Friday, December 28, 2007

Time in seat

does not equal an education. I've been saying that for years. It's mastery of skills or subject matter that ought to be the benchmark. Let's create a high school test that measures those and as soon as you've passed that test---you're outta here and on with the rest of your life. (Don't tell me they're too young to be out of school at this point if you believe they're old enough to make decisions about intimate relations or medical care without parental permission.)

I was very happy to read Martin Kennedy's opinion piece in today's Tennessean, particularly this line:

Graduating should not be a function of time spent in a desk but of demonstrating a level of competency. Tennessean 2007-12-28
And then again in his blog entry today:
Focusing on goals will move us toward adopting goal-time and away from a clock-time orientation. What should we care how much time a student spends in a desk in a particular building? Let motivated students accelerate the process. Let other students work on their degree at a slower rate.
Exactly. This is something the homeschooling community has always focused on. It's our focus here in our home. So much so that I have a hard time remembering what grades my children are in. From the beginning we've focused on the skills and subject matter not on the when of achieving them.

I taught the children from the beginning that we all learn at different speeds and in different ways and that was OK. Our current public school system doesn't make that truth a priority. The biggest problem with that is the shame that is created when you don't learn a skill on some 'normal' timetable. I can't imagine the number of students that have been labeled 'learning disabled' for life when it really was a temporary situation that maturation on the child's part and patience on the adult's part would have solved.

And to answer Martin's question...people care about the time in the desk because that's a more reliable way to run the system. We know how many jobs we'll need. How many lunches, how many buses. The other way doesn't ensure anyone's job or supply contract.

Martin's blog post is also right about two other things. The State of Tennessee and MNPS need to completely embrace online education and athletics (and I'll throw in extra-curricular activities generally) shouldn't be school based. Tennessee is far behind many states in both of these areas. In a world where online conferencing for corporations is becoming commonplace---why shouldn't online learning also be encouraged? And if we really want our students to embrace a lifestyle of healthy activity in sports and the arts, why shouldn't students be participants in community activities that will allow continued participation throughout their lives no matter which neighborhood they live in?


Buckley said...

I agree generally about "time in seat," but disagree that mastery of goals is sufficiently measured by testing- especially a single test. A well-rounded education involves more than rote learning, a good deal of it involves developing "products." Don't get me wrong- I think tests should remain, but should not be the only measurement. Students should be developing portfolios and resumes of activities. The tests we currently have don't measure so many things...many critical thinking skills, creativity, tech savviness, speaking ability, ability to work with others in a group, ability to do research and turn it into a piece of expository or analytical writing, ability to argue and/or persuade, etc.

Also, does this "not on clock time" reform work the other way, too? That is, if it takes someone more than 13 years, is that acceptable too, should we remove the stigma of not finishing in the designated amount of time (and reducing pressures to socially promote) or does the cost of that make it unacceptable?

Kay Brooks said...

Well the first response, which was brilliant to be sure, has been lost to cyberspace.

I suggest the clock would run at the age of majority--18 currently.

Can you define 'products'?

It's the 'well-rounded' education part that is so slippery and people begin to disagree about. So much of that is subjective and I don't want to disallow graduation because they never got the hang of the tuba, swimming laps (my usual GPA drag), or the finer points of Impressionism.

Buckley said...

By products, I mean things that are produced. I mean it quite broadly. Bibliographies, research papers, presentations, power-point programs, other computer programs, videos- like the “drop out” and homeschooling videos (where I didn’t see one bubble sheet) you’ve covered, translations, critical reviews, blog entries, press releases, press releases, debates, models, spelling bees…

At one of my previous high schools, one of the best exercises the science department did was have students create mechanical devices such as catapults to throw, in view of the school population, a pumpkin down the football field. They spent weeks preparing them, and in the process learned a lot about engineering and mechanics. They would not be able to show these skills on a test; they would not have had the same experience preparing for a test on catapults.

If all we are charged with is preparing students for a test, many students will not find value in their education. In high school, we offer credits towards a degree. Many of those credits are earned by doing things, not merely memorizing facts. To earn credit in these classes, students must produce things…researched and carefully thought-out papers, they must do labs in science, prepare displays relating to a history subject, prepare presentations on supreme court cases, do research and write about health issues, and yes a variety of artistic endeavors that students can choose from including visual arts, performing arts, musical performance. Do they have to do these things for the rest of their lives, no, but their brains are a stronger, more versatile muscle because they have tried different things. Many, many students will become better learners and greater achievers because they tried a variety of activities. Yes, for some it will be athletic activities, some prefer art, some music, some dissecting animals. Some even like writing computer games. They become better at it by doing it not simply by answering questions about it.

Now, I’d argue that our program of credit courses could use a serious overhaul, but to say the entire program could be bypassed because someone shows they have the rote knowledge of high school reading and math down is not to say that they have received an equivalent experience to one who earns a high school diploma. Not at the high schools- both comprehensive and magnet- that I’ve taught at. A diploma means they’ve achieved much more than a score on a test.