Tuesday, June 19, 2007

When the shoe is on the other foot

I never thought I would say this, but today I read a story about a school where I believe constructivism should be allowed to stay.

How can this be? Well first, it’s a magnet school in California founded from the outset on a constructivist philosophy. This means that 1) the parents were aware that it was constructivist when they enrolled their children and 2) as a magnet school, the students are there by choice not by district boundaries—they don’t have to be there.

"At issue is Ronald Reagan Elementary School, a 2-year-old magnet school that uses a multi-age program in which students are placed in classrooms according to their learning styles, interests and abilities rather than their grade."

"The school also uses a model of teaching called "constructivism," where the curriculum is presented with an emphasis on big concepts, students' questions are highly valued and pupils are viewed as thinkers with emerging theories about the world. Under the model, students also primarily work in groups."
The school was founded on constructivist principles and to change mid-stream would be equivalent to bait-and-switch. Administration needs to listen and respect the parent’s choice of learning environment for their children.

On a scale from 1-10, the academic state ranking of this school is a “1” and yet the parents are protesting to keep the current principal in place because they fear that the new principal will dismantle the constructivist program. The parents have spoken and don't seem to mind the lack of academic rigor. And most importantly, those that don’t agree can easily change schools.

Of course, administrators are concerned with the dismal test scores and Board President Tom Thomas said:

“The results we saw tell us we have some serious issues with math and English that we can't dismiss," he told the crowd, which filled the district's small board room. "This is no picnic. We have some serious concerns about the instruction going on at Ronald Reagan. ... If everything is just peachy keen with constructivism, why aren't more schools doing it?"
While I cannot imagine enrolling my children in such a school, I am not the parent of those children. Those parents may have different objectives for their children when it comes to education than I do.

They said they view the transfer of Richter, who has studied constructivist methods for more than a decade, as the equivalent of killing the magnet school's program.

"People are passionate about what is going on at the school," said parent Steve Tannenbaum in an interview. "We are preparing our kids for life. It is a very special place."

Parent Laurie Reynolds said her children can't wait to get to school every morning."The bottom line is my kids love to go to school," she said in an interview.

If I truly believe that parents should have a say in the education of their children, then by default I have to believe that these parents have a right to constructivist education if they so choose as well.

It does appear, they have chosen constructivism. So much so, that many parents kept their children out of school in protest on 5/29-5/30/2007-- a "sick out" in which at least 25% of students participated. They held a "peaceful protest" and proved that they were passionate and serious about their beliefs. There is little room to doubt where a great number of parents stand on this issue.

It is certainly interesting to see the shoe on the other foot, so to speak, and hear administration trying to rid a school of constructivism instead of vehemently defending it. Perhaps the tide is turning. Dare I hope?


Parents confront trustees over school's fate by: Jennifer Kabbany - Staff Writer, The Californian, an edition of The North County Times



Anonymous said...

Considering there are several schools in the country using constructivism, it is interesting that a new superintendent comes into the district, hires his crew of whip crackers to pump test numbers and eliminates any charter attempts, magnet programs, etc. that will actually educate the "whole" child and instead pushes administrators to focus on the "bubble kids" that can boost API numbers.
Our district is still in program improvement, but Ronald Reagan has never had dismal scores. The school exceeded State expectations the first year, when all of the excessive changes were made. (By that I mean, not only did they remove the principal and place a highly underqualified principal to continue the magnet, they discontinued aspects/programs of the magnet that make it constructivist and multi-age.)
Not to mention, the changes were made before the SECOND year scores were made available; and the data analasys company that gave their redundant powerpoint presentation in the hopes of confusing what they thought were undereducated parents at that particular board meeting you referenced, claimed that the scores were in decline and would continue to do so, are closely affiliated with the district superintendent. Funny!
Well, now the scores are available and Ronald Reagan has improved by 19 points. (This without someone filling in bubbles in the middle of the night, as the administrator of tests) Neither the parents, nor the supporters, have received an explanation for the increase. But we did get a vice principal, probably as a reward for doing so well. How much is that costing? Full time, for a student population of approx. 550. Talk about micro managers.
While the district assured parents that there would be no changes, there are classes not being instructed in muti-age settings, constructivist trainings have been cancelled, the principal is pulling lower scoring children out to give them "intervention", separating them from their peers and having them only focus on math and language arts; forget about history, social studies, and science if it doesn't contain aspects of Math or Language Arts. It is all about bureaucracy, politics, money, and test scores.
The LEUSD discourages parent imput and opinion, and sees it more as an annoyance that will eventually go away. The Ronald Reagan Elementary philosophy of collaboration encourages, even requires parent communication and participation.
I thank you for stating that you believe constructivism should stay, but that is not the only thing the school has lost in the whole transition. What's worse, the children have lost so much more, a high-quality education they deserve.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for your very well written article. I appreciate that although your opinion is obviously different than the opinion of those fighting for the constructivist model, you honor others' right to CHOOSE. I hope that others read this and just take note on how we can have a different opinion and still communicate professionally. Maybe then we will be able to resolve some serious concerns with the California education system.

concernedCTparent said...

Choice may be the only hope for our public schools. The more I consider (and live through) the quandary, the more I believe this to be true.