Even when the results are unequivocally negative, the press finds reasons for enthusiasm--assuming all the fashionable ingredients are there. Consider the following excerpts from an article in yesterday's Times about a classroom in the New American Academy in Crown Heights, which consists of "four teachers in large, open classrooms of 60 students":
Sixty children in a first-grade class can get loud — sometimes too loud for a teacher to explain a lesson.
So, while waiting for her teacher to come by, one little girl arranged the pennies she had been given to practice subtraction into a smiley face. Another shook her pennies in a plastic bag. A high-pitched argument broke out over someone’s missing quarter.
“We don’t know what we are supposed to be doing, but we are learning about math,” Thea Burnett, 6, said.
When [teacher Jennifer McSorley] 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.
...Then another boy ran off to hide under an easel. Someone grabbed someone else’s pennies. The noise snowballed.
In the front of the room, Kathleen Kearns, a first-year teacher, strained to get her 20 students to understand how to use a chart to classify similarities and differences between two characters in a book. About half a dozen students refused to sit in their places.
“I need you here; your job is here,” she said to one, trying to be heard. After class, she said, “I am exhausted at the end of the day.”
In the first two months of school, a student pulled a chunk of an adult’s hair out, and an ambulance crew was called twice to calm a child. 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.”
By January, three children who were violent had been moved to more-structured environments; seven other first graders moved away or withdrew, reducing the class size to 50.Interspersed with all this, however, are the following gushes of enthusiasm:
All this was the early stages of an audacious public education experiment taking place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, one that its founder hopes will revolutionize both how students learn and how teachers are trained... The founder, Shimon Waronker, developed the idea with several other graduate students at Harvard. It draws its inspiration, he said, from Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite boarding high school in New Hampshire where students in small classes work collaboratively and hold discussions around tables.
Indeed, given that the audacious, Harvard-educated Mr Waronker has set out "to prove that his method could help any child," and that this school "stresses student independence over teacher-led lessons, scientific inquiry over rote memorization and freedom and self-expression over strict structure and discipline," how could it possibly not succeed--at least in its portrayal by the media.But Mr. Waronker decided to try out the model in one of the nation’s toughest learning environments, a high poverty elementary school in which 20 percent of the children have been found to have emotional, physical or learning disabilities. The idea, he said, was to prove that his method could help any child, and should be widely used elsewhere. “I didn’t want to create an environment that wasn’t real for everyone else and then say, look at my success,” he said....“This is messy work — this is the front lines.”...At its heart is the idea that the teachers, not to mention the students, will collaborate and learn from one another, rather than being isolated in separate classrooms....The intensive collaboration, [Waronker] believes, is what will cause his model, while admittedly still in a “trial-and-error” phase, to ultimately surpass others....Indeed, by this month, there were significant improvements. Children appeared more focused during lessons. Jahmeer decided to play with pencils rather than do his counting work sheet, but he stayed in his seat, and another child asked if he needed help. One boy started crying, but not because someone pushed him; he wanted to have a turn writing his answer on the board.