Archive for Thursday, September 21, 2006

Speaker challenges board, administrators

Longtime educator raises questions about education process during annual board retreat

September 21, 2006

The Lansing School Board retreat on Saturday, Sept. 16, was an eye-opener for Board President Shelly Gowdy.

The key speaker, longtime educator Steve Wyckoff, had good feedback for the district, but also brought several suggestions for raising the bar.

"He kind of challenged our thinking on the whole education process," Gowdy said. "What we're doing right and what we might not be doing right."

The fundamental purpose of education is to prepare students for work, Gowdy said, and the current system may simply be outdated.

"The core subjects that we require for graduation in high school are based on education requirements that were established 140 years ago," she said. "And are those really the things that kids need going into the workplace in the 21st century?"

Complicating the picture is the current shift toward standardized assessments encouraged by the No Child Left Behind Act.

According to the U.S. Department of Education Web site, "No Child Left Behind is designed to change the culture of America's schools by closing the achievement gap, offering more flexibility, giving parents more options, and teaching students based on what works."

But Gowdy thinks that the initiative has removed flexibility from the classrooms, sometimes shouldering out programs that are deemed unessential.

"It makes me wonder how much time the teachers have to do what I call 'the fun stuff,' the hands-on, the doing of learning versus the memorization and those kinds of things," she said.

Beyond the lack of a well-rounded education, however, Gowdy is most concerned by several blemishes on the otherwise relatively spotless report card the Lansing school district earns.

"The fourth- and fifth-grades' test scores aren't increasing as much as they'd like," Gowdy said. "Reading is the foundation of just about everything you do in your life."

But as a school board member, Gowdy's control can be fairly limited, she said. What she and other board members are encouraging is the further development of dialogue between the educators and the administrators.

Gowdy said there is mutual concern for the quality of the education that Lansing students are receiving. But within the tighter curriculum necessitated by the current assessment structure, making large changes is more difficult. It's another problem created by No Child Left Behind, she said.

"Having a standardized approach doesn't take into account the uniqueness of each student and their individual needs," Gowdy said, adding that the act "leaves a lot of kids behind" - on both ends of the spectrum.

"What about our gifted students, who are bored to death?" She asked.

At the end of the day, funding realities determine the framework within which the school district must operate. If the district "thumbed their noses" at the standards, Gowdy said, it would likely lose its funding. But respecting the standards sometimes means teachers' flexibility is limited to addressing areas of substandard achievement.

But it's just the climate of the school system in America, Gowdy said.

"The one-size-fits-all education process that we currently have in the United States doesn't necessarily work the best for all the kids," she said.

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