Monday, February 15, 2010

Is multi-age inquiry-based education too hard on teachers?

Carolina School for Inquiry made AYP this year, its fourth year of existence.  WOO-HOO!!!

Many new schools aren't judged for AYP (adequate yearly progress) until their fourth year because it takes at least that long for the effects of the new school to overcome the old schools.  In the case of CSI, a charter school, Richland School District One chose to be cautious and use AYP to keep track even in the first three years.

Not only did CSI make AYP, it is leading the district in many areas of testing on the statewide PASS test. 

This is important not only to CSI parents, teachers, and students, but to all advocates of excellent public education for all people.

This is what we heard from detractors, mostly in Columbia, but even from some blogger in Alaska:
  • Inquiry is for white, middle-class children.  Other children don't learn because they aren't (fill-in-the-blank) culturally/genetically/mentally able to learn through inquiry.  They need tables, worksheets, and yelling teachers.  (How's that tably/worksheety/yelly thing workin' for ya?)
  • Inquiry lets children do whatever they want and so they won't learn basic skills or achieve the standards or learn the essential boring stuff.
  • Teachers aren't willing to work hard enough to properly implement inquiry.
This is what we see:

Carolina School for Inquiry has a diverse population of students.  It reflects the urban/rural, social, cultural, and ethnic makeup of Richland School District One. 

As a charter school, every child has a parent who decided to give multi-age, inquiry-based education a try, although not every parent is able to be in the school as often as they'd like (including me.)  Parents do make a difference in their child's education, but we can't blame the parent and move on.  As Victoria Dixon-Mokeba says, each child brings the best parents they have and if that's not such a great parent, that child still needs to learn.

Carolina School for Inquiry has some excellent, committed, professional teachers.  These teachers work longer and harder than many of their counterparts in traditional public or private schools.  They attend professional development courses to improve their knowledge and skills in both subject matter and in inquiry, multi-age, and differentiated education theory and practice.  They grade not with simple formulas and ABCs, but with a combination of kidwatching and written and oral evaluation. 

My son's report cards are always at least four pages long, and in them I can see that his teachers really know him as a learner.  We have been lucky to have teachers committed to multi-age inquiry since he began here in third grade.  I understand that not all teachers at the school have been willing to put this kind of time into the narrative report cards, and I feel sorry that their parents and students haven't experienced a well-honed narrative report card. 

In order for Inquiry to be done right, the teachers have to be committed.  They need to understand differentiated education and know how to implement it.  They need to have a carefully crafted plan.  Although Inquiry teachers are flexible, they can't fly by the seat of their pants.  Each child needs to have what is in effect an IEP, an individual education plan.  The teachers can't use pre-fab lesson plans, even if they have "worked" in traditional classrooms for 25 years.  At CSI, there are no children left behind.  The teachers can't say, "I've done all I can with that one, he's a lost cause."  Each child must learn to be the best learner he or she can be.  No excuses.  No "try" only "do."

A couple of teachers are complaining that multi-age, inquiry based education is too hard.  They can't say it doesn't work.  They don't say the kids don't learn.  They say that it is too hard.  They focus on multi-age, saying the class levels are too broad, but as we have said, if inquiry is done right, the developmental levels are not so important as in a traditional classroom.  We don't need "bluebirds" and "crows."

And as I've said, my son's teachers have all been committed to the best student learning, so I don't really understand what the other teachers' problems are.  But I do know that Carolina School for Inquiry is a school of choice and if it doesn't fit the need of a teacher, they should find a more traditional, easier school at which to teach.

There are thousands and thousands of committed, energetic, professional, child-loving teachers out there.  CSI only needs seven of them.

Congratulations to Victoria Dixon-Mokeba and the fine staff and faculty, to all of the students, and to all of the families and friends of CSI.  We are a success and now almost everyone knows it.

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