Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Difference Between Good Schools and Bad

From a Georgetown student:
Entering my freshman year at Georgetown University, I should have felt as if I’d made it. The students I once put on a pedestal, kids who were fortunate enough to attend some of the nation’s top private and public schools, were now my classmates. Having come from D.C. public charter schools, I worked extremely hard to get here.

But after arriving on campus before the school year, with a full scholarship, I quickly felt unprepared and outmatched — and it’s taken an entire year of playing catch-up in the classroom to feel like I belong. I know that ultimately I’m responsible for my education, but I can’t help blaming the schools and teachers I had in my early years for my struggles today.

Even though I attended some of the District’s better schools — including my high school, the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, at the Parkside campus near Kenilworth — the gap between what I can do and what my college classmates are capable of is enormous. This goes beyond knowing calculus or world history, subjects that I didn’t learn in high school but that my peers here mastered long ago. My former teachers simply did not push me to think past a basic level, to apply concepts, to move beyond memorizing facts and figures.

Since the third grade, my teachers told me I was exceptional, but they never pushed me to think for myself. And when I did excel, they didn’t trust that I’d done the hard work. They assumed I was cheating. Now, only 10 miles from those teachers and schools where I was considered a standout, I’ve had to work double-time just to keep up.
If we take this student at face value, the first question that comes to my mind is "Why?"

Update: A teacher on an emaillist of which I am a member posted the following information about the above story, information that is important and germane:
Some basic facts to know when reading this article:
  • DC Public Charter Schools are under the authority of the DC Public Charter Board.
  • They are not under the authority of the DC Public Schools; thus, Chancellor Rhee, Chancellor Henderson, former Mayor Fenty, current Mayor Gray have no authority over them. Many comments assume falsely that they did or do.
  • Likewise, the Washington Teachers' Union's contract is with DCPS; it has no contract with any of the DC Public Charter Schools, including Cesar Chavez PCS, which is the one the author attended and criticizes.

6 comments:

momof4 said...

I recently read A Hope in the Unseen, the story of a DC student (class of 93) who went on to graduate from Brown (math major). His reaction to Brown and his (lack of) preparation for the work was even more extreme; he described his classmates as almost speaking a foreign language, with terms, allusions, references and assumptions he didn't even recognize, let alone understand. Despite working individually with many of his HS teachers, none suggested that he should use the public library to expand his knowledge base or visit the museums, historic sites and public buildings that fill DC. He had never read anything written by a non-black person nor written anything except personal narratives.

It appears that not much has changed; the idea that education should expand kids' horizons beyond the local and familiar is still rejected. Low expectations all the way.

Jean said...

I'm not sure what 'why?' you're asking. Why did his K-12 education fail him so badly?

I absolutely believe his story, since I'm the product of a poor K-12 education myself. I got good grades, I was considered a smart kid (I was not black, inner-city, or male), I got into Berkeley--and when I got there, I was so ignorant and unprepared that I had no idea of how unprepared I really was. I missed out on a lot just because I was too clueless.

So, why have we got lots of rotten schools that fail to prepare perfectly intelligent kids for college-level work? I don't know, but it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

MikeAT said...

Darren

I am struck by two lines in this article.

“..the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, at the Parkside campus near Kenilworth — the gap between what I can do and what my college classmates are capable of is enormous...

Why does the district need a charter school for Public Policy? How about a school of reading, writing and arithmetic? If the purpose is to send a student to college they are failing.

This goes beyond knowing calculus or world history, subjects that I didn’t learn in high school but that my peers here mastered long ago.

I made it through Algebra II in high school. The smart kids made it thought Advanced Math, aka calculus. How the hell does someone make it through a charter school where you must be accepted to college to graduate and not be ready for calculus. And World History? I had that in junior high and high school.

Ellen K said...

I hear this frequently. Too many students seem content to slide by with minimal exertion. And it's not just low income at risk kids. My AP students are DRAGGING their feet on producing work at a time when their portfolios should be soaring. I have tried cajoling, reminding, babysitting, threatening to no avail because unfortunately the message given them by popular media is that if you are cute enough and press the right buttons, you will succeed. There is also a significant dumbing down of advanced classes in order to include specific demographic groups that may not have the preparation for such classes. It appears that many districts are far more interested in knowing the gender, race and socioeconomic grouping for students in AP classes than in knowing what kind of scores they can achieve. Until this changes, we will see programs at some universities watered down to pander to public opinion or programs that will end up with less diversity because of the implementation PC curriculi over solid standards of learning.

Jean said...

"Too many students seem content to slide by with minimal exertion."

I'm not sure this is the same issue. The Georgetown kid thought he was doing well--he was working hard, he was getting praise and good marks--but there was nothing to tell him that the level of work he was used to was nowhere near the level he needed to be. I was in the same boat--no one ever said "You know, you'll need to be able to analyze texts like this and write papers that look like this, and here is how to do it." They said I was doing just fine.

Kids will not naturally understand the work that will be expected. They need it explained to them--usually much more often and more thoroughly than you (that is, I) would think necessary. But there are many, many kids who are never even given a hint.

Anonymous said...

"Why does the district need a charter school for Public Policy? How about a school of reading, writing and arithmetic?"

I can't cite a source, but my understanding is that in California you won't be granted a charter for a charter school without some specialty. The specialty can be almost any *subject* (e.g. music or science or history or gender studies), but it can't be "we're going to teach the kids very well."

So a proposed charter school of "reading, writing and arithmetic" wouldn't get approved. You'd need to disguise it somehow (e.g. Latin).

Don't quote me without fact checking this, please!

-Mark Roulo