My twenty-some years of experience as a high school and college teacher have taught me many lessons about education, as well as the kinds of questions that should be asked of our educators in the public schools. Here are a few that the newly elected Alamosa Board of Education may wish to consider after the election on November 5:
First, what does an Alamosa High School diploma represent? When Johnny or Susie walk away with a diploma on graduation day, does that piece of paper mean that…
a. They have mastered the ability to think, figure out ways to solve problems, use their imagination to think outside the box, and communicate effectively?
b. Or does it mean that they have been adept at jumping through hoops, following rules, and doing just well enough to pass their courses?
If the answer is “a” then they have walked away with an education. But if the answer is “b” then they have walked away with … a piece of paper.
Second, how well are our schools doing in getting graduates ready to continue on to college or to begin training for a career? Significant numbers of our graduates from Alamosa High School need to take remedial courses in English or math upon beginning their studies at ASU or career training at TSJC. (This obviously does not include the significant number of students who drop out before then.) Not only does this imply that a diploma from Alamosa High School may not represent what it claims to, but it also suggests that our schools are failing to help students genuinely plan for the future; students who know where they are going are much more motivated to get there. But are we really helping them to figure this out?
There are other questions we might well ask: For example, if concurrent enrollment of high school students in college courses is important, then why is the Alamosa School District undermining this by not coordinating its class schedules with our area colleges? If “instruction” implies lesson plans, learning objectives, and assessment, then how can we construe passing-time between classes as opportunities for instruction? (No one doubts the value of the teachable moment when it arises—but to call it “instruction” defies the meaning of the word.)
Finally, why are we far more invested in a conventional approach to instruction that teaches to the lowest common denominator (leaving some students struggling and others bored), instead of exploring some of the new innovations in education that enable students to master concepts and skills before each individually progresses?
I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions (though I do have my ideas). I do know, however, that these are the kinds of questions I will be asking and seeking to answer if folks living within the Alamosa school district give me a chance to contribute to the Alamosa School Board by voting for me on November 5.