Thursday, February 16, 2012

Collaboration: One of the Keys to Education Reform

Tonight on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams there was a fascinating piece by Chelsea Clinton on how one charter school (The Learning Community) in Rhode Island is sharing their reading strategies with local public schools to help their students improve their reading performance to grade level. When this collaboration began three years ago, only 37% of K-2nd graders were reading at or above grade level. Within 8 months, that number was up to 66%.

As Clinton talked with the teachers and the students I was amazed to discover that these new and innovative strategies were things like "sketch it" (kids listen to the story and the draw pictures related to it), "connection" (kids think about the story then relate it to a similar experience they've had), and "retelling" (kids tell the teacher what the story was about). The teachers also make it a point to have one-on-one time with each student every week to help them with their reading.

These are all practices that I use with my kids, and I bet so have most homeschooling moms. I'm not a trained teacher. My major in college was English with a creative writing emphasis and a minor in Social Work. But I learned most of these techniques with the curriculum I was using to teach my kids how to read, and from reading articles about developing your child's literacy skills. And I don't think these ideas are new to teachers, either. Maybe for some. But I know that there are many teachers who are either teaching their students this way, or would like to but can't.

Although I was really sad to see that these strategies are not commonplace techniques in ALL school districts across our country, I was so very glad to see this type of collaboration between the charter and public school system. I have had a very high opinion of charter schools for a while now, and even considered enrolling my own daughter in one when she was ready to start Kindergarten. (More on that another day.)

Anyway, in the interview, one of the questions Clinton asked was why we weren't seeing more collaborations like this across the country. The teachers readily admitted that "sometimes public school teachers can perceive charter schools as a threat" when it comes to resources and personnel. How sad is this? I wonder if this perception isn't promoted by "upper management" within the school districts.

But you quickly learn that this group of teachers have a different outlook. I was so happy to hear one of the other public school teachers say "We all share the same goal. It's student achievement."

And isn't that just what it all boils down to in a nutshell?

When asked why the program is successful, a charter school teacher responds that "We just keep it dynamic. We make decisions right there on the spot about how to meet the needs of every single student in the class." What a profound statement. This is something I do every day at home with my kids. Isn't it a shame that teachers across America aren't allowed the freedom to make these decisions with their own classrooms? 

There are so many lessons to be learned from this segment. I think it is an inspiring story during this time when there are so many negative feelings associated with our current education crisis. So I want to share it with you here...

I really wish that instead of so much fighting and distrust, our education systems would find a way to work together for the sake of our children. Enough with the jealousy, the bickering, and the OVERLY competitive outlooks.

I would love to hear from some of the teachers reading this blog. What are your thoughts about this issue?

Con mucho cariño...


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