improvement in standardized test scores than did students in "traditional" schools. Add this one to other studies and the Post article and you still get mixed results for charter schools. The experiment continues – as it should.