Thursday, April 22, 2010

A pox on edubabble

Though my own reporting this week locally, I had the opportunity to witness two different ways of tackling the difficult explanation of school-closure reviews and the various steps-- consideration, rationale, decision and outcome.
I won't name the specific boards, but two boards and two separate processes. One review just underway and one where trustees approved a whack of capital spending at the conclusion of a set of reviews.
For the first, I was smacking my forehead, listening to a superintendent try and explain why classes (split classes at that) of 10, or 12, or even seven students wasn't pedagogically as sound as larger groupings of students and staff. Out came the edubabble.
There was no initial attempt to put it in terms people can understand. I don't mean dumbing it down, because that's patronizing. I mean breaking it into plain-English chunks and also speaking to outcomes, not processes. The person in question saved herself later in the evening on a subsequent question when she told the grumbling crowd she didn't mean to suggest that small schools, small classes or rural produced students less capable of success.
She stated, more plainly, that it's clear the two most important parts of student success are the classroom teacher, supported by principal leadership-- regardless of class or school size. People understood that one.
Contrast that with example number two.
Two superintendents speaking to a combined five school construction/addition/reno projects worth $30 million that are a conclusion to two school-closure reviews. Very little edubabble.
Great anecdotes in plain English about how the kids at the school without a gym will no longer have to walk across a muddy field in sub-zero temperatures to use a nearby recreational facility that has a gym. Of how teachers will be able to team-teach in the same grade level and do joint lesson planning , evaluation and class exercises. Of how peer groups in the single-digit range will benefit from a wider circle of kids to socialize with.
Or the other superintendent who spoke of renos to the elementary general arts room to soundproof it so that the entire building doesn't have to experience the joys of intermediate grades picking up instruments for the first time.
Earlier in the review, the best thing done by the board was a tour of a new school with the same approximate proposed student size so parents on the review could see the difference. The other was a one-page sheet outlining the differences in program between a 400 student school and a 180 student school.
Improvements made possible because of school-closure processes, which the director of education tied in a neat little bow at the end-- explaining the reviews are very tough on those who participate but that, guided by a goal of improving the conditions under which children are learning, there's a nice payoff at the end.
I say banish edubabble.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps 'she' doesn't have the 15 million to dangle ER.

It's one thing if a school is crumbling and needs to be rebuilt - it's entirely another if the goal is to consolidate in order to attain that magic '400' for funding purposes within a poorly funded system. Is there really greater opportunity for students in larger populations? Did this one page sheet comparing large and small point out the fact that, in a larger population, the student has a greater opportunity to miss out or opt out of activities? There is still just one gym, one student government, one senior sports team, one spring musical...
Did the sheet mention the fact that in a school of 180, there is a greater chance of being know by every teacher, student and parent in the school? Talk about accountability, community and opportunities for building self confidence and character! I choose the smaller population.

Anonymous said...

ER - in my reporting and writing on ed. issues capacity I've long noticed the difference in presentations and yes, language between school boards and school systems.

Have also noticed the very different approaches different boards and systems have with media releases and the message they want to convey to the public.

Saw it to some extent with how the Catholic system was framing the early announcements around the ELP and again re: the "new" sex education curriculum this week.

Very different from how the public boards!

I've also found it noticeable when there happens to be two stories side-by-side on the same page but by two different boards. Very interesting!


Education Reporter said...

Anon 22 April 7:41
The one-sheeter was produced by an administration that preferred consolidation, so it didn't spend a lot of time extolling the nature of smaller. Plus, smaller is what every parent on the committee had experience with-- no need to preach to the choir.

I'll note however, that while larger allows opportunity to not participate, it also allows more opportunity, period. With a larger staff and community base, there are more adult bodies around to run different extracurriculars. So maybe every kid on the school won't make it onto the intermediate boys volleyball team, but there's an intramural lunch time program, or a chess club, or some other thing that kid can participate in.

When you only have six full-time staff members supported by a smaller community, no matter how dedicated (and I've yet to meet ones who aren't 110% dedicated), there are things that just aren't done because there isn't someone to do them.

Not to mention, if they're following collective agreements they're even further hampered. Every supervision-time dispute in the last contract that I was aware of was at the smallest schools where the teachers would run through their supervision time by Tuesday and still have three days left in the week where the students needed supervision during recess and lunch hours.

These are the things that don't get mentioned, that don't get clearly explained because superintendents (or principals, or even teachers) start speaking edubabble.

On being known by everyone-- I don't dispute its benefits. What matters most however, in any learning environment, is for that child to make a connection with at least one caring adult. Having a class of six students in one grade (who will always be in split-grade classrooms) is fantastic-- until one of the students stops getting along with the other five. Then, it becomes a nightmare because there are no options within the building to insert some space and breathing room into the group.

Students attend large schools where these adult-child connections are made and they're held just as accountable and given just as many opportunities to develop the other characteristics you refer to. Anecdotally, a teacher at a large elementary school (500 kids) whose own kids through geography attended a smaller-population school stood up at a public meeting once and said that yes, while her school was the largest in the county, they never lost a child...


Anonymous said...

If the goal is consolidation, it's going to be a hard sell, no matter the strategy, unless the students involved are dealing with schools in complete disrepair and the board is able to offer many millions in substantial improvements.

In terms of the one-sheeter consolidation tool, 180 vs. 400... There's no question - student accountability exists in large schools. In a school of 180 though, where everyone knows one another, it happens easily and quickly. Older students look out for the younger ones. Friendships are made across grade levels. While large schools may offer more variety, clubs exist and intramurals take place in schools of 180, with students of various ages taking on leadership roles.

I'm not sure I understand the classroom nightmare scenario you mention ER. There will always be disputes in life. Here's where problems are dealt with on the spot - students learn about compromise and tolerance. (There are split grades in large schools also.) I'm wondering what comparisons state about the incidence of bullying and the need for surveillence in schools of 180 vs. 400+ ?

As for caring adults - of course they can be found in schools large and small. But, in the school of 180 I know, parental involvement is very high. There is a subtle pressure you feel in knowing everyone who's counting on you, that gives you the nudge to step up. Everyone's busy, but if someone's got to do it, it had better be you!

I could go on and on with my anecdotal defense of neighbourhood schools in the 180 population range - it's based on observations and experiences with both large and small populations, that I and many others share. You might think that schools of 180 just don't know what they're missing. At the elementary school level, I think it may be quite the opposite.

I am wondering, is the 'one-sheeter' used by administration based on a vast body of scientific research?