Originally posted to Wayland eNews Discussion Forum
A thread on the private Town Crier/Wicked Local discussion board includes considerable back-and-forth on data showing US students trailing their international counterparts on certain standardized tests. One contributor to that thread makes the wholly unsupported claim that Wayland, being part of the US, is therefore in a similar trailing position. That’s entirely possible, but I know of no data indicating such a gap.
Let’s imagine, thought, that a Wayland Public Schools (WPS) education isn’t the best in the world, the country, or even Massachusetts. Because that’s what we should imagine as the motivation for continuous improvement. Twice on the TC/WL thread, I asked the critic for something more than criticism: what might the WPS look like to truly compete? Twice getting no answer, it occurred to me to take a stab at the question myself.
I included “evolution” rather than “revolution” in the title of this thread because the data (test scores, athletic results, art performance, college acceptances, …) reveal a system that is at least strong, and that doesn’t need to be “blown up” and started anew.
I would start with what we have–excellent teachers, solid curriculum, adequate facilities, all aimed at our delivering on our mission statement–and then evolve consistent with the best thinking of our superintendent, our administrators, our teachers, and experts beyond our borders:
- More professional development: As our Superintendent says, this is our research and development. Teachers get better when they learn, and their learning in the classroom will be slow without training in the classroom and outside the current school day.
- Longer school day: I would start with Kindergarten, moving from a 2/3 to a full day. Then, I would consider extending the full day by an hour or two. This is more an issue at the elementary level, as our co-curricular program (more on that below) already provides a longer day.
- Technology infusion: Educational productivity in terms of student:teacher ratio hasn’t really changed in a century–we still have one educator in a class of 25 or so children. One promise of technology is a shake-up of this ratio. Instructional software and distance learning don’t have to come at the expense of the teaching staff, whose count would reduce through attrition. In fact, such a shift would benefit the teacher, freeing him or her up to spend more time in smaller groups providing truly differentiated instruction.
- Differentiated instruction (1): As commonly used, differentiated instruction connotes different or extra work for struggling students. A broader use of the term, though, means having each student at their “zone of proximal development” (where work is challenging, not frustrating or boring). This applies to all students across the spectrum of ability, not just those who struggle.
- Differentiated instruction (2): While this isn’t the traditional use of the phrase “differentiated instruction, I’d like to explore having one teacher for reading/social studies and a second for math/science at the elementary level. This would allow for teachers with more focused education and experience coming in and professional development going forward.
- Curriculum enhancement: In recent years, we’ve made great strides in the key foundational skills of early reading and math. All curriculum is reviewed and improved on a revolving schedule. Two areas that are obvious candidates for expansion/overhaul are foreign language and health/wellness. Both should be considered district-wide, including a look at foreign language at the elementary level (sometimes called FLES). Regarding health/wellness, the research is clear on the positive academic effect of nutrition, fitness, proper sleep (perhaps enhanced through later start times for older students), and avoiding destructive habits.
- Co-curricular program: Currently, because of our athletics fee structure, we spend on the order of $50 on academics for every $1 we pay for our athletic program. I’d like to see that ratio drop to $30:$1 (by eliminating the fees) or even $25:$1 or so (by publicly-funding crew and hockey). Athletics should be on par with our rich arts program, and they aren’t. Athletics are an important part of an education, not only for reasons of fitness, but for their contribution to the “competitive skills” listed at the end of this entry.
- Adequate facilities: As great as it would be to house a world class education in world class facilities, that has not been–and likely will not be–our approach. With ongoing significant (roofs, windows) and minor (flooring) work, our elementary schools are adequate. Our Middle School, recently renovated, is a bit better than adequate. The deficiencies of our High School physical plant are well-documented; through the outstanding work of the High School Building Committee, we hope that these deficiencies will shortly be the subject of some redress. Across our buildings, we need to be “thinking green” by implementing energy efficient features.
My list above builds on our current offering, it does not replace it. Commensurately, my list above requires funding on top of what we currently spend. I fully appreciate the precarious position of our current finances and the considerable challenges we face in increasing the amount. Nonetheless, I think it important to paint a picture of what a reasonable–not excessive–public education might look like.
I offer all of the above in the context of the current structure of public education. I do so not because this structure is perfect, but rather, because it is what we have. I’m all for working to improve public education by changing its structure, but doing so requires effort far beyond our control here within the borders of Wayland.
Earlier, I referenced our mission statement. My shorthand for our goal: helping young people become global citizens. A recent survey of 400 national companies found the following qualities to be most important to competitive success on the global stage:
- Professionalism and work ethic
- Written/spoken communication
- Critical thinking/creativity/problem solving
All are consistent with our mission statement, and all should be at the forefront of our thinking as we continue to evolve the Wayland Public Schools.
There are probably some areas that I’ve inadvertently neglected. I look forward to reading people’s comments on my thoughts as well as the addition of their own.