Academic journal article Rural Educator

Creating Effective Schools Where All Students Can Learn

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Creating Effective Schools Where All Students Can Learn

Article excerpt

Helping schools create environments where all students can learn is a worthwhile mission for schools big and small. Both multi and single site districts agree that providing equitable and meaningful learning opportunities for every student is essential, but find this challenging and difficult. What are the systemic factors that limit educators in considering new educational paradigms that might structure schools differently, increase learning outcomes for a wider spectrum of students, and prepare students to meet the challenges of the 21st century? All communities need graduates ready to face the world after high school, prepared to work, and ready to offer hope toward world and civic affairs.

Real change begins with the simple act of people talking about what they care about. -M.J. Wheatley (2002) Turning to One Another, Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, (p. 22)

Most people care about schools because their children attend, they employ the graduates, and they believe the country's future depends upon children attending public schools. However, "nationally almost one-third of all high school students don't graduate on time, with significantly worse rates for students of color" (Hall, 2005, p. 1, italics in original). States are now required to report statewide graduation data in a format that matches the number of students who started high school with the number who complete. The good news is information such as this can help guide the school improvement process, nevertheless, the bad news is many schools do not want to share this critical information.

Part of the problem is schools do not have sound tracking systems to follow students as they move through the system. Other concerns may include high schools need transforming (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2004); citizens have less confidence in public schools today (Phi Delta Kappa, 2004); culturally, ethnically, linguistically diverse student groups are growing (Nieto, 2004); and "the American system of education has become obsolete" (Wagner, 2002, p. 9 italics in original). Most parents and educators would agree with the effective schools mission declared by Lezotte (1997) "Learning for All: Whatever It Takes" (p. 2) but have not seen the reality of this in the business of daily school activities.

With the present educational focus on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) it certainly seems like there should be a system in place for all children to have equal learning experiences; however, when we match test scores and student outcomes to familyincome levels the results do not support that statement. Nieto (2004) explained that,

A number of reviews of testing legislation and practice have concluded that, instead of improving learning outcomes, such legislation is actually having a detrimental impact because gross inequities in instructional quality, resources, and other support services are being ignored, (p. 99)

NCLB's accountability plan emphasizes standardized tests, which are culturally biased (Neil, Guisbond, & Schaeffer 2004) and do not test the full spectrum of necessary skills to be successful in the 21st century. Wagner (2002) theorized "A much more rational approach would be for specialists from the different but related disciplines to agree on skills or knowledge that are common across several academic subjects" (p. 39), including high order thinking, problem solving, and critical thinking skills.

Contemporary Educational Paradigms

How has the world changed and how do the changes affect education? In the past, "the functional mission of public education....was compulsory attendance" (Lezotte & Pepperl, 1999, 12). Now "the new mission of public education must be compulsory learning" (p. 13), which raises the question are educational systems in place to meet the new mission? Wagner (2002) posed

The challenge is in dealing with the future....the tug of war over school "reform" in this country today may, in reality, be a struggle between those who believe that the best way to deal with change is to cling to remnants of the past and those who eagerly embrace the future, (p. …

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