This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2, 2010 - curricular reform is easy

I am the result of two educational influences: public schools, and the public library.

Growing up as a boomer in the 50s and 60s, my typical class size was 34. I really don't recall that being a problem. School was generally better than home for me, and I had teachers with high expectations. I think we all got a pretty solid grounding in the basics.

I learned to speed read to get through my boring and tedious fourth grade social sciences textbook as quickly as possible. As I got older, I pretty much lived at the public library, and eventually was reading a book a day, seven days a week, mostly biographies and science fiction.

After college, and grad school, I really didn't think about formal education that much.

Until I had kids.

Like many earnest and clueless parents, I started to worry. Public education in the 1990s seemed very different from my own experience. I was already in Douglas County when there was something of a movement beginning. In brief, a small group of parents believed that there were very few, and very inconsistent standards for curriculum.

I started attending various school district meetings, and came to share that concern. Consider this: I know from working with European and Asian Rotary exchange students that a year in America doesn't even count toward their graduation. Almost all of our exchange students got straight As, not only because they tended to be smart, but because they had covered our content several years earlier.

If you go to school in Iowa, Minnesota, or Texas, then come to elementary school in Colorado, you'll find that you're about a year ahead.

Although the CSAP has changed this somewhat (and not always for the better), it's still true that if you move around the state, you'll find that there's not much curricular consistency from school district to school district. Even more amazing to me is the variance not only between schools within a district, but within classes at the same grade level in the same school building. That's because we have "local control" and "site-based management." Unlike most of the people I know, I think these policies serve our nation poorly.

After reading up on all this, my wife and I decided to homeschool our kids at least through the first grade. We believed it was important (a) to work through the developmental stages of play and values formation with them, instead of outsourcing that to crowds of other children, and (b) to lay a firm foundation of reading, writing, and math.

Oh, and (c) it was fun! We took our kids to libraries (of course!), plays, museums, concerts, national parks, shopping malls, local political and volunteer events, sporting events, and more. Children, all children, are just amazingly bright, and seeing their fascination with the world was rejuvenating for us, too.

Later, I was one of the original founders of Colorado's first parent-initiated charter school: Castle Rock's Academy Charter. A friend of mine, Laurel Iakovakis, and I pushed the Core Knowledge Curriculum, which was later adopted by many charters. Laurel was the first dean of the Parker Academy. Later still, I served on the Academy Charter School board. My daughter went to Academy Charter from grades 2 through 5 (then homeschool again for a year, then public school, then Douglas County High School's spectacular International Baccalaureate program).

I learned some valuable lessons through that experience. First, curricular reform is easy. It really is. You pick a philosophy, find supporting material, hire teachers who believe in your approach, and there you are.

Second, there's more to a school than curriculum. There's institutional finance, and governance, and personnel management, and extra-curricular activities, and a confounding mix of contrary expectations by the parents.

I mention all this to begin to lay the ground work for a consideration of "choice" in public education. As I hope my experience makes plain, I've dabbled in a fair amount of it.

But next week I'd like to talk not just about choice, but about results. Eventually, we'll get around to the topic of the day: vouchers.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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