Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Education and The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken is one of my all-time favorite pieces of written work. Whether I've consciously done so or not, I've often stood at that fork in the road and chosen the path less traveled and it has, indeed, made all the difference.

That's what I'm hoping will be the case with my children. I hope they'll travel far and wide and, whenever possible, mark the unworn paths. I hope their choices will be informed by a broad variety of experiences, conversations, books, adventures, curiosity, interest, excitement. I'm not sure that's what CPS is trying to accomplish.

So I'm a little at odds with my partner. And I say partner because that's what it is, a partnership. I've hired CPS, with annual property taxes near $10,000 every year for more than 10 years --that's roughly $100,000-- to partner with me in educating my children. I'm a little disappointed that what CPS has to offer me by way of innovative solutions to the declining scores on CPS students' tests is 90 minutes. 90 minutes?

Ask a child what makes it hard for them to learn in school, and you might hear:

- it's hard to focus when I'm sitting in the hallway to read and people keep walking by
- I can't talk to my teacher in class because she's too busy with other students (32 of them)
- we don't have a computer in our class anymore because it was taken to a testing room

Ask a teacher what makes it hard for them to teach and you might get:

- I know it doesn't make sense, but I have to get this in before the test
- the problem is, he's not eating at home, so I can't get him to focus
- she's working independently because she can; I have to pay attention to those who can't

So if you had these and other problems in education, would you suggest that 90 minutes would cure these difficulties? 90 more minutes of the same stuff that's failing? Why? What about taking what's great from other educational systems that are succeeding (and no one seems to agree that more time is one of those elements of success) and applying our own best practices to create a dynamic, rigorous new path for our children to travel?

The folks at CPS, even if well-intentioned, are displaying a real lack of interest in or understanding of what needs to happen. I think they need to show us why those 90 minutes matter more than other ideas to improve our educational system. At the end of the day, we don't want scores, we want educated citizens, right? We want explorers, entrepreneurs, scientists, mathemeticians, dancers, drivers, and things we haven't thought of yet! We want folks who will walk those roads not taken, to see where they'll take us all. Are the 90 minutes going to get us there? I don't think so.

Frankly, I believe the powers that be at CPS need to brush up on their poetry. I'd have them start with Frost.

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