Saturday, April 25, 2009

Arroyo needs a real world curriculum, not a robotic curriculum

I'm going to try to keep this short (no guarantee, hah!), since I do write a lot of long things (although I've been told that there are more people outside my school who actually read my blog, which is quite interesting, from somebody from Los Angeles to another person up at UC Berkeley who reads this blog "a couple times"). This will be somewhat related to my school, Arroyo High School, but it has much to do with public education. You have the right to disagree with my statements; I was very hesitant about writing this and could not sleep because of this issue, so I have to put this down.

To students, staff, faculty, and administration of Arroyo High School and the San Lorenzo Unified School District:

I began to cringe after listening to the more technical details to last Friday's (4/24/2009) academic rally that took place in our gym. A few include: if students do not score proficient in English in the CST tests, they will be forced to take an extra block of English, and for the lower-performing students, all four blocks of English. Students will be forced to take yearlong of Algebra I next year at Arroyo. Students will be given prizes (i.e. a iPod nano, a waiver on an English assignment for the next school year) for performing well on the test. 

Maybe, I don't have the exact details of these proposals stated clearly/accurately, but you get the idea.  Sure, it's great to give a prize after doing so well in a test, but I question if giving a prize would be morally correct and right. And also, I question whether the consequences the lower-performing students face will actually help them. All these methods, as you all know, are designed to make sure we do well on the CST tests (we must be all proficicent in math and English by 2012, by the way), or we face losing funding and a takeover by the State of California.

My biggest question is: what has happened to the value of an education, to the point that we resort this far to get students to learn?

An Arroyo education must be geared toward the real-world, but I believe the methods Principal Larry Smith outlined doesn't encourage that for those who need it most: the lower-performing students.

In this case of giving four blocks of English toward a very, very low-performing student, I ask: What are you going to teach in those blocks? Sure, grammar, interpreting the text of a book correctly, or learning how to write an interpretive essay are important skills in the real world in order for our generation to be able to communicate orally or write articulately (I have to do this all the time with my Asian Architecture videos, and eventually, through engineering projects summing up our findings and solutions to problems), but what about other skills? What about the ability to be politicially active, to be able to summarize a lengthy news article or a long Newsweek magazine article (or extricate little details from the article? See this dense article as an example and tell me if you can grab the little details out of this baby: <>), or to take a stand on a political issue and explain clearly why you stand for it (i.e. why did you vote for Obama?)? I call this applied English. Why? One of the biggest reasons why Obama won the election was through the Internet, and people were blogging heavily and discussing what Obama would do, especially young people (that's us!).  Not all of us will be English teachers, English professors, or people within the social science fields, but all of us need to be prepared to handle these situations, especially in a time of increasing technology. If you can influence public policy very articulately, you are able to elect politicians that may be able to help you meet your needs. 

I'll admit there are other real-world skills that I have not mentioned, because my spectrum on real-world decision making is based on how citizens of America can make an impact on public policy in government. But, let's move on to the math, which is much more appliable.

As for making Algebra I year-long, I question whether the classes will just only be about numbers, like how to do the quadratic equation, or whether you will emphasize over things such as how to do compound interest. The SF Chronicle notes <> that California's Algebra I ciriculum is just like that - very numerical and rule-like, but not real-world appliable. Did you know the iPod uses algebra to play music to shuffle your songs? Did you know your cell phone uses algebra to take in signals from other phones? That stop-light in the interesection uses algebra to change colors from green to red! Sure, it's complicated to explain how (it makes sense to me superficially, not technically), but you get the idea. If you want to give students a reason to do well in mathematics, what we learn in class needs to reflect applied math.

Now that I established the conclusion that the value of an education at Arroyo must be appliable to the real world (and gave a bit of solutions, suggestions. I'm not an education expert myself), I would like to introduce students to the San Lorenzo Unified School District's Director of Secondary Education, Melanie Spears. ( She is in charge of "design, development, coordination and evaluation of curriculum and instruction in secondary grades". In other words, she helps organize and implement what you learn in high school.

Melanie Spears was an important figure of the block schedule crusade ( as many believed she wanted to really change the block schedule to the period schedule.

However, that's not my focus; my focus is what Melanie Spears should do to implement an appliable, real-world curriculum for the low-performing students in the CST tests. In the first video of the YouTube playlist, you see school district superintendent Dr. Byas stating that Melanie Spears was "gathering information". Spears had a lot of time "gathering information" (i.e. MONTHS!!!!) from teachers about possibly changing the schedule to improve test scores. However, wouldn't that time be better spent on gathering information on what kids want to really learn (i.e. interview students on what real-world skills they want to gain out of English/Math?)? Ms. Spears definitely had the time to do that if she was able to spend months on researching a possible schedule change. Because of her educational expertise, I do believe she can implement a real-world curriculum (she did go to Cal, after all, a school which demands a real-world impact to society from all its students). 

Ms. Spears and the rest of the school district: please consider that you aren't going to make an impact to our education system if all you are worried about is trying to be proficient in math and English. We aren't robots; we are human beings that need to contribute to this society, regardless of the extent of our impact in society. Therefore, instead of being surrounded by teachers, you need to make plans and a schedule to go out and ask what students really want to learn, even if it takes months. Be the transcendentialist person and go beyond test scores. Hey, DECA and the Health and Medicine Academy are great examples of campus organizations where students are definitely learning real-world skills, so why not do the same with low-performing students.

Therefore, my message for students is: evaluate what you really want to learn at Arroyo, and how that applies to the real world.  Teachers who don't have that packed into their curriculum need to do the same to the curriculum. Let the adults know what you need for the real-world, and don't let tests limit you (I felt like a seven-year old listening to "test-taking tips" during the academic rally).

I shall briefly mention that I do believe that I was able to gain a lot of real world skills at Arroyo, but if you want to know personally how, please email me and I can give you my response.

If you feel that I am misrepresenting the views of the lower-performing students on the CST (and that's you), speak out! My definition of real-world skills may not fit yours, but this is your generation you will be representing. Tell us, tell Mr. Smith, and tell Ms. Spears what you need for the real world. 


Francis Chen

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