What’s In A Name?

by Robert Pondiscio
July 17th, 2008

One of the names under consideration for a new elementary school in Rochester, Minnesota is Falcon Ridge Elementary.  There are plenty of hawks, owls and turkeys near the new school, but no falcons.  There’s really not much of a ridge either, apparently.  If you wanted to name the school after local fauna and geographic features, then you might have to go with Turkey Floodplain Elementary, one wag observed. 

Such is the difficulty in getting schools named after human beings.  As a report by Jay Greene noted last year, there are 11 schools in Florida that honor manatees,while George Washington has five.  

Geographic names are non-controversial, even when they’re made up.  The other name under consideration is George Gibbs Elementary, in honor of the first African American to set foot on Antarctica and the founder of the local branch of the NAACP.  The Rochester school board chose Gibbs the other night, but there will be time for public comment before it’s final. 

Here’s a list of 100 names the board started with before narrowing it to Falcon Ridge and George Gibbs.  I wonder if Al Gore and Bono (School of Rock, indeed!) are miffed at not making the cut.

Dewey Need This School?

by Robert Pondiscio
July 17th, 2008

Washington PostFrom the Washington Post comes an uncharacteristically credulous piece about a soon-to-be launched private school built around a radically student-centered model. Harvard-educated lawyer Alan Shusterman’s 6-12 grade school will charge $25,000 a year in tuition, but the schedules and lessons will be different. “The model is inspired by the success of home-schoolers,” says Shusterman.

“Students will set their class schedules, enabling them to learn at their pace and in their styles. Teachers will act as advisers, not taskmasters,” reports the Post’s Jay Mathews. Yup, more “guide on the side” stuff.

As for homework, “the one-size-fits-all [model] mandated in today’s schools is largely counterproductive,” Shusterman says in a slide presentation he uses to sell his idea. School for Tomorrow will have a home reading requirement and “encourage and support individualized, student-initiated homework.”

Mainstream education can learn a thing or two from successful homeschoolers. But if this kind of radically student-centered model is what you’re after, why pay $25,000 for what you can get at home for free?

Surprise Update.  Alan Shusterman responds in the comments section.  He turns out to be quite well-versed on Core Knowledge–and his school will have a core curriculum after all.

Things Thought But Seldom Expressed

by Robert Pondiscio
July 17th, 2008

Courtesy of this week’s Carnival of Education, a post from an anonymous teacher at a blog called Current Education Issues, which makes for uncomfortable reading. After sitting through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting with 15 people to talk about the a single child, he asks, “Does this make sense?”

Are we spending our tax dollars wisely on someone who will at most, according to her doctors, top-out at the mental level of a seven-year-old?” Meanwhile, her parents are pissed off (I don’t know at what) and are having everybody jump through hoops as an added bonus. I don’t know what they expect, but I do know they’re getting to what amounts to day-care for a special needs child for free.

“So who is going to be the heartless bastard who stands up and asks, ‘Is this wrong?’” he concludes. “I guess it’s just me for now.”

Having sat through several of these kinds of meetings, I can vouch for his accuracy in describing the process. I haven’t seen very much discussion of special education practice, cost or accountability in the edublogs, but I’d like to see more–especially about expectations. In my limited experience, IEPs were a joke. I taught in an inclusion class one year and listened to a special ed supervisor instruct my co-teacher to lower promotional criteria to an absurdly low level to ensure students passed. The entire process seemed geared to avoid lawsuits and actually having to educate children. There are doubtless heroic, committed special education teachers who make a difference. But at its worst, it’s educational hospice care with the bar set no higher than getting kids to the end of the day above ground.

And as this blogger points out, maintaining such low expectations ain’t cheap.

What happened to art and music in my school? Gee, I don’t know. How come my students don’t spend more time on a computer? Gee, I wonder. This one child’s education could buy an art, music, or computer teacher for my entire school. What about the other nine kids just like her in that class, What could they buy? I wish we could afford everything. I wish we could give this little girl what she deserves. I wish my students could get what they deserve. But the math doesn’t work out that way, folks. The “pie” is only so big. I understand equal opportunity, and I’m for it up until the point where it no longer makes any sense. I guess I never will understand taking away from most to benefit one. Apparently, I’m in the minority though.