Monday, July 20, 2020

From the archives: Couch, classroom, doesn't matter

First posted January 2016

One long-running feature of Dewey's Treehouse has been Grandpa Squirrel's Sunday newspapers. The Squirrelings' Grandpa has been sharing his Toronto newspapers with us since before the blog got started, and they've been the source of many discussion-worthy stories here.

Here's the latest, from the New York Times International Weekly section of the Toronto Star: Tom Brady's piece "Nurturing Students, Naturally." (2020: link no longer works)

It starts out with a description of the "forest schools," the trendy kindergartens where children spend a large part of the day outdoors (while, as he notes, their parents are probably working indoors in cubicles).

But then he switches to a brief but tantalizing story about two school districts in New Jersey. Because the link above may not stay active, I'll type out the relevant part:

"Consider Union City, New Jersey, which, like its neighboring city Newark had failing schools for decades. But then Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million to Newark's schools in 2010.

"Today, Union City's schools are performing better.

"The school district there, led by Fred Carrigg, faced two challenges head on. They taught more classes in Spanish so the three quarters of their students who were learning English did not fall farther behind. They turned youngsters, many of whom came from homes without books, into capable readers...To get students excited about books, the schools assigned daily reading and writing assignments, even in subjects like art and science.
Meanwhile, Newark spent tens of millions on outside consultants.

"'The real story of Union City is that it didn't fall back,' Mr Carrigg told The Times. 'It stabilized and has continued to improve.'" 
Doesn't that just blow you away? I have no way to verify that story or any of its results...I'm trusting the NYT and Tom Brady that they got it right. But why should it be surprising? It's a very old story, one that Marva Collins would have recognized; one that Dorothy Canfield Fisher described in 1916.
"Elizabeth Ann had not understood more than one word in five of this, but just then the school-bell rang and they went back, little Molly helping Elizabeth Ann over the log and thinking she was being helped, as before.They ran along to the little building, and there I'm going to leave them, because I think I've told enough about their school for ONE while.It was only a poor, rough, little district school anyway, that no Superintendent of Schools would have looked at for a minute, except to sniff." (Understood Betsy)
Winning the grant lottery...or having a rich fairy not always an advantage, whether in education, business, or anything. Especially if the bureaucrats take the gift and spend it on more bureaucracy.

Sometimes the solution is not more money...or more consultants, more Superintendents of Schools. And it's not about making things easier or more fun. It's about actually getting students to read and write. Regularly, with purpose, with excitement; and whether that happens in a "poor, rough, llittle district school," or on the living room couch, or in the Union City schools, doesn't matter.

No comments: