Influential Voices: STEM and the Future

As I read Paul’s blog post this month, I found myself thinking about my current frustration with my son’s education. In the past, I’ve said good things about the education that my children are receiving, but this year, my son hit the front of the pack in his class with his math skills, he has a teacher who is not able to be as flexible as I’d like to be able to accommodate multiple levels in the classroom. From the sound of things, my son is now working independently a unit or more ahead of his class, but it is not clear if he is being taught the material or he is learning it on his own. He was supposed to get a high school student who was advanced to work with him, but I’m not sure that this has happened, and my son hasn’t told me.

So why am I telling you about my son when we are talking about STEM and the future? Because my son on his own is not the future, but my son, and each of his peers, and the rest of his school, and all the other children that age ARE the future of STEM. If we lose them one by one because they are not getting what they need because they are not at the middle of the pack, STEM is not going to have a future. I love that when I take my son to my daughter’s gymnastics meets, he wants to add up the scores and come up with his own metrics. I love that my son asked for science kits for his birthday and is teaching my daughter and doing projects with her from the kits. I can manage the expectations of hard work or a costly education if the school doesn’t turn my kids off to STEM before they have the opportunity to explore it as a career.

Influential Voices: Quality in Education

I have to admit that my first thought when I read Paul’s April blog post, my first thoughts were competitive ones. I went to HS in Wisconsin for most of two years. My freshman year I was at Homestead High school in Mequon. My sophomore year I was at Nicolet High school in Fox Point. Both of these schools are in the general vicinity of the Pewaukee school district. In April of my sophomore year, we moved to Florida. I thought both Homestead and Nicolet were excellent schools.  Really, though, education in all schools should be a race to the top.

One of the things that has impressed me the most with my own children’s education (on the other side of Wisconsin) is that in spite of the fact that they are in what one would consider to be a traditional classroom setting, I see them being treated as individuals rather than part of the group so that they can excel. My son (age 9, grade 3) is asked to help mentor other students when he finishes his own work – this helps reinforce his own learning of the material as well as prevents boredom. My daughter (age 7, grade 1) is in an advanced reading group with one other student, and should be on chapter books before the end of the school year. Both of my kids have learned through their education and experience to set goals in ways I can’t imagine having done at their age. I still can’t get over Hannah breaking down her larger gymnastics goals into by event goals, and then setting new goals as she achieved the ones she set earlier. This is the same approach she has taken in her reading goals – one level at a time, currently on L, they typically start chapter books after M. This flow down of goals, helping individuals see how their own actions are tied to a higher goal is consistent with the Baldrige criteria.

Whether or not schools embrace Baldrige (ours hasn’t and still outperforms the state averages in spite of being a rural school district), the important thing is the commitment to quality. Is No Child Left Behind and AYP the answer? I don’t have an answer for that. Perhaps what we should aspire to teach our teachers to teach and our administrators to administer in a way that quality is integrated, not separate from what they do. What if the Baldrige criteria were taught as the standard way to run a school district and its schools? What if quality in education wasn’t something extra, a program – it was just what we did? What if?