I asked earlier if there were districts that still manage to offer a full curriculum despite the federal mandates. Where are the good things happening. There were many good responses. These are some of the most provocative:
In California, there are over 1,000 separate school districts. Each reflects a different community. Districts that have access to wealthy constituents have been successful at raising new money to hire staff and maintain programs. Small districts have exercised substantial creativity and leveraged the occasional windfall into other wonderful things.
You’ve never heard of most of these schools.
In Humboldt County on California’s north coast, several elementary schools have maintained a program where every child can learn to play the violin.
Anderson Valley High School in Boonville, CA, has its own space program.
Public school kids from all over Northern California go to a week-long Outdoor Science School at Mendocino Woodlands State Park. http://www.mendocinowoodlands.org/ross.html
Others attend an overnight Living History at Fort Ross State Park, living the life of a native Kashaya, an Aleut, or a Russian officer. http://www.fortrossstatepark.org/elp.htm
There is Living History on the tall ship Balclutha in San Francisco Bay. http://www.nps.gov/safr/forteachers/index.htm
If you go through the Donors Choose site, you’ll see teachers putting together all kinds of interesting and innovative projects on their own time.
There are wonderful things happening in American schools – even Title 1 schools. It’s just that the staff and parents are too busy doing them to tell the world about them.
Absolutely there is a vast difference between affluent schools and schools in poverty when it comes to test emphasis. My own kids attended an “exemplary” campus where tests happened, but were not freaked out about, because the kids were all going to do fine. They had the background knowledge and schema to perform well. They were read to as toddlers. The test was considered a starting line, not a finish line.
I teach in a vastly different environment, where 96 percent of our campus is economically disadvantaged. These students are in survival mode. It will take an act of God for some of them to even approach passing because kids don’t learn well when their basic human needs are not met. So we are stressed about the tests all the time.
I live in California near many affluent districts such as Los Alamitos, Beverly Hills, Palos Verdes and San Marino. Visit any of these schools and you will see a rich and balanced curriculum that will compete nicely with those in private schools. Parents at these schools often have “Foundations” that raise thousands of dollars each year to support art, music and P.E. Highly educated parents often volunteer in classrooms, essentially bringing down the student/teacher ratio to 10:1, at least in the primary grades. And of course there are no Teach for America people in these schools because they only hire fully qualified, mostly experienced teachers.
As for test scores, although they are certainly taken seriously, there is no test-prep from September to May because teachers know that almost everyone will score high.
The inequity that exists in our educational system is a national disgrace. Let’s hope we get some authentic reform soon.