I was in a private school last week that made me feel as if American education has nothing but hope on its horizon. The school impressed me at every turn, and stirred a deep feeling that our greatest challenge in schooling is not to “invent,” but rather to “transition” to a way of learning that already exists.
Yes, the place cost nearly $30,000 per year in tuition. And yes, they self-select their student body. But to put those two issues on the shelf for a moment, and to take a look at how they operate, what they believe, and the means by which they implement and execute their aims, I believe…
Well, it reminds me of a quote I once heard attributed to Winston Churchill:
He was speaking about how much he admired America because it was, “a land where they always did the right thing… after they exhausted every other option.”
(Guy was so witty, huh?)
Yet, Mr. Churchill’s sentiment is too true. I do think we know what to do—and we know how to do it—when it comes to educating the kids of our nation. Herding the political cats with so many self-serving interests is more of the problem than is determining the direction we ought to lead the students. That was a huge take away for me.
I’d even posit that we don’t need “inventors” cooking up a magic blue pill that will lead us to the promised land, as much as we need “executioners” to take us there.
We can start to look at the differences between public and private schools for answers. How about we begin with a letter circulating to parents as issued by a private school? (Warning: this is sort of tongue-in-cheek and sort of not.)
Enclosed are the results of your child’s standardized test scores. This is a nationally normed test used by private, public, and charter schools across the country. We want to point out that these results represent only a snapshot of your child’s development. It is important to realize that tests do NOT include an assessment of the following skills and character developments:
A love of reading, calculating, discovering, sharing, teaching, listening, and an appreciation for the miracle of life.
To make it easier to grade the tests by computer, we have focused only on small slivers of those subjects for which questions can be manipulated into a multiple-choice format.
Continue racing to the top!
Pretty funny, right? Yet, doesn’t it illuminate how testing madness isn’t entirely corrupting the mindsets of private schools in the way that it has far too often polluted the education that’s taking place at many public schools?
Or what if we look at this question: How do we elevate the skill sets of our nation’s teachers?
The answer: Provide high-quality professional development and give our nation’s teachers time to collaborate, confer, comprehend, and plan.
The people at the front of our public school classrooms are all too often under a time siege where there’s simply too much being asked of them without the requisite amount of time being allotted for them to tackle all the tasks.
It’s not that the lion’s share of public school teachers are unable to do the job being set before them. It’s that those teachers are unable to do the jobs being set before them in the time frame that these jobs are expected to be done.
Private schools see high-quality professional development as essential to the process of being (and remaining) outstanding academic institutions. Far too many in public education view high-quality professional development as some sort of expensive indulgence they can’t really afford. Private schools recognize the critical importance of ongoing learning. Public schools prioritize other things (like testing).
Affluence will always afford more to the “haves.” No one disputes that. However, this is a question of schemas and the mindsets of those in charge at public schools versus private schools that are miles and miles apart.
The question is: Can we take a free lesson from those who are “doing it right”?