Well, life has been a whirlwind in the last two weeks and has taken me to both New York City and Banff, AB in that time. High time for some more musing…
The trip to New York City came about as a requirement for the Arts Education program I am currently enrolled. The purpose of the trip was to visit schools in New York that have implemented Arts Education curricula into their schools and to observe how the Arts are used to convey material in a more meaningful way. The school I visited was The Clinton School for Writers and Artists – a school that places writing at the core of its curriculum to give students the opportunity to write in a variety of styles. For example, rather than working out math problems solely for the numerical interaction, the students incorporated writing by investigating the mathematics of something that interested them. One student chose high heeled shoes for a mathematical study. She wrote about why she liked high shoes aesthetically and then worked out the lengths, widths, angles and proportions of a certain shoe. The teachers at Clinton decided to do this because they noticed when students were faced with mathematical word problems they struggled far more than with numerical problems. Another student chose the Chrysler Building in Manhattan for a study of what the building’s proportions are. Teachers at Clinton were finding that the students enjoyed this approach and were beginning to get better at integrating language and numbers.
Other students in my program visited other schools and, by and large, took something inspiring away from our visit to New York. However, despite the incredibly interesting work being done at certain schools in New York, educational reform in the state has been in place for sometime and has been systematically removing student centred learning from the classroom. More and more, teachers are forced to succumb to the tyranny of standardized testing and students are unfortunately taught little more than what will appear on the test. Having spoken to a few teachers in New York about the reforms being made, it became clear that inquiry based leaning and teaching students how to become life long learners is not a priority of the current municipal administration. In fact, the Bloomberg administration has increased the number of standardized tests in schools and has moved to a system in which student and teacher performances are made publicly available. Schools are issued letter grades from A through to D, and schools achieving D’s are given a maximum of 8 years to improve before the school faces closure.
New York City Mayor and tenth richest person in the United States, Michael Bloomberg.
However, the personnel installed in underachieving schools are not experienced or well equipped enough to make the necessary changes. Band aid solutions are all that have been offered and eventually schools have been forced to close their doors. However, these schools don’t stay closed, they reopen a year or two later as charter schools. Charter schools are largely publicly funded, however, the teachers employed at these schools are evaluated based on their students’ performances and paid accordingly. The teachers in these schools work in pressurized, competitive environments where self preservation is the only priority. These teachers belong to no union or federation and have few labour rights. Essentially, the Bloomberg administration has implemented a school closure policy that in the next ten years will see the rise of many more charter schools – more students writing more tests, and more teachers with fewer rights and smaller pay checks.
There have been rumblings from Alberta about following a similar path in terms of reform. In my opinion, these United States reforms amount to students becoming increasingly alienated from their schools and teachers becoming less valued. Let’s continue to value both our students and teachers in Canada.
Thanks for reading.