Perhaps We’ve Confused “Innovation” With “Insanity”

When I saw this item in the paper this morning, I thought it was a joke.  A tongue in cheek commentary on education innovation.  And then I had another sip of my coffee and realized this is no joke…some (Pardon me.) ass clown (He may be a lovely person, but c’mon!!!) thought it was a great idea to stick 60 small children in one classroom with four teachers.  

I mean, WHAT?!  Not only does the idea of 60 first graders running rampant in a 2,000 square foot classroom make me want to poke myself in the eye, it kind of makes me angry.  Because OF COURSE this “little experiment” is taking place in a low-income neighborhood with a high population of children with physical, emotional and learning issues.  OF COURSE IT IS.  You know, because those are totally the kids who have a year or two to spare in their learning.

Again, WHAT?!

I think this little friend, who was quoted in the article, summed it up best when she said, “We don’t know what we are supposed to be doing, but we are learning about math.”  Girlfriend doesn’t know what to do because her poor teacher is running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off just trying to keep order, much less do any actual instructing.  Do you just want to run to this school, scoop this child up and teach her how to tell time??  (And maybe hand the teacher a big old drink?)

What is the logic behind this insanity?

Evidently, Mr. Waronker (I’m envisioning suit guy with a power tie…maybe a clip board…) says his “inspiration” (How can I NOT put it in air quotes?) was an elite boarding high school in New Hampshire where students work collaboratively in small classes.

Um, how did we get from an elite group of high school students working in small groups to a whole shitload of primary grade children in a high poverty neighborhood running around all Lord of the Flies style? 

I imagine this is how the conversation went:

Mr W:  I’m feeling innovative today.  This tie really brings out my innovative side.
Some other guy: What are you thinking?
Mr. W.: Well, I’m thinking why listen to all the research on small class size?  Why consider the effectiveness of small group instruction that is differentiated to meet a student’s needs?  Why worry about the sanity or potential efficacy of teachers?
Some other guy:  I’m listening….
Mr. W: Okay, okay, I’m just spit balling here, but if small collaborative groups work in elite private high schools, then why wouldn’t it work if we put like 100 kindergarten children from a high poverty neighborhood in one room with four teachers?
Some other guy: Make it 60 kids and I think you’ve got yourself an innovation!
(high fiving)

Notice a teacher was not present in my imaginary conversation.

Mr. Waronker believes that this style of education values “student independence over teacher-led lessons, inquiry over memorization, freedom and self-expression.”  But really, who knows if they are expressing themselves?  Who knows if they are active inquirers?  Who knows if some of them are in the bathroom?  HOW ARE TEACHERS SUPPOSED TO KEEP TRACK OF ANYTHING?!

And I know there are four teachers which yields a ratio of 15:1 which is smaller than almost every city classroom but (and it’s a big BUT) I’m not sure this is even a valid argument when they are ALL IN THE SAME ROOM. 

Another facet of this innovation, according to Mr. Waronker, is the idea is that teachers and students will collaborate.   He feels that having teachers’ struggles out in the open allows their colleagues in the same room to offer advice.  (Pssssstttt….we do that anyway, even when we’re NOT in the same room with a ba-jillion little people milling about.)  And really?  Does he really think that the other teachers have a spare second to take their eyes off the chaos that is happening in front of them?  From the 60 5-year olds trying to quickly and quietly transition to another part of their gigantic classroom turned circus. If they can hear one another over all the screaming and penny shaking that is.

Get this little gem from the article.  “Eight weeks into the year, the only student work visible on the blue-painted walls was a poster with finger-painted hand prints and the words “Hands Are Not for Hitting.”  Ah, yes, feel the learning, people.  Feel the joy and celebration of student success.  Feel the sarcasm, dripping from these words.

The reporter says that there have been some improvements since September.  For example, one student chose to play with pencils rather than do his work but at least this time he was in his seat.  Are we thinking hooray for small victories or holy shit, it’s January and this is what we’re calling progress???? 

I want to hug those teachers.  And those kids.  And then I want to build them some walls.

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  • I'm still speechless. Except to say, Amen, sister.
    Is it a coincidence that the word verification I have to type right now is "dombo"???

    January 12, 2011 at 3:17 am
  • 60 five-year olds in one large room for several hours a day = Worst. idea. ever.

    PLEASE, Oh, PLEASE, do not let the "powers that be" find numbers that make this look like a good idea. I will go flip burgers before I will teach under those circumstances.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:17 am
  • And you had to love this GEM of a paragraph, "Across the room, a second teacher, Jennifer McSorley, successfully led the class’s weakest students in a counting rhyme. But when she leaned forward out of her chair to write a word on an easel, a 6-year-old boy moved it, and she fell when she tried to sit back down. “Jahmeer, sit down,” Ms. McSorley demanded, unharmed but flustered. “I could have hurt myself very badly.” Then another boy ran off to hide under an easel." I read this article before I read your blog, and it made me so very angry. Mr. Waronker obviously doesn't have a child's best interests in mind. UGH! Poor babies. And poor teachers.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:17 am
  • OH dear. I remember schools like this in the sixties and seventies. OPEN CONCEPT, we called it. The "innovative" districts that built those schools came back in the eighties and built walls.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:17 am
  • These are the things of which nightmares are made…yikes!

    January 12, 2011 at 3:17 am
  • I read this in the paper today and had one of those weird laughing/snorting/choking fits. Then I forwarded it to all of my friends who teach the little ones. What. A. Nightmare. Bless those teachers….

    January 12, 2011 at 3:17 am
  • WHAT about this idea did they even THINK would good? If you have a 15:1 ratio USE IT, not throw it all in one classroom!

    January 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm
  • I read this earlier today and could not believe it. Yes, 60 kids young children in one room. Oh, but there are multiple teachers so that makes it ok… NOT! Can you imagine?!

    January 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm
  • OMFG!!! Reading this made me want to punch my fist through my screen!!! WTF?!?! This guys is really an assbag!

    January 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm
  • Oh, I'm so glad to see your comments on this article. I read it yesterday and was distressed by the whole thing. And the progress!?! Really, the whole thing is a tragedy but what makes me the angriest is that the kids in this class are the very kids who need the best education possible.

    I taught in an open space school in Baltimore about 10 years ago. People loved coming to visit my school because it was such a weird environment. And every single person said they would hate to teach without wall.s

    January 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm
  • I remember teaching a class of 38 third graders myself…my first year teaching. It might have been nice having another teacher there with me, but there really wasn't room.

    I also remember working in an "open concept" school using rolling chalkboards and bookcases as wall.

    Mr. Waronker, a former US Army Intelligence officer, was, apparently very successful as the principal of a South Bronx Junior High School. Still, I think he needs to read 1) some educational history and 2) some information on how to do educational research.

    First…to followup on Laurabeth's comment…the modular, open concept teaching style has been tried. It was successful to some degree with middle and high school students when the teachers were given lots of training as well as lots of time for collaboration and planning WITHOUT students there. Google "Open Concept Education" for some very informative…and OLD information. Most places have discontinued it because it was too hard to manage and student achievement was not any better than traditional schools (for example,

    My suggestion to Mr. Waronker would be to join with an established educational researcher before you start experimenting with young children. I'd recommend Richard Allington…

    January 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm
  • I just can't even imagine! I teach 21 kindergartners by myself and think there is not enough of me to help each of these children the way they truly deserve! 60 in a big room ugg if they go see Gulliver's Travels and figure out there is strength in numbers those poor teachers are doomed!

    January 13, 2011 at 3:46 am
  • I went to an open concept school in fifth grade. It was very "Lord of the Flies". The experiment lasted one year.

    As an older child, I learned to concentrate despite chaos. Most kids ran wild.

    But to the present… how are first graders supposed to learn to read, etc. in the middle of all that mess? My child would be a total basket case with that much noise and distraction. So would I!

    January 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm
  • Our elementary school had two first grade teachers who teamed together as teachers. They opened the walls to have a giant open classroom with 40-50 kids.

    It works quite well, especially compared to the model of a single teacher with 25 or so kids. It is common for a child to try to disrupt the lesson, and with two teachers one can continue teacher while the other one handles the problem. Or one teacher pulls small groups out for remedial or advanced learning.

    I think if you grade most first grades, especially lower-income first grades, by their September organization, they will mostly fail. It will be interesting to see how this experiment works out.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm
  • Someone else's comment reminded me…

    When I first started teaching, I taught third grade. We had a great building – there were two third grades with three rooms. We could open the walls between all three rooms to make one large room…and we often used the empty room between us for a gathering of all the students.

    When I had a class of 34, one year, I opened part of the wall and kept my desk in the middle room…it was very convenient and made for extra room in the classroom.

    The point was, though, that we had the flexibility to use the room together…with all the students…or to keep our separate, traditional classrooms. We used the middle room for discussions before and after field trips, videos, and any other large group presentations. Reading, math, and other content area instruction was done in our separate classrooms. It was quieter…more controlled.

    It will be interesting to see how this "experiment" turns out. The only problem is that if it doesn't turn out well, then the children who were the subject of the experiment will be the ones who pay the price.

    January 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm
  • Poke me in the eye with a sharp stick right now…

    January 18, 2011 at 3:49 am
  • Please don't take this the wrong way, but… I love you, Mrs. Mimi. 🙂 You always say what I'm thinking. Keep it up!

    January 20, 2011 at 3:55 am
  • As I currently have 36 kindergarten students ALL TO MYSELF, I would jump at the opportunity to share 60 with 3 other teachers 🙂

    February 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm
  • We actually did something like this at my school for part of my first year teaching. We put all 80 5th graders in the gym and had one teacher lead standardized test review while the rest of us milled around trying to keep order. It was heinous. It caused an amazing teacher with 25 years of experience to leave the school at the end of the year. And that was with older kids, and it was just review, rather than teaching new concepts, so the kids and teachers in the situation you're talking about are even worse off. I really feel for them.

    March 18, 2011 at 7:04 pm

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