As adults, we choose the people we want to surround ourselves with. We select a career path that draws upon our talents. We pursue academic, professional or leisure activities that we feel passionate about. For the most part, we are in control. We make choices based on what’s best for us, and what fits our strengths.
For children, life is very different. When it comes to education, by and large, we have a one-size-fits-all approach. And if history tells us anything, it’s that not every student will excel in a traditional classroom.
Yes, we have individualized education programs, and yes, educators are charged with meeting each child’s needs. But teachers are given a long list of regulations and mandates that they must comply with, often in a classroom with 22 students and limited resources. Add in the pressure of state testing as a central means to gauge student and educator performance, and teachers have a lot on their plate.
It’s inevitable – students can fall through the cracks.
Striking a balance between setting high standards and educating every type of student isn’t easy. It’s a balancing act. We must have high expectations for our students if we want them to excel, but what about a student who doesn’t reach that bar? There are students who lack at-home support, lack at-home resources and come from backgrounds that do not value education. Many of those students struggle in a classroom.
There are always exceptions to the rule – students who beat the odds – and those stories should be applauded. But not every story has that happy ending. For some, the answer is dropping out, and that hurts not only the student, but the economy as well. According to Education Week, dropouts earn 41 percent less than their peers with education. Dropouts are more likely to commit crimes, and more likely to deal with unemployment. Educating our young people is the first step in training a skilled workforce and rebuilding our economy, so if we want them and our state to succeed, we need to do everything we can to keep them in school.
The New England Laborers’/Cranston Public Schools Construction Career Academy does that. NEL/CPS meets students halfway, and their career-focused curriculum engages a group of young people that struggle in traditional classroom settings. The hands-on curriculum gets these students invested in their education, trains them for the future and, hopefully, propels them to graduate.
Charter schools must meet the academic standards set by the Rhode Island Department of Education, and it’s good to hear that they are taking measures to improve academic outcomes. But as NEL/CPS tackles this charter review, let us remember that they fill a very important need in the education of our students. Without the school’s alternative approach, more young people could fall through the cracks.
Let us hold the school accountable, but support them in their work as they break the one-size-fits-all mold.