Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The Problem with Public Schools, Time
So we, as a community, are left with something of a mess. When Johnny falls behind in reading, and the school is the primary instrument of closing that gap, it will be an uphill battle. The situation would improve dramatically if Johnny were invested in the work. But if he’s not--and all too often, he’s not, then the task is all the more daunting. Here’s why.
Suppose Johnny gets two daily classes (one regular language class and one intervention class) devoted to reading work all year. His school will have focused work time equivalent to two full weeks--roughly 340 hours--on Johnny’s reading. If Malcolm Gladwell’s claims (in Outliers) about needing 10,000 hours of practice to achieve virtuosity is even half right, it takes at least several thousand hours--spread out over years--to master and sustain even high level reading skills, the kind that involves analysis, interpretation, prediction, inference, response, etc.
Even if Johnny had the ‘double dip’ of reading classes for the remaining seven years of his academic career, that amounts to less than 2400 hours, all of which would not be completely devoted to his own reading practice. Clearly, any remediation of basic skills by the school really requires that Johnny continue to practice at home.
To hope for even those 2400 hours in school is a pipe dream, though. The schools just don’t have the personnel available to offer the small classes that allow the greater repetitions Johnny needs. When general education class size maximums are 32, and remediation program requirements (according to the curriculum’s producers) call for classes of 12-15, the numbers just won’t pencil. Johnny might get one or two years of double classes, but after that he’s likely back into the general language arts classes.
Add to all this awkward and confusing state and federal rules, tied, of course, to the money they each dangle before school districts, and sometimes the regulations can undermine an individual school’s interventions. Some programs of support, which might be funded by specific government regulations, require Johnny to qualify for that program. If Johnny really needs intervention, but doesn’t qualify for the particular program, which might be the primary intervention that district has opted (or is compelled by law) to undertake, he might just end up in a general language arts class only. Only 170 hours a year, with 32 students, and many fewer extra repetitions.
(This continues...several more entries under January's archive.)
Posted by Andrew Milton at 7:34 PM