Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Technology High School

This High School is a model for high tech high schools that's being pushed by the Gates Foundation and probably some other places, and they're thinking about trying one out in Bloomington, or at least they've gotten 50 G's in order to study the possibility. Some of the money went to bringing in a speaker to discuss the possibility, so along with a couple of hundred other people, I went to check it out. My initial reaction is, Groovy. I hated high school, and it's only ten years from now that my son will start it. I'd like him to have some choices about where to go, and this model seems pretty nice. They want to keep it to 400 students, as opposed to the thousand or so at each Bloomington high school now. I've commented elsewhere about not really understanding the Indiana charter school system; I suppose this would be one of those.

I'm hearing some contradictory things about the school, though. For example, a questioner asked last night about the per-student cost of the school. The response was that the school doesn't get any more from the state than any other school would get, and that technology was the biggest expense. But the little handout we got actually says, small school and class size allows students to take responsibility for their own learning...So I wonder which it is. I'd guess that any school would find that graduation rates would inversely correlate to class size. Also, two separate articles in the paper (subscription required) tell us that the school (a) caters to students in the job market, and (b) most graduates go on to higher education. What the heck does that mean?

The speaker explained a little bit of what the school was about; all very nice; focus on communication skills and working as a team, computers for everyone, community internships. I think you can have two kinds of high schools: the kind where kids are motivated and enthusiastic about doing stuff, and the kind where the kids are biding their time until they can get out and go do something else. When you have the first kind, the students are going to be self-selecting - they have to want to go to the school. This is why I think charter schools and school choice are good ideas. So for that reason alone I think this school would be a good idea.

But the audience had a lot of good questions; some sublime; some ridiculous; all very practical. The inevitable "What about sports?" question was asked, which of course really means, "What if my kid wants to go there but he's also a basketball star?" The responder didn't really pick up on that dynamic, mentioning that the schools in California play Ultimate Frisbee against each other. Yeah, great. But the local guy did mention that allowing the students to play on the big school teams was a possibility.

A lot of the questions made me think, though, that either by state law or by educator attitudes, the school system isn't really ready to shift paradigms. I don't necessarily blame them; it's not an easy thing to do. But there were questions about honors degrees and demographics. The California panelist pointed out that an honors degree is a pretty divisive thing, and how can you teach teamwork in that sort of environment? The local panelist said that he thought the demographics would have to mirror those for the local high schools, so this school would have the same proportion of special needs students, minorities, gifteds, etc. I don't see how they can do that and still have the students be self-selecting, not to mention I find it extremely irritating when people are classified into "black", "poor", "special ed" or groups, even when the goal is to create balance.

So there's plenty to think about still. But I hope they do it. And if I'm still around town in ten years, I'll probably be pushing my kid to go there. If you see a chance, take it.

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