With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Providence goes cookie-cutter

I just returned from Providence where I got to spend a couple of days at The MET, one of my favorite small schools. I've visited several times and am always inspired after chatting for a while with MET kids--nearly all from low-income families and all engaged in their own learning. Graduation rates are extremely high and graduates are doing well in college.

What's the secret of The MET's success? Personalization--the school is small and builds its curriculum around the interests of the student. Teachers are highly skilled and act as advisors on student projects and internships. The school is deeply rooted in the community and has its support. You won't find graffiti on the walls of The MET. Kids learn by doing, spending lots of time out of the classroom and working in the company of adults in fields that interest and excite them.

I'm not saying that The MET is right for everyone or that other models and approaches aren't worthwhile or necessary. But the idea that an innovative school like The MET can exist and thrive in the inner-city and its kids can be successful, without bending to unnecessary pressures from the top of the system, is encouraging.

So what do I read in today's news about Providence?
PROVIDENCE — For the first time, the city’s 10 public high schools will share the same graduation requirements, the same core curriculum and the same textbooks, part of a larger effort to boost student achievement and make college more of a reality than a dream. (Providence Journal).
Too bad. I kind of liked the dream better. Don't get me wrong. I really like many of the things the district is mandating. I like advisories and more challenging courses. Of course, "challenging" or "rigorous" take on new, weird meanings in the hands of state bureaucrats and politicians. And as for mandating the same textbook for all schools and students--that's just a boondoggle for politically connected publishing companies and one that turns teachers into delivery clerks.

Fortunately, The MET, a public (non-charter) school, has it's own autonomous standing in the state and is immune from such top-down idiocy. I don't think you will find many textbooks being used at all at The MET.

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