Stratifying the Student Body

A supporter of school choice must accept that schools will experiment with, and families will opt for, educational strategies that he or she doesn’t like. I’ve never been a fan of Fame-style schools specializing in music, for example, and for the same reasons, I’ve reservations about Laborers school in Cranston, which Julia Steiny described in her Sunday column:

At Laborers, Cranston academic teachers and instructors who are journeyman laborers themselves jointly craft an academic program geared to the construction trade. For example, math involves everything from learning financial literacy to calculating the volume of concrete needed for a job. The skills are the same as those taught in traditional schools, but applied to the world of construction. …
Shortly after the school opened, it was clear that some of the students were more interested in finding an alternative school than they were in construction work. So the school developed a second strand of learning, called The World of Work (WOW), which [cofounder Armand] Sabitoni considers consistent with the union’s mission.

Having had my own feet in several dramatically different social pools, so to speak, as an artist-type, an academic-type, a white-collar cubicle dweller, and now a carpenter, I’m uncomfortable with the social implications of stratification at such an early age. Surely, for example, all children would benefit from practical lessons in math — both for current learning and for a minimum of familiarity when one day they encounter tasks outside of their professions. Before I began in construction, about five years ago, I was utterly clueless when it came to repairs around the house, let alone do-it-yourself modifications.
Extracting the labor segment of the student body will decrease the incentive for general-ed schools to cover material relevant to them. From another perspective, while practical lessons might help a particular student pick up academic concepts, the career from which those lessons are drawn isn’t necessarily a fit for him or her.
More significantly, though, there’s a benefit to having all social types and career tracks interacting within a generation through high school. This is true, first, because cultural coherence and social empathy are a prerequisite to a healthy democracy. A second consideration is that very young students shouldn’t find themselves on fated tracks. A creative, dynamic society increases the likelihood that its members will come to fresh conclusions, combining previously disconnected ideas for new purposes, and cradle-to-grave career tracks do the opposite.

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13 years ago

“…very young students shouldn’t find themselves on fated tracks.”
Shouldn’t be an issue if they are guided by involved parents.
My son attends Beacon Charter High School for the Arts in Woonsocket. He is thriving in all subjects simply because he is in an environment that he enjoys. We would have never allowed him to attend that school if we weren’t certain he had a serious interest in the curriculum.
We believe his education will be better rounded at Beacon, than it would in an environment where he wouldn’t have the opportunity to develop his talents, guided by people well trained and enthusiastically devoted to his area of interest. Because he is happy, instead of bored, what we’ve witnessed is that he takes what he learns, and how he learns it, from his main area of interest and applies it to all his subjects and is doing very well as a result.
I also have to say that the faculty and administration at Beacon is refreshingly
energetic, enthusiastic and spririted about their school and their students. It is a stark contrast to the hum-drum attitude we’ve experienced in both public and private schools in Cranston.
The Laborers Academy in Cranston is an entirely different, and perhaps unique, animal. I think of it as indoctrination camp for future union members.

13 years ago

I went to the Met, in Providence. That school seriously saved my life. Six years of lackluster performance in public and private schools that gave me a lot of facts, but few ways to apply them was too much.
At The Met, students identify their interests, locate people actually carrying them out in the community, and intern with them. There is no ‘focus’ on a particular trade. We had high school students working as midwives, helping with political races, learning how computer networks were built, and building homes.
The faculty’s job was to make you extract math, science, english, history, life skills, people skills, and life, generally, as a worker from the work you were already doing.
It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure, but graduating with two years of real-world work experience put me -way- ahead of the game, and it allowed me to build a successful life without the much-vaunted ‘college degree’ I was always told I would need.
And yes, you must apply to, be accepted to, and have a financial plan for college just to graduate.

13 years ago

So glad that George and “mangeek” posted before I had a chance. They provide real evidence of the success of alternative high schools. My nephew found success at Davies, and as George has pointed out, I hear wonderful stories about successful kids at Beacon who would never have made it through a traditional high school.
It’s important to understand that there are core requirements for all students, regardless of what schools they may attend. But there is no single curriculum or methodology that can match all kids. This is exactly the reason charters are succeeding. And while I share your concern about tracking, it’s negated by the fact that students attend by choice.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

My two essential arguments, here, have different targets. The tracking I see as a potential harm to those attending the specialized schools. Those who remain in generalized schools are the ones who suffer by not knowing the sorts of kids who opt for specialized schools and by the decreasing incentive for their curricula to reflect the segment of the student body that transitions out.
I should clarify that I’m not arguing against such experiments. If anything, I’m arguing that we need to be even more fundamental in rethinking the ways in which our society handles education and youth so as to turn away from stratification.

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