Educators often speak about whether a child is “school-ready”. In other words, is that child prepared to learn on variety of measures: cognitive, developmental, and nutritional, among others.
However, I would argue that it is just as important—if not more important—that the school a child attends be “education-ready”. Does the school provide the necessary foundation for a successful educational experience for that child, or are there deficiencies that will make it more difficult for a child to learn at that school? Just as every child is not school-ready, it is sadly the case that not every school is education-ready, and it is worth thinking about those traits that distinguish schools that excel from those that do not.
Speaking as a former high school teacher, I will agree to the obvious: Public schools have a tough task at hand when it comes to educating today’s students. However, public schools have had a tough task at hand many other times in our nation’s history, and no one was standing around and blaming the children for failing to learn.
Children are children: They look to the adults to make smart decisions and run the schools in a proficient manner. To blame students for the failure of our schools is not only thoughtless—it is also rather cruel. I realize part of our national mythology is that everyone should pull themselves up their bootstraps and stand on their own two feet, but we should pause and think before we start making that demand of an eleven year-old who is just trying to get by in a big, scary, and confusing world.
What do schools need to be education-ready for children who require nothing less than the fundamental tools for successful and productive futures? Thankfully, the list is neither long nor particularly remarkable.
First, schools need to operate with an open and cooperative management style that involves building administrators, Central Office personnel, teachers, parents, and the community in a positive, productive, and professional manner. The days when everyone could stand on either side of the divide and shout at one another are over. Petty vendettas, turf battles, personal animosities, and the like sap the life and energy right out of a school and have no place within its walls. The responsibility is everyone’s, but I would argue it starts right at the top, and school supervisory personnel must be evaluated to a much greater degree on their ability to create a culture of cooperation and openness.
Second, schools must be a safe learning environment for our children. We can no longer tolerate slipshod practices and inattentiveness that put our children at risk, and the only way it will change is to hold accountable those who fail to discharge this basic responsibility. We are fond of telling children that consequences are meant to help them learn better behavior for the future. The same rule applies to adults, regardless of how high up they sit in the bureaucracy, if they fail to create keep the children in their care from harm.
Third, our schools must insist on high standards for instruction and achievement. Dumbing down the curriculum in order to pass more students from grade to grade in the vain hope this will allow a school district to “succeed” has already proven itself a dismal failure. Preparing our students for success in college and beyond will be much easier if we insist on excellence and achievement every day of the year in our classrooms.
Can all this be done? Yes, of course it can. To argue otherwise is to insist that failure is somehow acceptable. All it takes is adults taking on adult responsibility for what happens to the schools in our communities. No child should have to do with less than the very best education we can possibly offer because every child deserves the same opportunity to build a brighter future for themselves. If we do not, we condemn whole communities to poverty and dysfunction.