A few weeks ago, as I was entering a high school where I sometimes work, two young men were standing on the front steps. I smiled and greeted them. They kind of "grunted" back some sort of response (as most adolescent boys would). Then, I said (cheerily), "It might snow today." The one boy looked at me and replied, "F*** the snow." Hmmmm. Wow! Two days later, I entered another high school, not far from the first one. As I walked into the office, I smiled and greeted the students who were sitting there. They grunted back at me, too. Then, one of them asked me, "Ma'am, do you happen to know the names of the original Charlie's Angels?" As they sat there, we had a conversation with the school secretary as well as others who entered the office in order to figure out the answer to this question.
I wonder...when Dr. Marzano, Dr. Reeves, Gay Su Pinell, JoEllen Killion, and other researchers wrote their books, did they have these students and their schools in mind? Really... it's not a criticism, it's just a question I've always had. So, let's talk about these schools.
The first school I described happens to be an alternative school; most of the students in this school are struggling to stay clean and sober, and stay out of jail (although most are on house arrest). Every day, they are greeted by a police officer who searches their clothes and makes them walk through a metal detector in order to go to school. Some of the students want to go to college, however, most don't see themselves growing old. The class sizes are small, instructional time is fluid, and one does not choose to correct a student's speech when s/he drops the "f-bomb" because that is just not the battle you want to fight. The population in this school consists of students whose race is black and/or hispanic and come from homes described as low socioeconomic status.
The second school is literally fifteen minutes away from the first school I described. The population is similar, yet, these students discuss college, careers, and their imagined future. There is no metal detector and students are concerned about with whom they will go to the prom. In both settings, there are students who are scoring in all ranges on our state assessment. In fact, their assessment data looks very similar. My guess is, when the authors/researchers I mentioned above wrote their books, they were picturing school settings like the second school I described.
When I served the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a Distinguished Educator, our mantra regarding students, learning, and opportunity was, "All means all." When I reflect on that phrase, I realize that it is next to impossible to meet all the needs of all the learners because, our schools are made using the premise that "One size fits all." I realize that there are exceptions out there, but even those schools run in a similar manner with about a 6-7 hour school day, a measured amount of time spent in each class, and a lock step set of grade level requirements that students must meet in order to graduate.
But, what happens when that type of system doesn't "fit" every student? The students in the alternative setting didn't "fit" into that model, and yet, now they are in the alternative school, which happens to run in a similar manner to what didn't work for them in the first place!
What would happen if we manipulated the environment to fit the needs of the student, instead of the other way around? Would we have students who weren't so angry in the morning that when they greet a stranger they use the f-word? Would "all" student then be able to meet the Common Core Standards with proficiency? What are your thoughts? Do YOU have an answer? I'd love to hear about it!
Dr. Frances A. Miller,