Getting Smart About Getting Smart

1,208.

That’s approximately how many days a student spends in the middle/high school classroom during their lifetime.

1.2 million.

That’s how many students drop out of school in the United States every year. Time for reform? I think so.

A passion for education has always run in my blood. All of my grandparents, aunts, and uncles were teachers at one point or another, and my Dad is also an educator. I’ve grown up going to Teacher Appreciation Banquets, meeting my Dad’s coworkers, and hobnobbing with other school officials in the Springfield district. Education is something I’ve become extremely passionate about–so much so that I hope to work in education policy one day.

Tonight I had the opportunity to present to the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education about specialized learning opportunities that the district is moving towards. If I’m honest, I was not looking forward to presenting this evening. I love speaking in front of others, but I have devoted the past two years of my life to reading and researching all things education. My understanding of what I was presenting was that it was a waste of time and money to make the investments I was asking the Board for… but man, was I wrong.

The problem with the American education system at large is that we’ve designed our system for the “average” student with a “one size fits all” model. At the same time, we encourage our kids to be different, to think outside the box, and to be their own individual selves. If we are encouraging individualism outside of the classroom, but encouraging conformity inside, how are we meeting our students needs? The simple answer is that we aren’t. And that needs to change.

For far too long we have made education about everyone but the kids. “We need standardized tests to know what kids know!” No, you’re using standardized tests as a way to justify your agenda in education. “We need technology in the classroom–that’s the future of education. It’ll help our kids.” No, you just like using technology. Have you ever stopped to ask kids what their opinion is? What they want and need in their education experience? I’ll admit that standardized tests and technology in the classroom can be good, but when they’re used to satisfy selfish ambition (or as politicians like to call it: “the need for accountability”) it only causes harm. Far too often, our education policymakers are people who have never set foot in a classroom as a teacher, principal, or other administrator. Policymakers are rarely speaking from experience, but rather from a place of power. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with not having been an educator when making education policy, I think it’s time we take it back to the kids. Let’s start asking which policies benefit our students most.

Now, when this question is asked, it’s also important to take a step back and realize that students in Springfield, Missouri, aren’t going to learn the same way students in Brooklyn, New York, or Montgomery, Alabama, learn. Demographic, economic, and sociocultural differences cause students to have different needs–and that’s perfectly okay. We need to address students’ needs individually, rather than creating blanket programs that try to solve overarching problems. Those are the programs that actually cause more harm.

In a college interview yesterday I was asked what my opinion on No Child Left Behind was. I get asked this question an absurd amount for a 17 year old girl, but I’m always talking about my passions for public policy and education, so I guess it makes sense. I told the interviewer that “in an effort to leave no child behind, the United States education system has actually left so many students in the dust. When millions of students are dropping out every year–thousands of them gifted students–it’s time to reevaluate our methods.”

So, back to tonight… After presenting for the Board of Education, I sat down and listened to Board members ask questions to Dr. Hackenwerth, one of the district officials who was in charge of the program I presented about. Hearing the Board members talk about their excitement for students motivated me. I guess I’ve just surrounded myself with people who gripe about our education system (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since I agree it needs reform) but it was refreshing to hear from adults who are passionate about bringing change to education, even if it’s just in one district.

As I drove home from my presentation tonight, I couldn’t help but smile. I’m excited at the prospect of making a lasting impact in education policy someday. Presenting to the School Board was empowering, and it reaffirmed something I’ve believed in for a long time: “one size fits all” education isn’t the answer. Let’s stop designing our classrooms to the average kid while at the same time encouraging our students to be individual and different. Let’s design our classrooms to meet individual needs too.

It’s time to get smart about getting smart, and it’s time to start in the classroom.

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Inderpal Bains and I presented to the School Board tonight! What a joy it was. Inderpal is the greatest.

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