- - Monday, September 3, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

District parents and students are getting ready to return to school this week, which means my colleagues at Two Rivers Public Charter School are preparing for our ninth school year. Founded in 2004 by a group of Capitol Hill parents, our free public charter school is run independently of the city’s traditional public school system.

As a charter school, we are free to create our own curriculum and school culture while being held accountable for improved student performance by the independent D.C. Public Charter School Board. The board is responsible for ensuring that the city’s charter schools, which educate 41 percent of D.C. children enrolled in public school, maintain high academic standards and are well-run. The board classifies Two Rivers as one of just 22 “high performing” D.C. charter schools.

According to one of the measures of academic achievement, the city’s standardized reading and math tests, our school is performing to a high standard. Overall, 73.3 percent of students at our elementary school campus scored “advanced” or “proficient,” as did 69.2 percent of students at our middle school campus.

To place that in perspective, our elementary school scored 29 percentage points higher than the average traditional D.C. public school and 21 percentage points higher than the average D.C. public charter school. Our middle school scored 22 and 17 percentage points higher, respectively.

Our students excel at the state test, but we do not teach them to excel at the test. They are performing at a high level because of the academically rigorous program that challenges Two Rivers students to learn new skills and apply them in new environments. Two Rivers‘ educational program is based on a research-tested, project-based approach known as expeditionary learning, which aims to teach students how to learn and solve problems as opposed to merely preparing them to pass standardized tests.

Two Rivers aims to lay the foundations of knowledge that students need, but also to teach them how to solve complex problems. We build up their ability to work with others, to reflect on what they have done and to change direction if needed. We teach them how to analyze situations, synthesize information, make connections and generate solutions. We think these 21st-century skills will be essential for their success as adults.

In adopting this approach, my colleagues and I were heavily influenced by a book, “The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market,” written by economists from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the book, the authors explain that technology has two very different impacts on employment: It enhances productivity in many jobs while it simultaneously eliminates many other jobs.

The founders of Two Rivers wanted to protect our students from this changing job market by teaching skills that would not be displaced by the technology that has eliminated so many traditional sources of employment. We think teaching students how to learn and how to solve problems from an early age better prepares them for the educational challenges they will face in high school, in college and later at work.

One example of the early start students get at Two Rivers to learn and apply content is demonstrated by our second-grade study of the four forces of flight: lift, thrust, weight and drag. Students learn about these concepts by building and testing flying machines, meeting with scientists, creating stories to explain the physics of flight to others, and applying what they learned by teaching others.

Thanks to the work of our teachers and volunteers, we had the opportunity to partner with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Students read stories they had developed about the four forces of flight as part of one of the museum’s weekly story-time sessions.

In the last century, there was less competition for jobs that Americans sometimes took for granted. But the economy has become more global. In this century, Americans are vying for opportunity with highly educated adults from fast-growing nations such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and many others. While the United States remains the world’s largest economy, it is far from the top in students’ educational attainment. On the standardized tests administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, American students score 17th in reading, 23rd in sciences and 30th in math among the world’s industrialized countries.

As the global competition for jobs heats up and higher educational attainment is required for the positions of the future, my colleagues and I believe that strong test scores are an important starting point, but only a starting point. Teaching the next generation the 21st-century skills they will need to succeed in tomorrow’s economy has never been so important.

Jessica Wodatch is founder and executive director of Two Rivers Public Charter School in Northeast Washington.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide