(Last week, a certain education-themed extension of the financial secotor1 wrote a piece for the Philadelphia media touting some gains at their pet schools. While we love hearing success stories at public schools, the authors didn’t tell the whole story. I suppose philly.com and their ilk were already awash with real teachers telling their stories, so they decided not to publish our response.
With six snow days so far this year, the routine has become familiar to all students and their families in Philadelphia. There’s wild speculation in the days leading up to the storm, constant checking and refreshing of news sources for updates, and a celebration when the day off gets called.
Unfortunately, the snow day routine reveals something else about students in our city: a lot them hate going to school.
We’re not talking about the appreciation of a day off. Students (and educators, too) like a break from routine as much as anybody. But a winter like this reveals the wide gap between school’s missions and the students they seek to serve. Administrators fret about lost “instructional time,” but students literally jump for joy because they have been freed from their desks. Book bags stay closed on snow days. The last thing students want to do on their holiday is learn.
How did things get this bad? Unfortunately, a part of the problem is the increased emphasis on “proficiency,” as measured by standardized tests. Too many schools are telling their students the only knowledge that matters is what can be bubbled in on an exam. When Mother Nature disrupts the schedule, she brings some uncomfortable questions with her. When the tests end, does that mean our children stop learning? Do we have to keep them locked in the classroom to stop their brains from melting?
The good news: There’s a better way.
At Franklin Learning Center, teacher Ann Leaness inspires her students to read and become readers. The method? Stop grading reading and start encouraging students to see themselves as readers. For a snowbound teenager (and their parents), the ability to curl up with a good book is invaluable – for their sanity and continued learning.
Leaness’ class is just one example of a growing movement. All over the District, teachers are realizing that when kids are given the chance to pursue their passions, we don’t need to obsess over “proficiency.” At Science Leadership Academy, Seniors work overtime on Capstone projects, from designing machinery to crafting screenplays to producing their own hip hop album. At Central, teacher Dan Ueda and the Robolancers teach students to build technology instead of merely playing with it. So-called “Makespaces” at The Workshop School and Chester A. Arthur encourage kids to make things because it is something worthwhile to do, rather than because it will show up on their report card.
The education discussion in Philadelphia is obsessed with numbers, data, and the assessments that drive them. This Winter reminds us that we can do better. If students, guided by caring and passionate adults, are owners of learning instead of consumers, snow days become a day to work on a project, finish a book, or collaborate with a teacher. Authentic learning cannot be gridlocked. We should stop looking at what kids do on a bubble test, and start looking at what they do on a snow day.
Larissa Pahomov and Andrew Saltz are public school teachers and members of the Philadelphia Teacher’s Action Group
I’m trying Larissa, I’m really trying ↩