Our schools are failing our kids, but not for the reasons you might think. We're not teaching them what they need to know to prepare them for the future that's in front of them instead of a future based on models from the past version of a future.
Yeah, our kids need to know how to add, subtract, divide and do fractions. They also need to be able to write sentences with the appropriate subject-verb agreement and proper punctuation, but you know what else they need? Well, that depends on the kid, but by and large, our kids need our schools to change.
I know there's some issue with whether or not Jamie Vollmer's visit was really necessary to deliver the message. Let's talk about what he told us that has really resonated: our public school model is antiquated and in serious need of an overhaul; and it takes an entire community to change schools for the good of the students.
As described by Vollmer, our public education system was designed in 1781 by Thomas Jefferson to "cull the genus from the gatherers." Not very PC, but you get the point. We needed more workers than thinkers and our education models were implemented to fill that need. Well, that isn't the case any more, but we're still doing things based on Jefferson's 231-year-old idea.
We've gone from the industrial age to the technological age in what feels like the blink of an eye. For the Racine Unified community, we need to get it stuck in our heads that manufacturing is not the same game as 25 or 30 years ago. Instead, manufacturing is high-tech and requires education and training. Prospective employees who lack these mean positions go vacant while our unemployment rate remains sky-high.
On the surface, it appears that State Sen. Van Wanggaard's Technical Education high school diploma is a positive step in the right direction. I say "surface" because I've not read the entire bill and don't know how it could work for Unified. I do think it deserves exploration and it looks like Unified seems fairly well situated to implement such a curriculum.
The statistics are sobering:
- 59.1 percent of Wisconsin high school graduates in 2008 went directly to college; and
- Nationally, only 55 percent of college students graduate and take six years to do it.
- In the Racine Unified district, a full 47 percent of adults over the age of 25 have no post-secondary education.
- Only 13 percent of the jobs in America require little or no skill. In five years, that number goes down to 6 or 7 percent.
So what should we do? First, I agree that if parents - or members of the Unified staff ranks - have been trying to offer solutions and suggestions that have gone unheeded, then shame on whomever brushed them off. That is not how a community gels to improve the lives of their students. But now that Vollmer has visited and there are residents (teachers, parents, administrators) who want to work together and with the business community, we need to start having conversations about what we want changed and how to go about it.
Even as we identify challenges, we have to stay steady on solutions. If you can't bring a solution for an issue to the table, then we don't need you at the table with us. I know that's blunt, but there it is. The time for negativty is past, and we need to focus squarely on the changes we need to make to help our kids succeed, whatever success looks like for the individual child.
This change means trying stuff that is going to make people shake their heads. For example, over on the original Jamie Vollmer story, Patch readers offered a bunch of ideas that deserve more exploration and discussion:
- Change the way schools are funded so where the kid goes, so, too, does the money. This allows parents to make better informed choices and promotes more competition between schools to up their programs. It also gives parents the ability to place special needs or disabled children in the environments that work best for those students. (kath)
- Follow the Montessori model where kids are the center of the focus, but are allowed to learn at their own pace in structured classrooms. (Alida)
- Use concrete examples from educators and districts (Jaime Escalante in California; Joe Clark in New Jersey; and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.) facing similar socio-economic factors and how they turned things around by getting folks to change their minds. (James R. Hoffa)
- Matching learning styles to teaching styles to not just improve the relationship between teachers, parents and students, but to really help children grasp concepts more organically. (Sandy)
- Incorporating materials provided to parents for homeschooling that help kids learn at their own pace, in the style that works for them. (Sandy)
And while we're talking about changes big and small, let's remember that our community is full of talented people - resources - that go beyond money. There are kids in our district who could use some of our time and talents to help encourage them, support them and move them along a bit. We can't mandate good parenting, but we can still show up for these kids at the same time we show up for our own.
These are great beginnings! Let's keep building on them because our entire community's future depends on us working on change together.