Thursday, August 18, 2005

Schools Experiment

The Indianapolis Public Schools are undertaking a sweeping change- taking their five high schools and making 20+ high schools out of them. The theory is that smaller is better, that it means more attention for students, more of a community feel, and less falling through the cracks. Indy Star story.
IPS is carving its five high schools into 24 small academies in a sweeping bid to boost test scores and improve abysmal graduation rates.

The wholesale overhaul is the largest of its kind in the nation and one that state officials will watch closely as they consider similar changes for the rest of Indiana's high schools.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is putting up several million dollars to help fund the project. If you've ever cursed Microsoft and the wealth of Bill Gates, this is what you have cursed, by the way.

On the surface, I think it's a wonderful development. However, I am only cautiously optimistic for results in areas like graduation rates and test scores. Reason? Teachers can give students all the attention in the world, but the real issue is always parents.

If the parents do not hold the child accountable for producing good grades or completing to graduation in a big school setting, the only thing that changes here is the school setting. At the end of the day, the parents aren't changing their accountability standards.

Too many parents take the attitude that educating children is solely an educator's job, and in no way a parental responsibility. Homework isn't going to be done by children who have the distractions of the television, friends, video games, etc., if the parents fail to see to it that it gets done.

Then there's the community. If the community attitude is that brainy = geek, and D+ = cool, then no amount of time in a classroom of 12 students is going to matter. Moreover, no amount of Bill Gates' money will matter, if the parents and the community are lazy or worse.

Sadly, what I've seen of IPS students and community is laziness and worse.

When my son Alex was at IPS, he had a wonderful teacher. She had a cell phone and wasn't afraid to use it. She called me directly any time Alex was out of line. It was great, because I knew exactly what was going on, and what needed to be corrected.

I sat in her class one day, to get a feel for things. It was appalling. The teacher spent most of the time trying to gain order. At the break, I asked her why she wasn't on the phone with the parents of those couple of children who were causing disruptions. She said that she had given up on those, because their parents were unresponsive or worse. Those parents would either throw the call back in her face ("You're the teacher, so it's your job to get him to shut up.), or were resentful of her punishments ("How dare you single out my little angel!").

Where discipline is not a tool in the teacher's workbench, and where parents refuse to impose discipline, there will only be chaos.

My concern is that it will now be spread over 20+ schools instead of just 5. But hey- it's Bill Gates' money and an attempt at improvement, so let's see how it goes. I swore I would never send my son back to IPS schools, and we moved out of Indianapolis for Fishers, where the parents insist on achievement. I still think that latter will always carry the day.

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