Saturday, March 06, 2010

Can you learn in an old school building?

It is nothing short of amusing to see so much money being proposed in the state budget for the construction of new school buildings at a time when the actual learning that goes on inside them is so poor.

I am co-founder and still part time teacher at a school that is housed in a building constructed in 1924 (1910, if you want to count the date of the original building). The school has among the highest test scores in the Jefferson County School District, one of the largest school districts in the United States. And so far, no one has noticed that the age of the facility has hampered the learning that goes on inside the least little bit--largely because everyone inside the building is focused solely and exclusively on the learning.

The school has been housed in much more questionable facilities in the past, with no noticeable diminution of the learning that takes place. Now the school has purchased a new facility. Well, not exactly new. The building it will be partially housed in was originally an orphanage and was built in 1950.

Now I don't know that the state department of education would automatically categorize a school housed in a building that is 86 years old as a category 4 or 5 school (I have searched the Department of Education website and can't find the relevant document), but I wouldn't put it past them. And, of course, people could argue that the caliber of student the school attracts better than the average public school child and so forth. Those are certainly factors. But there is a strong argument that the techniques used at the school work equally well when actually tried at public schools.

But the point is that Kentucky public schools have far worse problems than their facilities and that most of the policy discussions about what is wrong with them consist primarily of shifting chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

Anyone who knows how things work in Frankfort really knows that the proposed $500 million is pork designed to help Democrats get reelected in their districts. I wonder what would happen if you took the same pile of cash and devoted it to training primary school teachers how to teach, say, intensive systematic phonics--something they literally cannot learn how to do in Kentucky's teachers colleges thanks to an education ideology that spurns anything traditional (whether it works or not) in favor the newest postmodern fads and gimmicks.

That's what they did at Lincoln Elementary School several years ago, raising test scores by an astounding 65 percent over a two year period. But the district bureaucrats killed the program before it embarrassed too many other schools. That's the way it works in public education these days.

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