Across the country, arguments over how best to educate children have become so bitter people have compared them to a World War I battlefield and the slaughter at Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War.
Certainly deep disagreements exist, but when positions become entrenched, it’s time to take a breath and try some new ways of thinking. A popular way to get outside one’s own boxes comes from improv comedy. It’s called Yes, and. Whatever your partner says, you agree with and build on it. And slowly but surely, you can find examples of it in the education world.
Here’s one: Charters schools are public schools, says the charter supporter… yes, and they need to accept every child in a given attendance area, not take children by lottery, adds the advocate of neighborhood schools.
That’s exactly what is happening in Camden, New Jersey, where three nonprofit, high-performing charter networks recently launched the first year of five Renaissance schools, which guarantee seats to all children within a neighborhood zone. Despite pushback from some Camden activists and the New Jersey Education Association, more than 70 percent of parents have chosen to stay in their neighborhood schools and give the new models a try.
Although it’s too early to tell whether the hybrids will work, the charter networks—KIPP, Mastery and Uncommon—have track records of remarkable success improving achievement for low-income children of color. However, some critics have charged that their successes are rooted in charters’ ability to take in students by lottery and counsel them out if they are struggling. By taking on zoned neighborhood schools, over time we will finally see whether these charter networks can really improve achievement for all students.
Here’s another example of “yes, and” thinking: Common Core standards can be hard to put to work in classrooms, says the skeptic…yes, and teachers can do it when districts create good professional development, replies the advocate.
Creating engaging, useful professional development programs for teachers has been a struggle for many years. But Common Sense Media found three leading districts that are pulling off a trifecta: creating innovative, peer-led teacher training that helps teachers implement Common Core and promotes wise use of educational technology.
Deep and real differences of thought, principles and priorities exist among people who share a common vision: creating educational equity and excellence across the United States. Those real differences need to be aired and debated. And a little creative borrowing from the world of improv comedy might help us all see the problems in new ways that lead to creative solutions.