No Child Left Bored

Teaching would be still be damn hard if every student in every classroom read, wrote, and solved for x at the exact same grade level. Curriculum, interpersonal, and time management challenges would still overwhelm at times.

But of course classrooms almost always have some students who are either well behind or ahead of their peers, making teaching especially tough.

In the United States, in the last decade, political, business, and other opinion leaders have realized that the U.S. will be at a serious disadvantage in the global economy if a third of young people drop out of school only partially literate. Through initiatives like No Child Left Behind more attention has been paid to struggling students.

Even if the “No Child Left Behind” rationale is more utilitarian than humanitarian, that curricular emphasis is long overdue, but it’s also important to think about strong students who don’t find school interesting or challenging enough. It’s time for a “No Child Left Bored” campaign.

Conventional wisdom on how to prevent school boredom—go faster—is wrong. In “No Child Left Bored” classrooms teachers would routinely include an enrichment activity or “extension” in every lesson or homework assignment. These enrichment activities or extensions wouldn’t require more time, just deeper thinking. Here are some examples:

• A Pacific Northwest middle school science lesson on the water cycle, how to test for water quality, and how sewer run-off impacts Puget Sound waterways. The extension is an in-class discussion or outside-of-class research writing assignment. Should dams be removed for the sake of salmon populations? Why or why not?

• A high school civics class on the U.S. electoral college. Homework is to watch one of the Presidential or Vice-Presidential debates and then answer a few questions about it. The extension is a homework option intended to take the same amount of time as the debate questions. In life we often learn the hard way that the way we say something is sometimes even more important that what we say. Put differently, style sometimes trumps substance. Offer a theory about the relationship between style and substance using examples from the debate, and if possible, your own life. Be sure to explain whether one is more important than the other or whether they’re equally influential.

•A second grade art lesson is in essence a review of primary and secondary colors. Students practice mixing primary water colors to make secondary ones. The extension is a discussion about whether artists should paint what people might want to buy or whatever they want. How important is money?

Leave no child bored by asking students of all ages more open-ended questions that are usually thought of as “adult” questions. Questions that reasonable people disagree about. Questions that adults haven’t figured out. Conceptual questions. Questions that make your head hurt. In a good way.

5 thoughts on “No Child Left Bored

      • Editorial Reviews
        Hmmm; the director of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy seems to strongly disagree with your conclusion

        In this brilliant book, Andy Smarick pulls together three education reform movements — charter schools, vouchers, and school district transformation — and shows how they can combine into a dramatically more effective way to provide public education. Mayors, governors, superintendents, and educators will all find powerful new ideas about how to build a public education system that serves all children effectively and can respond as student populations and the demands of the economy change.

        (Paul Hill, Founder, Center for Reinventing Public Education, Research Professor, University of Washington Bothell, Author, It Takes A City: Getting Serious About Urban School Reform )

        Smarick shows us the way for the public education of our American dreams, and why our current school districts can’t get us there despite great effort.
        (Reed Hastings, CEO Netflix, former President State Board of Education, California )

  1. Smarick’s thesis is powerful, clear, and tragically out of the mainstream. He argues that our obsession with the structure of schools – be they traditional, charter, or private – prevents us from effectively using public dollars to provide an excellent education for all citizens. He’s right. And he points a way forward: let educators run their own schools, let families choose schools that best fit their needs, and let government execute accountability systems that support the best schools and close the worst. Our nation’s century old educational policy regime is limiting the intellectual and economic growth of our nation. And, in the end, Smarick’s plan is the only way out.
    (Neerav Kingsland, CEO, New Schools for New Orleans )

    Every school a charter school? In a bold, well-argued call for the redesign of urban school districts, Smarick proposes that all schools—even those previously run by a district–would have to pass muster with an authorizer–and also with parents able to choose among them.

    (Paul E. Peterson, Harvard University, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government, Director, Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance )

    • Did the University of Washington business school teach you that whenever a couple chief executives and conservative academics agree on an idea it’s automatically a good one? Not just a good idea, but a panacea for fixing public schools. Come on dawg. Try this metaphor on. Education reform is like a violent ocean storm. Dark skies, huge waves, tremendous tumult on the surface. But the lower you go the less obvious the changes. When on the ocean floor, the water chemistry, visibility, and sea life is completely unchanged. Getting rid of school districts and adding in charters is the surface. Transforming the teacher-student relationship is the ocean floor. [I should probs cut you more slack. You had a fairly tough week.]

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