When I saw this item in the paper this morning, I thought it was a joke. A tongue in cheek commentary on education innovation. And then I had another sip of my coffee and realized this is no joke...some (Pardon me.) ass clown (He may be a lovely person, but c'mon!!!) thought it was a great idea to stick 60 small children in one classroom with four teachers.
I mean, WHAT?! Not only does the idea of 60 first graders running rampant in a 2,000 square foot classroom make me want to poke myself in the eye, it kind of makes me angry. Because OF COURSE this "little experiment" is taking place in a low-income neighborhood with a high population of children with physical, emotional and learning issues. OF COURSE IT IS. You know, because those are totally the kids who have a year or two to spare in their learning.
I think this little friend, who was quoted in the article, summed it up best when she said, "We don't know what we are supposed to be doing, but we are learning about math." Girlfriend doesn't know what to do because her poor teacher is running around like a chicken with it's head cut off just trying to keep order, much less do any actual instructing. Do you just want to run to this school, scoop this child up and teach her how to tell time?? (And maybe hand the teacher a big old drink?)
What is the logic behind this insanity?
Evidently, Mr. Waronker (I'm envisioning suit guy with a power tie...maybe a clip board...) says his "inspiration" (How can I NOT put it in air quotes?) was an elite boarding high school in New Hampshire where students work collaboratively in small classes.
Um, how did we get from an elite group of high school students working in small groups to a whole shitload of primary grade children in a high poverty neighborhood running around all Lord of the Flies style?
I imagine this is how the conversation went:
Mr W: I'm feeling innovative today. This tie really brings out my innovative side.
Some other guy: What are you thinking?
Mr. W.: Well, I'm thinking why listen to all the research on small class size? Why consider the effectiveness of small group instruction that is differentiated to meet a student's needs? Why worry about the sanity or potential efficacy of teachers?
Some other guy: I'm listening....
Mr. W: Okay, okay, I'm just spit balling here, but if small collaborative groups work in elite private high schools, then why wouldn't it work if we put like 100 kindergarten children from a high poverty neighborhood in one room with four teachers?
Some other guy: Make it 60 kids and I think you've got yourself an innovation!
Notice a teacher was not present in my imaginary conversation.
Mr. Waronker believes that this style of education values "student independence over teacher-led lessons, inquiry over memorization, freedom and self-expression." But really, who knows if they are expressing themselves? Who knows if they are active inquirers? Who knows if some of them are in the bathroom? HOW ARE TEACHERS SUPPOSED TO KEEP TRACK OF ANYTHING?!
And I know there are four teachers which yields a ratio of 15:1 which is smaller than almost every city classroom but (and it's a big BUT) I'm not sure this is even a valid argument when they are ALL IN THE SAME ROOM.
Another facet of this innovation, according to Mr. Waronker, is the idea is that teachers and students will collaborate. He feels that having teachers' struggles out in the open allows their colleagues in the same room to offer advice. (Pssssstttt....we do that anyway, even when we're NOT in the same room with a ba-jillion little people milling about.) And really? Does he really think that the other teachers have a spare second to take their eyes off the chaos that is happening in front of them? From the 60 5-year olds trying to quickly and quietly transition to another part of their gigantic classroom turned circus. If they can hear one another over all the screaming and penny shaking that is.
Get this little gem from the article. "Eight weeks into the year, the only student work visible on the blue-painted walls was a poster with finger-painted hand prints and the words "Hands Are Not for Hitting." Ah, yes, feel the learning, people. Feel the joy and celebration of student success. Feel the sarcasm, dripping from these words.
The reporter says that there have been some improvements since September. For example, one student chose to play with pencils rather than do his work but at least this time he was in his seat. Are we thinking hooray for small victories or holy shit, it's January and this is what we're calling progress????
I want to hug those teachers. And those kids. And then I want to build them some walls.