Fuse #8

Friday, October 20, 2006

Generation Schools Gap

I received this e-mail from a co-worker of mine. Check it out:

On the They Might Be Giants e-newsletter, they talked about playing a few shows to benefit an organization called Generation Schools . Never heard of it? Me neither, so here's a description the band included in their newsletter:
"Generation Schools is a nonprofit organization piloting a new urban public school model where skilled teachers teach a handful of students, not a roomful -- without increasing costs. The schools will offer unparalleled opportunities for students and comprehensive residencies for new urban teachers. The "break-the-mold" concept was honored in a prestigious global competition as one of the world's best emerging social innovations. Generation Schools is opening its first school in the fall of 2007. Their remarkable new school model actually reinvents -- not just reforms -- the possibilities of America's public schools. We all know it takes much more than test scores for a child to prepare for life. Kids shouldn't have to choose between academics and art. With the Generation Schools model they won't have to. Informed by research from many fields and expertise from varied constituents, it is strategically designed to be academically rigorous, physically and creatively demanding, and socially and emotionally supportive for every child enrolled. For more about Generation Schools go to http://www.generationschools.org/"
A different co-worker then pointed out that while the current model isn't hugely successful it would be hard to visualize how this new approach works in the classroom. And wouldn't it require some extensive changes in budget and teacher contracts? The website says otherwise but can you rely on that?

Good points. Is anyone personally familiar with Generation Schools?


At 8:58 PM , Anonymous Fascinated Teacher said...

As a public school teacher, I have never heard of this movement. I have nothing against bands with pet projects, and I enjoyed TMBJ as a silly band in college and now a fun children's band for my daughter, but I'm not sure they're experts on education.

I concede that public schools are not without fault and that improvements can always be made, as with any institution. However, upon looking at the Generation Schools website, I can't fathom how they plan to teach 6-9 kids in a classroom with one teacher and not run into increasing costs. Of course, research shows the positive outcomes of smaller class sizes, but believe me, if there were a magic bullet to reducing class size without increasing budget, some school board somewhere would have found it. Believe me, they are bloodhounds when it comes to finding ways to save money.

I am also disturbed by the idea of kids staying with teachers over several years (looping is fine, it's this next part), although with a rotating teacher schedule, the school year is 66 days longer but the teachers don't work extra days (again - 66 more days doesn't cost more... how? SOMEONE has to be teaching the kids... and if it's not those looping teachers, you keep that close student/teacher relationship thing that is the whole purpose of looping... how?). Oh, and the teachers will speak the kids' home languages. Right. Last year I had a student who came to me directly from Mongolia. As much as I wanted to run out and become fluent in Mongolian... well... no.

Another concern is that "Taught by the Home Base Teachers, these courses can include athletics, natural sciences, world languages, art, dance, creative writing, filmmaking, geography, current events, technology, and much more." Mmmm. Now, I'm an elementary teacher, so I do teach all regular subjects as these "Home Base" teachers would. However, I'm not so sure I'd be a star athletic or filmmaking teacher. My husband, a TV Production teacher, agrees. Sorry, but you just can't be an incredible teacher in all far-flung subjects. That's why teachers specialize. Plus, if it's a public school, how does it not fall under No Child Left Behind rules, which would never allow teacher not certified in those areas to teach them?

So I'm stumped by the lack of intelligible, specific information on the website. I have more questions now than when your post first made me wonder about this movement. But the overriding question still is... where are these fascinating teachers coming from who speak all languages, teach all subjects, and are willing to work in urban districts without any pay perks (when obviously such talented souls could work just about anywhere)? And.. um... the funding question just won't leave me alone.

I guess TMBG plans on raising a whooooooooooooooole lot of moolah....

At 11:01 PM , Anonymous e.fama said...

The web site is vague, but it did seem that there was some sort of "cost saving" scheme in the idea of young people training to be teachers at the Generation School (in a two-to-three year residency, combined with some class work at an accredited university?). It seemed from the description that the residents would perform a large chunk of the teaching, which explains the high teacher-to-student ratio. It sounds like the schools are hoping to partner financially with universities regarding the teaching certificate or degree the residents would earn while they were studying under the mentor ("lead") teachers.

If that's a correct interpretation of the model (and I'm not sure it is), each school is a sort of a factory for new teachers, and the idea is that they will be young and energetic (and cheap) while they're there. But it guarantees that the schools will have a high turnover of teachers, which means a lack of continuity, maturity, and personal investment that can't be good in the long run -- no matter how energetic the recruits are.

It also can't work for public education as a whole, since it's sort of a Ponzi scheme: every school in the country can't have a constant influx of young residents...at some point the population of teachers becomes mature and experienced and those teachers will need decent salaries to take care of their (supposed) 8 or 9 student load!

At 7:58 AM , Anonymous teach said...

This model assumes that children will get as good or beter an education from practicing "resident" teachers as they would in a public school setting with experienced teachers. That is a dangerous assumption when your child's educational well being is at stake. I have had good and terrible student teachers and just recently had one who was pulled from my classroom after a week for not knowing what a leson plan looks like and other various inanities. I couldn't fathom handing my students over to her.

This irritates me, because even though young and training teachers are interested in the field (most of them, my recent student teacher being an exception - she told me she didn't want to teach), this model must base itself on the assumption that anyone can teach, even those not yet certified or fully trained. Yes, there is some learnin that is done "on the job" and most teachers consider themselves lifelong learners, attending workshops, grad school, etc. So I don't propose that a certificate makes a teacher an expert - but it certainly brings them closer than their practice experiences. Residencies in part weed out those who do not really belong in the field. This model relies quite heavily on those persons in training.

At 8:02 AM , Anonymous teach said...

Sorry for the typos above - my keyboard gets cranky when I try to type double letters! :/


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