Thursday, September 22, 2011

High Achievers Deserve Better

I got into teaching to do my part in making sure that all students have a great educational experience that can lead them to successful outcomes in life.  I've found, though, that I spend far more time figuring out how to make a difference for the huge numbers of students who are behind and failing than I do trying to challenge those students who are at grade level or above. 

And I don't think it's fair.  Of course, it's not fair to anyone to attend a low-performing school.  But, I don't want to forget about the students who, if they attended another school, would be placed in advanced classes; would participate in academic clubs or activities like robotics, debate, creative writing club, etc.  Not simply earning A's in all of their regular-level classes and still learning less than they could.  OK... great teachers might work hard to challenge their highest-level students with interesting and rigorous material, but I can't imagine that it will ever be as effective as attending a school where staff aren't so focused on all of the problems that they have time to consider how to raise the bar for even the highest performing students.

I'm writing all this in response to the Albuquerque Public School's negative response to starting an IB program at a district high school.  I think there are a number of students in APS who could really thrive in an IB curriculum but who cannot afford the tuition at some of the cities elite, private schools (that don't provide IB but that do have very high academic expectations).  I am a proponent of an IB program and hope the school board changes its mind on this issue.

Here's the article:

ABQ/ EDITORIAL: At APS, Mediocrity For All Trumps Innovation
By ABQ Journal 
September 21, 2011

One would think that in these challenging education times, attributes like innovation and creativity — especially when based on experience — would be rewarded.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, one would be wrong. Best to keep striving for equitable mediocrity.

At least that was the message from the APS Board of Education, which was overwhelmingly negative toward a proposal from Sandia High School principal Katy Harvey to start a challenging college preparatory program known as International Baccalaureate.

One might think that Superintendent Winston Brooks, who touts his experience on a national level with the Council of the Great City Schools, would have been on hand to champion an exercise in excellence, but he was a no-show. Instead, he was at a conference in Portland, Ore.

Rather than applaud the initiative it takes to raise the bar in a district where students have just better than a 60 percent shot at graduating, board members questioned the cost (a modest $40K to start and $10K a year in a district budget that tops $600 million), complained about fairness to other schools (which have the same opportunity to propose IB or any other program), and lack of bus service (which can be negotiated and/or supplemented by carpools rather than used to drive academic excellence into a ditch).

An IB program is a demanding one accepted by universities worldwide. It has a rigorous curriculum, mandatory community service and a 4,000-word senior essay.

The Sandia program would operate as a magnet and be open to students districtwide who are able to pass an entrance exam. Experience running such an exacting academic program — which Harvey has — and buying into it are essential for its success.

So the board proposal to put it out to bid among all APS schools seems custom-designed for failure.

Board member David Robbins was the lone voice of reason last week, pointing out that nobody on the board complained when Atrisco Heritage in the South Valley got a courtroom, a feature no other high school has, and that each school has or can add unique programs.

“I don’t think we need to say ‘no’ to any new program if we can’t make it available to everyone, because then … we’re really relegating ourselves to mediocrity in the district,” Robbins said.

New Mexico’s robust charter school movement has shown that parents and students are eager for a variety of educational opportunities, that one size truly does not fit all. IB is already available at one Albuquerque charter and some private schools, but not at any traditional public school in New Mexico.

APS has been handed the opportunity to expand its offerings to students while at the same time raising the bar, not only for its students but for its other schools.

It should seize it.

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