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Jacksonville Charter School is committed to the philosophy of learning through integrative education. Learning is not done merely for its own sake, but is ultimately applied to situations both in and out of the classroom. We believe that everything in life has a direct relation to something else and our goal is for students to discover that nothing in life is isolated. By integrating their studies in school and applying their learning beyond the school, students understand and contribute to the world in which they live. This integrative approach applies to all aspects of Jacksonville Charter School from curriculum to the physical plan of the school.
The main components of Jacksonville Charter School reflect its dedication to connectedness. Students do not exist by themselves but must communicate with others and rely on the support structures that surround them. Teachers do not exist by themselves but must combine resources and techniques with other instructors in and out of the classroom. The school does not exist by itself but must interact with the community surrounding it. Students must understand that learning in school does not exist by itself either. There is always relevance to the world outside the school walls. The ultimate preparation for this world is to prepare students to think well. Jacksonville Charter School does not prepare its students specifically for college or a vocation: instead, it fosters the same higher-level thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in all of its graduates. In this fashion, Jacksonville Charter School is dedicated to helping students discover that these thinking skills are necessary to navigate whatever post-graduate paths they may choose.
In a nutshell, a graduate of Jacksonville Charter School exhibits the ability to think. By "the ability to think," we mean that she has learned how to understand, analyze, apply, and synthesize information. We don't require that she demonstrate merely a collection of information -- common or "important" names, places, figures, dates -- because these facts by themselves are useful only in a game of Trivial Pursuit (Perkins 31) . We instead require that she be able to make connections and inferences from facts - to be able to transform the abstract to reality. It is this ability that she will need in order to be a responsible citizen and contributor to society.
In his book Cultural Literacy , E.D. Hirsch Jr. argues that all High School Graduates should have mastery of a core of significant facts (Hirsch 1). He claims that American high school students are poor readers because they lack this knowledge base from which to make inferences while reading. For example, Hirsch finds in an experiment that students lacking background information about the Civil War failed to fully comprehend a passage about Civil War generals Grant and Lee. Hirsch concludes that American high school students should learn a list of 1500 items that every culturally literate American should know. When this standard is achieved, every American reader will have a set of inferences to bring to a text (Hirsch xvii).
Contrary to Hirsch's knowledge-base argument, Jacksonville Charter School stands by the principle that such facts cannot truly be retained unless they are made meaningful to the student. A list like Hirsch's lends itself too easily to rote memorization that can be conveniently forgotten after a test. According to Educator Theodore Sizer, eighty percent of all knowledge gained is lost within 24 months (Sizer Interview) Furthermore, such knowledge should not be gained for its own sake. Jacksonville states that the acquisition of any knowledge should be used to help better understand related concepts and themes. Jacksonville graduates must be able to analyze texts to evaluate on their own which facts best support their arguments, and then synthesize these facts into coherent answers.
The Jacksonville curriculum explicitly focuses on the application of knowledge. Jacksonville considers application of knowledge to be the most effective route to true understanding. It also brings the mere learning of facts and theorems out of isolation, giving it an explicit purpose. Applying knowledge is like building a house. Before construction can begin, a solid foundation must be set. Likewise, before students can apply knowledge, they must first have the necessary foundations of understanding upon which to build. Therefore, the school day is structured to present knowledge to students during Foundation PeriodsTM, and to give them the opportunity to utilize this knowledge during project-based Learning LaboratoriesTM.
All disciplines and models of thinking naturally follow this pattern of acquisitions and application. While the line between acquisition and application is oftentimes blurred, this dichotomy is nonetheless inherent to any approach to learning. Foundation Periods and Learning Labs are therefore used to study every concept represented in the curriculum.
The Foundation Period, focusing on acquisition of interdisciplinary knowledge, makes use of several methods to impart knowledge to students. These means include lecture, discussion, field trips, interviews, reading sessions, film sessions, and other techniques that instructors feel are appropriate. Jacksonville provides teachers complete flexibility over which of these means to employ in their classroom. The only stipulation is that the chosen technique provide students with sufficient background for the Learning Lab. Because students are always using knowledge in the learning labs, there is always a purpose for the learning.
The Learning Lab, which focuses on the application of knowledge, makes use of a variety of student-centered projects, based on the knowledge gained in the Foundation Period. Lab has its own definition at Jacksonville Charter School -- it may be a full-class laboratory in the sense of a traditional high school sciences lab, or it may be an opportunity for students to work, with the facilitation of their teachers, on their group or individual projects. These projects can take the form of experiments, independent research, essays, or artistic expression. Teachers and students decide together which sorts of projects they wish to do in Learning Lab. Also, they may focus on any specific portions of the Foundation Period they wish, and determine the best approach to working on these projects, such as individual, small-group, or whole-class work. Again, the only requirement is that the Learning Lab projects make use of the material covered in Foundation Period.
Jacksonville Charter School is divided into three Houses of learning: House I, House II, and the Senior House. The house system is in place to set milestones for the student's educational journey. House I, composed of 7th and 8th grades, orients first- and second-year students to the school. House II (9th and 10th grades) prepares students for the greater autonomy they will experience in their graduation work. Finally, Senior House (11th and 12th grades) emphasizes the students work toward their Final Exhibition. Two-year houses also give students the opportunity to serve as leaders every other year: as the elders of their house, they usually serve in positions of responsibility such as the Governance or Student Disciplinary Council.
At the end of two years, upon successful completion and exhibited mastery of four themes (one per semester) in House I, a student moves on to House II. In these first two Houses, students address themes within the framework of Foundations and Learning Labs. Learning Lab projects at this level can last anywhere from a few days to a whole semester; there can be many smaller projects within a theme and these projects can be shorter in duration than the theme itself. At the beginning of eleventh grade, students enter the Senior House. During their tenure at the Senior House, students also work in Foundations and Learning Labs, although they take a more individual and independent approach to their projects. This increasing independence serves to prepare students for their Senior Project which they must complete to graduate.
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday 8-10 Foundations Foundations Foundations Foundations Foundations 10-11 Learning Learning Lab Learning Lab Learning Lab Learning Lab Lab 11-12 Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch 12-2 Foundations Community Foundations Community Learning Lab Learning Learning 2-3 Learning Learning Lab Community Community Issues Lab Mini-Seminar Seminar 3-5 Sports/Extra Sports/Extra- Sports/Extra- Sports/Extra- Sports/Extra- -curriculars curriculars curriculars curriculars curriculars
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday 8-10 Foundations Foundations Foundations Foundations Foundations 10-11 Learning Lab Learning Lab Learning Lab Learning Lab Learning Lab 11-12 Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch 12-2 Community Foundations Community Foundations Learning Lab Learning Learning 2-3 Learning Lab Community Learning Lab Community Mini-Seminar Issues Seminar 3-5 Sports/Extra- Sports/Extra- Sports/Extra- Sports/Extra- Sports/Extra- curriculars curriculars curriculars curriculars curriculars
Students spend their entire day in a class of 33 students including both grade levels within their House. Each classroom is taught by a team of two teachers consisting of one humanities specialist and one science specialist. The teachers and students spend the morning in a Foundations Period and a corresponding Learning Laboratory that address an interdisciplinary theme. Since each teacher is a specialist in a particular discipline (such as history or biology), she lectures and facilitates discussion when the curriculum addresses her respective specialty. Both teachers are also generalists, each able to bring together knowledge from all areas of thought and incorporate it into their teaching.
The afternoon schedule is divided into two groups to allow two programs to occur simultaneously. On two afternoons each week (Monday and Wednesday for classroom group A, Tuesday/Thursday for group B), the class has another Foundations Period and corresponding Learning Laboratory. On two alternating afternoons (Tuesday/Thursday for group A, Monday/Wednesday for group B), students spend their time in their Community Learning projects, a variety of programs that link their studies to projects to the community outside of the school. Students in the Senior House are given increased flexibility with afternoon schedules in order to pursue research and corporate internships related to their Senior Projects. On Friday afternoons, students divide their time between a Community Issues Seminar and an extended Learning Lab.
As stated above, all Foundations Periods are based on interdisciplinary learning. Our school is based on the idea that school should prepare students for thinking not just in the classroom, but outside. Solving problems in the world combines many aspects of thought, synthesized together, to be applied to new situations. Therefore it makes no sense to teach subjects as isolated entities. Instead, we integrate the curriculum through various semester-long themes. When exploring these themes, students learn to draw on knowledge and skills from different subjects to enrich their understanding of the theme. Students are concerned not only with what topic they are thinking about, but with how they are thinking about the topic. Learning to draw on thinking skills from multiple areas of learning becomes the ultimate preparation for life.
The traditional curriculum, in which learning is divided into, as Robin Fogarty describes, "distinct disciplines," leads to a great emphasis on the learning of abstract knowledge, and of knowledge restricted to the structure of a particular discipline. These distinct subject areas under the traditional format usually include math, science, language arts, and social studies (Fogarty 6). Under such a format, knowledge is acquired solely for the purposes of understanding a specific discipline, not to be applied to any other disciplines, or any new situations. For example, compartmentalizing physics often means that students will only use physical laws in physics class. Compartmentalizing disciplines renders learning useless outside one specific setting.
In such a curriculum based on abstract ideas and strict relation to subject matter, the material's relevance to the world outside of academia is lost. Students begin asking, "Why are we learning this?" The knowledge students learn, as Sizer puts it, "may seem disembodied and therefore inert, as students wonder what the point of all this knowledge is" (Sizer 93). Heidi Hayes Jacobs elaborates, "A common concern of students is the irrelevance of their course work in their lives out of school. They find it difficult to understand why they need math when most of their instruction is based on a textbook used in isolation from its applications" (Jacobs 4). Too often information is being learned for its own sake, to be repeated back to the teacher. Students do not see any practical application for learning.
In addition to having little relevance beyond the classroom, subjects in a traditional curriculum also have little relevance to each other. Subjects are seen by students as random divisions which create confusion over the purpose of learning. Jacobs notes:
We rarely explain to students why the school day is designed as it is. It should come as no surprise that students look at the arbitrary divisions for reading, math, social studies, science, art, music, and physical education and begin to define the subject areas as separate bodies of knowledge with little relationship to one another (Jacobs 6).
The strict division of subjects isolates the subjects from one another and leaves students wondering how each subject connects to the rest of their studies.
The strength of Jacksonville's thematic approach to curriculum is its integration of all aspects of learning. Students bring different disciplines to bear on a single theme that has significance in the world outside the classroom. In this way, each discipline is united with every other, but not for the sake of interdisciplinary learning alone. Each discipline informs and enriches the students thoughts about a theme. This interdisciplinary learning is a means to an end: analyzing an important issue from many perspectives, each of which contributes to the overall picture. Studying themes helps prepare students for a world in which, as Howard Gardner explains, they must "take information and skills they have learned in school... and apply them flexibly and appropriately in a new and at least somewhat unanticipated situation" (Gardner 54).
In choosing themes, Jacksonville begins with an assessment of the skills that students need to further pursue topics and develop these skills into the framework of a theme. A report from the Coalition of Essential Schools states, "When teachers agree to organize the curriculum around mastering thinking skills through exploring substantive content, the curriculum opens into true integration" (Cushman 11). For instance, Boston Area Educators for Social Responsibility, a group which develops interdisciplinary, theme-based teaching programs, includes a list of critical skills in the description of one of their courses, Bias and Interpretation:
Students can learn to identify uses and misuses of math, to analyze and conduct research, record and discuss results. We will demonstrate ways to help students develop visual literacy, think critically think about data and the conclusions drawn from the data as well as how to be influential with their own data (Polinor 4).
The themes shall be created and selected by an approval process that involves the teachers. Teachers will develop focused themes for each schooling semester and students will have the opportunity to amend the themes so that they may gain a greater level of relation to the material. Each semester, students study one theme that is broad enough to generate a wide range of questions. The themes will also allow the students to develop their own projects relating to the theme so that they may gain greater insight into a topic that is purely of their interest.
As model themes for a semester, we suggest the following questions which provide points of departure for studying the themes "What is race?" and "Water." Students would research issues related to these questions and gradually refine their own answers. The following questions require certain thinking skills to be addressed. These thinking skills also apply to future themes. Such thinking skills include philosophical inquiry, statistical analysis and inference, use of the scientific method, historical and political analysis, inductive and deductive logic, cause versus effect, just to name a few.
Theme based projects at Jacksonville Charter School take the following forms. In the sample theme, "What is race?", a group of students could each contribute an individual product. One student could write a brief paper on race issues within Jacksonville Charter School; another student could stage a skit focusing on popular stereotypes of racial groups; a third student could interview a person concerning the impact that race and identity have on their lives.
The converse of this form, where group of students make individual contributions to a single project, may also be used to answer thematic questions. The group could decide to write an extensive paper on the role of race and racism in the American high school system. Students could research the history of racial desegregation and current racial situations in high schools. Another group could study the genetic basis of diseases which center on certain races.
At Jacksonville Charter School, learning from the community is vital. Since a high school is part of a larger community, it is important to acknowledge the surrounding locale and to take advantage of its resources. Community learning forges the link between school and reality which helps students analyze their experiences outside the classroom. Students learn to observe external experiences in the same manner that they observe those within the school walls.
Jacksonville ensures that such learning is closely connected to the framework of the curriculum. Jacksonville sets aside two 3-hour periods for Community Learning each week. Five of these hours are devoted to actual service/learning, while the remaining hour is devoted to the project-specific seminar in which issues concerning a particular project are addressed. Such a program ensures that students will be exposed to the surrounding community during school hours, giving them a sense of reality and perspective. In addition, by examining these experiences inside the school they can utilize thinking skills normally reserved for abstract learning to analyze real life experiences. For instance, students can analyze the different causes of housing segregation in cities, and evaluate for themselves which cause is the most important. Causes of housing segregation may vary from one city to another, in which case students can draw their own conclusions as to what these variations imply about segregation in different settings.
Jacksonville's Community learning options include a wide range of activities within the community. These activities are organized by the community service coordinator, who is responsible for providing students with a wide range of options. These possibilities run the gamut from tutoring programs to homeless shelters to ecological cleanup.
The community issues seminar directly addresses the connection between learning outside the school and inside the school. Each seminar focuses on particular community issues (directly affecting the lives of students), ranging from homelessness to environmental hazards, to local art, which will be decided upon by teachers and students together. Study of these issues, together with the experiences of students in their Community Learning projects, will form the foundation of knowledge within the seminars. In the seminars students discuss the issues, and work on a series of projects drawing on their experiences. For instance, students working at a homeless shelter and tutoring at a school may all study the issue of local poverty. During the seminar, the students discuss their observations and experiences relating to the issue of poverty. They could publish and distribute a community newsletter about the different faces of poverty in the local community. Each seminar is conducted by the same team of teachers and students who meet for Foundation Periods and Learning Labs, so that the student has the same teacher resources for both traditionally abstract learning and community learning.
An additional seminar will be conducted every week at the community learning sites themselves by the site liaison. This liaison could be the head of an inner-city school where students are volunteering, a soup-kitchen coordinator, or a corporate mentor. Jacksonville teachers do not accompany students on the projects. Jacksonville teachers have this time to themselves so they can work on staff development, teacher training, lesson plans, and a sense of collegial community among themselves.
The mini-seminar also brings the community learning programs closer to the school community. Sponsors feel more involved in the school because they are given the mini-seminars to relate their program to Jacksonville's curriculum. These on-site seminars will address problems students may be having with their particular projects, and will give students a chance to discuss community learning issues in greater depth, with someone who is closer to the heart of these issues than a teacher may be.
Such a community program, with learning projects and seminars, and mini seminars, gives students the chance to see the value of the ideas they learn in school. Students reap the rewards of critical thinking, learning, and motivation from a setting outside the classroom. As Wood points out, "the worlds of the classroom and the community flow back and forth, enriching the lives of students, helping them see what they learn makes a difference" (Wood 112). In addition, there is always the vital connection between the acquisition of knowledge and its utilization. The goals of Jacksonville Charter School are not forgotten: students do not participate in community service simply because it is a good thing to do; they learn to apply lessons and observations from their service within the school.
Unlike many traditional junior high and high schools, Jacksonville Charter School is a heterogeneously-grouped school. Each Jacksonville classroom has students from a variety of academic ability-levels and from two grade-levels.
Jacksonville's untracked program is the result of a careful study of the most common grouping plans in practice at American schools. While the major studies on learning outcomes which try to make an argument for or against tracking are somewhat flawed, they nonetheless indicate that "The achievement effects of ability-grouped class assignment (in comparison to heterogeneous grouping) are essentially zero at the elementary level and are very slight at the secondary level." (Slavin 34) Additionally, anecdotal and psychological studies uniformly condemn tracking due to their detrimental effects on self-esteem, their creation of a segregated classroom and school, and the disparity of educational experiences that they create.
The general term "ability-grouping" represents three distinct forms of organizing students by their academic ability-level. The first and most restrictive of these strategies is tracking. When schools group students of like ability in the same classes throughout the entire day, this is referred to as tracking. Tracking, which is more commonplace in secondary schools than it is in elementary or middle schools, places students in one of two or three homogeneous tracks. These tracks are given a variety of names such as "college-preparatory", "honors", "career", "academic", "general", "vocational", "business", or "basic". While schools use an assortment of labels to describe these tracks, we refer to these tracks as simply "high", "middle", and "low" tracks, which respectively refer to the range of tracks from very academic to remedial. Based on prior achievement, examinations, or teacher recommendations, a student takes classes in one of these three categories across his entire schedule.
Another form of ability-grouping is by-subject grouping. Subject-based grouping includes reading and math groups in elementary school, as well as the division of individual secondary school disciplines into high, middle, and low groups. Under this system a student may take high-level history and middle-level math. This system is more flexible than tracking because it does not compel the student to take all high- or all middle-level courses.
A third form of ability-grouping creates mixed-ability groups of students within a heterogeneous class. This approach to learning treats differences between students as an asset instead of a disadvantage. Mixed-ability classes tend to be common among elementary schools where cooperative learning techniques and small-group projects are more easily implemented (Harvard 3).
Evidence of the psychological effects of ability-grouping allows us to draw a few conclusions. Most of the research focuses on the three-track system practiced by many secondary schools nationwide. Because there is less attitudinal evidence regarding James and Chen-Lin Kulik's grouping proposal (heterogeneous grouping for middle- and low-achievers, homogeneous grouping for high-achievers), it is more difficult to judge its effectiveness. However, we can argue that the rigid three-track system has a substantial negative impact on lower-track students.
Researcher Robert Slavin briefly discusses the effects a segregated track environment may have on self-esteem. He writes that assignment to a low track "may have a stigmatizing effect on low achievers, may evoke low expectations for student achievement and behavior, and may reduce self-esteem." (Slavin 34) Author Jeannie Oakes concurs with Slavin in Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality, in which she writes, "Rather than help students to feel more comfortable about themselves, the tracking process seems to foster lowered self-esteem among these teenagers." (Oakes 8) Oakes goes on to cite two studies done in the 1970s that indicate that lower-track students have lower aspirations for the future, which may be due in part to the lower self-esteem.
But self-esteem and aspirations are just the tip of the iceberg. Through a series of interviews with teachers and students of the three tracks, Oakes determined that a great disparity exists between their respective educational experiences. Students in the high-track classes tended to describe "the most important thing they have learned or done" in a given class in terms of analysis and evaluation of information. They emphasized what concepts they had learned as well as what they had learned about learning (Oakes 67-70). Low-track students described skills and techniques that they learned. Their responses indicated that their perception of their education was geared towards practical applications of knowledge such as filling out job applications or doing their income taxes (Oakes 70-72). Interviews conducted with high-track and low-track teachers revealed parallel goals and expectations set by the teachers of these courses: high-track teachers wanted to encourage their students to think; low-track teachers wanted their students to have the necessary skills to survive economically after high school graduation (Oakes 79-83).
The disparity of educational experience described by Oakes raises some questions about the democratic (or undemocratic) nature of tracking. As stated earlier, track placement is oftentimes influenced by performance on examinations. Because whites and rich students tend to score better than poor and minority students on examinations (Oakes 11), track placement of students by test results contributes to a de facto segregation of students by race and socioeconomic class. This segregation has a profound psychological impact on students; according to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, racial segregation greatly affects the "hearts and minds" of students. Moreover, our educational system is the cornerstone of an intelligent and informed electorate. By placing minority students in a track where we teach skills instead of analytical thought, we are not adequately preparing them to participate in the democratic process.
Why did the teachers in Oakes' study have different goals for their high- or low-track students? Why do we expect that students on a lower track are incapable of intellectual thought? It turns out that there is some evidence that invalidates this assumption. "If anything, kids who are labeled as slow live up to those expectations," says administrator David Sojourner. "But if you expect them to be successful, they pretty much live up to those expectations." (Gursky 51) Low expectations are commonplace, and they plague students in the low track. Educational researcher David Perkins suggests that a teacher's expectations can have a tremendous effect on educational outcomes:
In the mid-1960s, researcher Robert Rosenthal conducted a simple experiment in San Francisco. He informed some teachers that specific students showed higher IQ scores than others. In fact, the students identified as high-IQ were chosen at random by Rosenthal. At the end of the year, Rosenthal compared the performance of the students said to be gifted with those not. The supposedly gifted students actually had performed better -- and not just by the measure of the teacher's subjective grades but on objective tests. (Perkins 36)
The implications of this "Rosenthal effect" cannot be understated. When we focus so greatly on the "inherent ability" of students, we end up limiting their potential. If our model of learning instead assumes that all students have equal potential, then we can set high expectations and demand that students put forth effort to live up to these expectations. The Japanese conception of learning is based on this principle of "effort is what counts": if a child is not doing well in mathematics, it is not because math is intrinsically hard so he lacks ability; instead he performs poorly because he is not trying hard enough (Perkins 34).
The rigid three-track system imposes problems of lower self-esteem and teacher expectations, as well as a disparity of educational goals. While the original intent of tracking was to provide "customized", and therefore better education, three-tier tracking gains us virtually zero improvement in achievement while inflicting psychological damage on students in the lower tracks. This realization requires us to find alternative grouping, curricula, and teaching and learning styles in place of tracking at Jacksonville Charter School.
Team teaching is an educational approach that moves away from the traditional notion of having one teacher per classroom. It challenges the notion of having one professional in the classroom and addresses the "limits of one" (Wasley 6). At Jacksonville Charter School each class contains two team teachers, one who is a specialist in science and another who is focused on humanities, yet are both great generalists in education. It accommodates Jacksonville's class sizes of 33 students per classroom. The teachers work together in a cooperative effort in order to enhance learning for students.
The consequences of team teaching is that the subject matter is presented to students in a tailored fashion because of the fact that the members of the team are knowledgeable about the topic from a variety of perspectives. Since what the students are learning is drawn upon from many sources, the students gain an interdisciplinary perspective in their learning of the material. Also, the students have the opportunity to learn from a variety of teaching styles from the many teachers.
Teachers do not have to face many of the limits that are present in one teacher situations such as an overbearing workload. Teachers can support one another's strength while accommodating weaknesses. The teachers who have participated in team teaching praise it for allowing a larger knowledge base to draw information, more resources for help, and different styles of teaching (Wasley 7). A particular teacher says,
There were times in my sessions where I was working alone where the kids asked me a question that I couldn't answer. Sometimes the silence turned weird because I just didn't know what to do next. When Mary or the others were in the room, they could help me out...they were able to talk it over with me so I could see what happened (Wasley 8).
Team teaching also opens the possibility for bringing instructors in from other classrooms. For example, a class that is performing an art project can benefit from the expertise of a faculty member who specializes in art and joins the class for one or more days. This teacher can bring new insights and information to the class that would be sacrificed in a single-teacher classroom.
Team teaching allows for our teachers to have more time within the day for planning and flexible scheduling. It encourages strong staff development and requires close cooperation amongst staff members to create a cohesive community. We feel that when our teachers build a strong sense of community within the classroom, than the entire school is filled with collaborative effort.
Compared to other systems of learning, cooperative teaching teams better serve the diverse student population of Jacksonville Charter School. Teachers are able to better their teaching skills to reach a much more diverse student body. The combined effort of two teachers, both being great specialists and generalists, overcome the limits of one teacher in the classroom.
The traditional answer to the dilemma of secondary school assessment is the test: "something (as a series of questions or exercises) for measuring the skill, knowledge, intelligence, capacities, or aptitudes of an individual or group." (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 1218) This type of evaluation is often quick and easy to prepare, and follows the national trend of standardized testing. George Wood writes that "teacher-made tests and quizzes often mimic those (standardized) tests in style and form, and become the primary way teachers evaluate what students learn." (Wood 192)
The common (ABCDF) grading process is also problematic in that students get stuck with a label that is hard to get rid of. (Wood 196) The obvious ranking that results from this type of grading provides a source of competition between peers rather than a more beneficial "helping" atmosphere that could be attained by a different grading system. All of these problems leave a gaping hole in the education that we provide for our students in the United States.
Innovative assessment techniques are one way to combat these obstacles. New forms and philosophies of assessment have recently been attempted in some high schools with generally positive results. (Wood, Chapter 2) They encourage the transfer of knowledge, the relationship of learning to real-life situations, and the use of interactive evaluations.
Before new modes of assessment can be discussed, we must first understand the basis of and reasoning behind the traditional forms of evaluation that are used in most of our secondary schools today. The use of testing in the United States is consistent with Hirsch's "cultural literacy" standard: the possession of a core of basic facts shared by all competent readers. (Hirsch 2) The increasing use of standardized testing supports this theory of factual knowledge and national trends are often mirrored in individual classrooms. Traditional objective testing generally includes one or more of the following: multiple choice, true/false, short answer, and/or matching. Such testing, depending on the quality of the questions, has the capacity to measure quite a bit of factual and analytical knowledge. Well thought out and written questions can demand a great deal of thinking skills from a student.
A test can never evaluate all the knowledge that a student possesses, but it is thought that a test is able to assess a representative sample of one's entire bank of knowledge. (Lipsitt) If a student is able to answer the specific questions that are covered in the exam, then he or she must have a firm grasp on the other concepts that could not be covered. Unfortunately, this theory does not always hold true. "One has to wonder why we believe that just because kids pass a standardized test they know something. No doubt they know how to take a test" (Wood 192). Students often "figure their teachers out" and learn to study only what they know they will be tested on. Thus, a lot of valuable information is lost for many students.
Objectivity is an advantage of testing in that it is very consistent from student to student. Everyone is responsible for the same information and there are no shortcuts as there could be in a more analytical evaluation. In his study on models for educational assessment, R. Darrell Bock (1993) compared multiple-choice questions to open-ended questions on a biology test for high school students. His results show that "the multiple-choice section has very high reliability and further suggest that one of the open-ended items conveys, on the average, about the same information as four multiple-choice items." However, the repeatability of a multiple-choice test does not make it an inherently better form of evaluation. The fact that "good" students often do well and "poor" students often do badly simply shows that some kids know how to take a test and some don't. A few students are always able to pick up on a history teacher who only tests on names and dates or the questions at the end of the textbook chapter. These are the students who will do well. Perhaps a hands-on project would favor some of the poor test-takers and allow them to use more analytical skills instead of rote learning.
Some argue, however, that multiple-choice and objective short answer testing makes the grading process much easier for the teacher. With all that is expected of high school teachers, an intensive and subjective assessment process might simply be too much to handle. The teacher is not required to make judgment calls and the time saved in grading can be put to use in other facets of education. Yet, a good teacher must be willing to go beyond objective thinking along with his or her student. A multiple-choice exam might be easier to grade, but it only scratches the surface of what needs to be taught.
Essay testing is one way in which the traditional test can have a more positive outcome. In a study on social studies testing, Ernest House (1987) found that "there was general agreement that standardized tests are not the proper way to assess student learning, and both the content of tests and the multiple-choice format were strongly criticized. Essay tests were the universal choice." Testing of this sort requires on-the-spot writing and analyzing skills, along with a firm base of facts. Without the analyzing skills, however, the essay test loses its aim. A dull list of facts is not the goal; rather, an in-depth reasoning of fact and theory is required of the student. This area of testing has the benefit of eliciting original thinking skills from each student in a way that objective testing cannot.
Alternative assessments have the ability to mold to the particular situations in which they are used. This lack of rigidity gives the teacher freedom to pursue and emphasize certain areas; it also allows students to create their own insights with the guidance of their teacher and peers. The importance of collaboration and the opportunity for students to learn from each other is stressed. By doing this, different opinions and beliefs can be accounted for and a more intelligent, well-rounded student is the result. "There is considerable hope that new modes of assessment...will provide one means for exposing the abilities of less traditionally skilled students by giving a place to world knowledge, social processes, and a great variety of excellence" (Wolf 60).
Projects and collaboration represent real-life experiences more accurately than testing can. A Massachusetts high school uses a hands-on teaching style. "'You try to make it come to life,' Fernandes (a history teacher) said. 'This is more hands-on than a regular high school class, learning through discovery instead of rote memory. It's going to stay with them longer'" (Taylor 1993). This increased interaction between students also makes the classroom more dynamic and familiar. It is a more interesting and involving atmosphere for both students and teachers to learn in.
The Jacksonville Charter School supports three main forms of evaluation: mini-exhibitions, portfolios, and projects. They all require experience-based learning which incorporates the performance of a task into assessment. Examples of projects include the writing of a research paper, the publication of a newspaper or magazine (Wood 58), the production of a video, or an oral presentation. All projects will be focused on during the Learning Lab portion of the school day.
The "mini-exhibition" is a presentation like the final exhibition that can be done in less detail and in a shorter space of time in grades seven through ten. It expresses students' personal conclusions stemming from their research on class themes. For example, a student who had studied the theme "What is race?" throughout the semester could demonstrate in his or her exhibition that feelings of inferiority may be one cause of racial persecution.
Portfolios are another form of assessment that allow students and teachers to organize and reflect upon the work a student has done. A student chooses projects which show a growth and development of his understanding of a theme . Thus, a portfolio contains a small sample of projects that best represent the knowledge a student has gained over the course of a year. Portfolios also contain an essay in which the student reflects on the material he has learned and how his selections represent that process of learning. This essay is necessary because a portfolio must be able to stand by itself, summarizing the learning he has done over the course of a year without the student present to explain its contents.
Jacksonville's method of assessing a project, portfolio or performance is by a teacher's written evaluation. An evaluation summarizes what a student has learned and how well she has learned it. The overall impression of a student becomes clear through the discussion of her strengths and weaknesses. A written evaluation means more to a student because it offers constructive criticism and guidance. Because a written evaluation is personalized, it details her progress and achievement better than a letter or number grade. George Wood (196) questions the validity of letter grading. "But what do these letters represent? No one really seems to know, since grades are relatively idiosyncratic and work that earns a B from one teacher may be a D in another's eyes." Such grading is very nondescript and tells the student little about what they have accomplished. It also categorizes students in ways that can be harmful to their learning; for example, a "C student" may learn to accept that title and quit trying to improve.
However, written evaluations are extremely time-consuming. Teachers simply do not have the time to write an evaluation for every piece of work each student does. The Jacksonville solution for this complication is one intensive evaluation written at the end of the year based on the entire body of work collected from each student. The written evaluation follows the aforementioned guidelines and also includes a mark of "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory." A student may only advance to the next grade level if he receives a satisfactory evaluation. If a student receives an unsatisfactory evaluation it is because his performance was inadequate; both the school and he must recognize that he needs to repeat the learning process until his performance is satisfactory.
Teachers are provided with time to devote to writing these evaluations after the course ends. Each teacher and student keeps a journal in order to chronicle progress and performance over the course of a year. These journals, along with a collection of writings, projects, etc., are used to influence the final write-up of the student. This evaluation method thus provides colleges with the equivalent of a transcript, a manageable base on which to make decisions.
Jacksonville also utilizes self and peer evaluation. These forms of evaluation are instructive and helpful to students but are not used in the teacher's formal written evaluation. In one study, "students were trained to both formatively and summatively evaluate the writing of their peers through the use of focused interactive dialogue, and it was found that this experience with student evaluation of peers' compositions established the validity and usefulness of peer ratings and grading." (Long, 1991) Self grading also helps a student judge how well they have performed and determine exactly what they can improve on next time.
In the Jacksonville classroom, testing is used simply as a check-up on individual understanding in order to facilitate alternative forms of assessment. A minimum of objective testing is done, and if necessary, it contains only well-formulated questions which utilize analytic skills. Both collaboration and original thought are emphasized and physical demonstration of knowledge (through the use of projects, writings, and presentations) are the preferred method of evaluation.
Jacksonville Charter School uses a final assessment mechanism called a "final exhibition", which is similar to that of the Central Park East Secondary School and the model described by the Coalition of Essential Schools. Members of the CES offer some open definitions and guidelines for what makes a final exhibition. Chairman Theodore Sizer sums it up: "The exhibition is the public expression by a student of real command over what she's learned" (Cushman 1). In his essay Three Pictures of an Exhibition,, Joseph McDonald points out the important attributes of an exit exhibition: it is a final method of assessment which involves a performance by the student, applying the knowledge he has acquired during his tenure as a high school student. McDonald notes that a student must show more than just the application of knowledge; he must show "metacognition," or the ability to think about what he has learned (McDonald 1). Under these guidelines, an exhibition requires that a student give an oral presentation before a public panel or committee, but does not exclude the use of projects, written and oral examinations, or portfolios in the final assessment.
In many ways, a final or exit exhibition can be equated with a senior thesis or a doctoral dissertation (Cushman 9). The basic framework calls for research, presentation, and defense: the student selects an important question to study which incorporates research and analysis of material from a variety of sources. The student is then required to present her findings to a panel of teachers, students, parents and outside visitors (McDonald 1).
Preparation for the Jacksonville final exhibition starts when a student enters the Senior House, a two-year program starting in the 11th grade. Students continue with the same curricular program they have been working with from 7th to 10th grades, but take a more independent approach. In addition to coursework, they add several types of fieldwork: internships, seminars, lab work, summer projects, or independent study projects with universities. This fieldwork and research contribute to a collection of papers and projects the student completes while at the Senior House. A student is required to complete three major portfolios during her tenure at the Senior House. These portfolios, categorized by Humanities, Sciences, and Interdisciplinary, must reflect her understanding of the disciplines and her ability to analyze and synthesize her work.
The Interdisciplinary portfolio is the launching pad for the Senior Project. The Senior Project is an intensive research and analytical study of an area of the student's interests. Joseph McDonald characterizes some Senior Projects as "simple intersections of relatively broad subjects" such as "substance abuse and fetal development; child abuse and the juvenile court system; recycling and the environment; cholesterol and the American diet" (McDonald 2-3). Senior Projects may also be more specific, such as the study of the effect of ballot initiatives on the issues in the 1992 California gubernatorial race. The important elements of a Senior Project are that it address a question that has no simple answer; that it reveal the student's knowledge of the subject; and that it show the application of that knowledge.
A student at Jacksonville is evaluated by a Graduation Committee that observes and guides him through the whole of the Senior Institute. This Graduation Committee is composed of teachers and members of the community such as parents or business people who have an interest in the Jacksonville educational program. A student attends the Senior Institute where he studies, researches, and prepares until he is "ready" to graduate. The student and his advisor prepare a Graduation Plan which describes his personal goals and details a timetable and checkpoints for his graduation (NYAC 5). This graduation plan recognizes that graduation is an individual achievement and requires individual demonstration of mastery. Included in this plan are Senior Project-specific "deadlines for a series of submissions: a list of research sources, an outline, notecards, an introduction, a whole draft, a finished paper" (McDonald 1). While most students will take two years to complete their three portfolios and Senior Project, a student may take less or more time if he and his advisor deem necessary. If a student is able to graduate in less than two years, Jacksonville gives him the opportunity to move on to the workplace, a community college, or a four-year college.
When the student has completed his portfolios and he and his advisor feel he is ready to present the Senior Project, the Graduation Committee convenes. The Committee reviews the portfolios and listens to a short oral presentation given by the candidate. After discussion, the Committee deliberates and decides whether or not to confer a diploma on the student. They may also ask him to revise and resubmit any portfolio or the Senior Project itself if they feel any of these components were unsatisfactory (NYAC 5-6).
Due to its nature and magnitude, the task of performing the final exhibition may seem daunting to Jacksonville Charter School students. With the proper guidance and preparation, however, our students will succeed. It is important to remember that the final exhibition is a representation of progress and developing skills. A student can and should practice for it. Because of the Senior House's more independent learning environment, 11th and 12th graders can spend a great deal of time and energy preparing for the exhibition. In order to succeed, students may rely on a great deal of scaffolding -- guidance and support from their teacher and the aforementioned structure of checkpoints to ensure that they complete their task on time.
The most significant and powerful benefit of Jacksonville's graduation by exhibition program is that it makes the student take responsibility for his own education. Since Jacksonville defines the diploma not in terms of credits amassed or courses completed, but in terms of exhibited mastery, the student can no longer "earn" a diploma by simply attending classes. "If a school awarded the diploma whenever a student reached the agreed-on level of mastery at the completion of a student's study rather than after four years of attendance and the collection of credits, the effect on student behavior would be dramatic," writes Ted Sizer (Sizer 63). Because the diploma is viewed as "the passport to their next stage of life," Jacksonville's graduation by exhibition requirement is the necessary incentive to get our students to learn what we feel is important to learn (Sizer 63).
An indirect benefit of this system is that because it confers a diploma on any student who has exhibited the necessary mastery, it eliminates age-grading. Because kids learn and develop at different rates, a traditional system which keeps all students in high school until they turn eighteen and then graduates them is insufficient. Jacksonville accommodates students who may be ready to leave early, or those who need some more time to make up for earlier deficiencies.
An additional benefit of the exhibition system involves its public performance requirement. By involving members of the Jacksonville community in the exhibition panel, the school answers the question of accountability (McDonald+ 2). A student must convince not only his classmates and teachers of his mastery, but also a local audience. At a time when communities "yearn for reassurance" that their schools are educating their children properly, the exhibition is an open invitation to be reassured firsthand (McDonald+ 2-3).
The exhibition is unique in that it shifts the assessment process from a single event at the end of a course of study to a continuous discourse of evaluation between the student and her advisor. The preparation for the exhibition stands by itself; the research, writing and discussion all represent the developing skills and progress the student makes in attaining a mastery of the material (Cushman 8). "The problem with relying on tests, etc. at the end of the project experience is that such instruments ignore the process," writes George Wood, Coordinator of the Institute for Democracy in Education, "Where we really see kids learning when they are engaged with a project is in the process of doing it" (Wood 1). An advisor is constantly assessing his student, witnessing her transformation and offering criticism and advice throughout the project. The fact that the assessment takes place during the inquiry instead of after does not invalidate this approach.
Graduation by exhibition is not without challenges. The possibility of failure to satisfactorily complete the exhibition is always a danger. A student may not be able to demonstrate her mastery of the material to the panel, in which case she would not pass the evaluation. In this case, the student is given the opportunity to re-submit her exhibition for another evaluation.
Teachers are also faced with such challenges. Due to the varying exhibitions of students, the process of evaluation is time consuming for the teachers. However, teachers will know each students' progress due to the close interactive nature of project-based learning. The grading process for final exhibitions, as compared to traditional methods, is more difficult as well. It is more subjective due to the individuality of the exhibitions and since many students are doing different exhibitions at any given time, teachers must be prepared to advise students on a myriad of topics. In terms of curriculum development, changing traditional methods to accommodate final assessment by exhibition is a daunting task for schools with a traditional curriculum in place. However, Jacksonville does not face this problem because it has designed its curriculum with the final exhibition in mind.
We mentioned before that students need a great deal of support and scaffolding in place in order successfully perform an exhibition. As authors Jody Brown Podl and Margaret Metzger point out, both students and teachers must take responsibility. Students must have the drive to work and learn independently, and teachers must ensure that the students are adequately prepared for the exhibition by coaching the students and giving them the necessary scaffolding (Podl 10). If they hope to create a project as large as the exit exhibition, students must have substantial experience working on smaller projects and portfolios for their regular coursework. A curriculum that produces good exhibitionists cannot be driven by traditional lecture- and test-oriented classes because students will not have practice being good exhibitionists:
If what is wanted is kids who think things through, write well, speak persuasively, act with confidence, work well with others, trust their institutions, and so on, how much practice with these things can they gain by sitting silently in large groups most of their days? So exhibitions point to other means -- projects, advisory groups, coaching groups, seminars, studios, workshops ... (McDonald+ 7)
The Jacksonville curriculum and assessment techniques provide students with the experience they need to complete a final exhibition. Students must demonstrate their mastery of smaller themes throughout their years at Jacksonville Charter School. In this way, they build exhibition skills in preparation for their Final Exhibition.
Exhibitions can be an accurate, powerful mechanism for final assessment if the conditions are appropriate. The most important feature for Jacksonville is the placement of a high value on the exhibition. Graduation must be defined in terms of successfully completing the exhibition if the students and teachers are to take it seriously. Only when the exhibition is considered essential does the curriculum emphasize preparing students for their performance. A weaker focus would reduce the exhibition to a frivolous project.
The admissions policy of Jacksonville Charter School is consistent with the charter requirements.
Charter schools shall be open to all students on a space available basis, and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, creed, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, age, ancestry, athletic performance, special need, proficiency in the English language, or academic achievement.
In agreement with the requirement that "preference for enrollment in a charter school shall be given to students who reside in the city or town in which the charter school is located," the school draws the majority of its students from Jacksonville. The total population of the communities served by Jacksonville Charter School is 150,877. The school has determined quotas based on the relative population of each city in the community that it serves. Thus the school draws 68.56% of its 500 students from Jacksonville. The neighboring towns of Latoya, Titown, and Janet City respectively contribute 12.20%, 8.11%, and 11.13% to the student population. The school enrolls students on a rolling-admissions basis; as soon as each town has filled its quota of students, no more students from that town are admitted.
The Governance Council is responsible for making administrative decisions. Its primary function is to plan and develop curriculum, choose the corresponding themes, and address curricular problems, conflicts and deficiencies. In addition, the Governance Council is responsible for the hiring and firing of teachers, the physical development of the school, creating and managing the budget and corresponding financial obligations and resources, and determining issues of administrative policy. The nature of the decisions made by the Governance Council are long-term and visionary; they define the structure and the program for an entire school year.
The Council is composed of ten people: the principal, Community Service Coordinator, five teachers, and three students. One student from each House is chosen by popular student vote to represent the House; the five teachers are chosen by popular teacher vote. Both teachers and students are elected to the council each year to represent their interests in Jacksonville Charter School. By having representatives that serve on the Council, both students and teachers have a forum to address concerns and suggest ideas for the educational program.
The principal's role in the school and Governance Council consists of the following: attending to the daily operation of the school, appraising the work of teachers, managing the building, supervising the teachers and support staff, and delegating responsibility. The principal also handles all situations that require an immediate decision such as those of emergencies. Thus in contrast to the responsibilities of the Governance Council, the principal is primarily concerned with the day-to-day operations of Jacksonville.
Discipline of students at Jacksonville Charter School is designed to maintain an environment that is most conducive to learning. It should not be based on a model of control where the students are merely forced to behave through the threats and powers of adults (Wood 36). The students should understand the importance of self-discipline and not only short-term compliance. Discipline must therefore become a part of a larger learning system whose goal is to produce positive expectations of students, respect for other students, involvement of students, and good communication between students and the school (Short 5) so that there exists a productive and nurturing learning environment.
Jacksonville gives students a direct opportunity to become involved in the determination of rules of conduct at school. In a general sense, we solicit their involvement and input to produce a self-sustaining system; they collectively set the norms so that they feel an ownership of their school and actions (Wood 86). At the beginning of every school year, each House convenes to determine a list of rules that encompass behavioral expectations of all members of that House. Since students decide what kind of behavior is harmful to the learning environment, their House rules are the basis for determining disciplinary action towards a student that has chosen to violate a rule.
We have created a means for disciplinary action through the formation of a Student Disciplinary Council (SDC) within each House. A student that is accused of violating a House rule is brought in front of their House SDC. The Council reviews disciplinary cases that have been brought to its attention by members of the school community. The SDC meets after school on the day that the accusation is made. If the SDC feels that there is enough of a case to warrant a trial, parties are given time to prepare for a hearing. At this hearing, the SDC recommends a course of disciplinary action. The recommendation is given to the Principal of the school who determines the fairness of the disciplinary recommendation. All decisions made by the SDC follow precedent.
Each House SDC is composed of 5 students and 2 teachers from that House. The students and teachers on each House Council are elected by popular student vote and serve a yearly term. Alternate members of the Council are also elected to serve in the event that a member is not present or wishes to exclude himself from a particular case due to personal reasons. The composition of the Council allows great student and teacher perspective and gives the students a chance to be involved in the welfare of fellow students as well as themselves.
Jacksonville Charter School students and teachers spend most of the day in the site's 15 classrooms. These classes are divided into three academic houses by grade-level: House I is composed of 7th and 8th grades, House II of 9th and 10th grades, and Senior House of 11th and 12th grades. Each house has five classrooms, 10 teachers, and 167 students. Each classroom, taught by a team of two teachers, serves a mixed-ability group of 33 students from both grades levels within the House. In addition to these 30 full-time teachers, there is one principal and one full-time Community Service Coordinator.
Because of its interdisciplinary nature, Jacksonville Charter School expects its teachers to possess knowledge and competence in areas other than that of their individual specialties. If we expect students to obtain a certain level of mastery in a variety of disciplines, we can clearly expect that a teacher should also possess and be able to teach such a broad range of knowledge. Chairman of the Coalition of Essential Schools Ted Sizer notes, "In Europe teachers expect to expand their scholarship throughout their careers. Only in America do we think that a teacher is supposed to endlessly repeat what he specialized in at the age of 21 in college" (Cushman, Teaching). However, in order to ensure the representation of a broad range of disciplines, Jacksonville strives for at least one specialist in each of the following areas:
Of the thirty full-time teachers employed by Jacksonville, fifteen are specialists in the humanities and fifteen are math/science specialists. Areas of specialty are by no means restricted to the eight subjects listed above; these are simply areas that are deemed necessary to the collective knowledge of the faculty. Any added areas (e.g. astronomy, economics, psychology, etc.) benefit the staff by creating a larger body of knowledge from which they can draw.
The actual process of hiring teachers will require an interview by the principal, recommendations from previous employers and/or college staff, and a written statement describing the applicant's personal teaching philosophy. This last requirement is very crucial to the hiring process. A teacher's personal philosophy must have similar qualities to the philosophy of Jacksonville in order for that teacher to be hired. A teacher cannot be forced to conform to a philosophy that is in direct contrast to his personal views. For example, an applicant who stresses the importance of learning job-specific skills in her personal philosophy would be incompatible with Jacksonville' s educational goals. A teacher cannot "fake" what she doesn't believe; therefore, her philosophy must correlate with the school's philosophy.
Jacksonville looks for several qualities in an applicant. All teachers are required to have earned at least a bachelor's degree. Because our teachers will facilitate the analysis and application of knowledge in the classroom, they must have substantial experience with these thinking skills; a college degree represents a solid foundation these skills. Previous teaching experience is not required. A mix of "veterans" and "rookies" adds diversity and a wide range of perspective to the classroom. The applicant must be willing and able to intensively advise a group of about seventeen students. Finally, the applicant must be prepared to work cooperatively in many aspects of the school, including teaching, planning, and governance.
Ted Sizer writes, "Improving American secondary education absolutely depends on improving the conditions of work and respect for teachers. No new technology, training scheme, licensure revision, or new curriculum will suffice" (Sizer 180). It is clear and absolutely essential that the conditions of the workplace for the teacher needs improvement. Teachers have complained of isolation in the school, the lack of autonomy in teaching and decision making, and the attitudes and practices of others concerning teachers.
Jacksonville Charter School has heard the complaints of many teachers in schools today. In a report done about the condition of educators at school, a high school social studies teacher explains,
Teachers are isolated people. They don't know what others are doing. Things that work for them, they keep them year after year. You don't have time to sit down and discuss with each other from different areas. I just seem to be going to work and going home (Johnson 151).
Teachers are usually sequestered in classrooms and limited to interaction with students and kept distant from colleagues, seeing them only in passing from building to building. This world brings about a deep-seated feeling of isolation for teachers. Teachers seem to do all planning and practicing on their own. When interaction with other teachers does occur, conversation seems to be a diversion from teaching rather than the occasion for its deliberation. Faculty-room talk is dominated by issues that have little to do with the welfare of the school (Johnson 148). Teachers, are expected to commit themselves to the classroom and not become involved in the broader changes within the school enterprise. Organization of the schools seems to cancel out time devoted to promote collegiality by means of teaching units, the schedule of the day, and the supposed leadership role of the teacher within the school.
The mentality of teacher collaboration at Jacksonville Charter School is to create an environment in which teachers are not left alone in their position. Teachers would be "true colleagues working together, debating about goals and purposes, coordinating lessons, observing and critiquing each other's work, sharing successes and offering solace, with the triumphs of their collective effort far exceeding the summed accomplishments of their solitary struggles" (Johnson 148). Our teachers share a common philosophy of "no isolation" that is consistent with the entire school philosophy.
We respect the minds of all our teachers and believe that when they work cooperatively, the gains are greater for students and teachers alike.
Team teaching is a method that we use to facilitate collegiality. Interaction with peers about curriculum allows teachers to share ideas and draw upon one another's knowledge about teaching as well as developing a cooperative program for students which links the knowledge and skills of teachers involved. Teachers work together as a team. Experiences of past teachers cite this as a crucial and vital part of the teaching process. "I think that we could learn from each other. We really could. Ineffective teachers could learn from those effective ones. Effective teachers could begin to grow in new ways and affect each other" (Johnson 155). In numerous conversations with teachers by researcher Susan Johnson, she found that they viewed collaboration as an essential component of their work. Most wished that they could have time to discuss issues of education with their peers. Often times the design of the school day prohibits such quality time, but at Jacksonville our schedule works with the teachers and not against them. Teachers are given time within the weekly schedule to meet with fellow teachers and plan curriculum as well as working out administrative duties for the school. Thus our policy of team teaching serves to meet the instructional needs of teachers for pedagogical advice and subject matter expertise. It also meets the organizational needs for coordinating students lessons, socializing new staff, setting and upholding standards, and initiating change (Johnson 156).
Jacksonville Charter School gives teachers a great role in school decisions. In fact, the governance system of the school cannot function without input from teachers. Each decision that is crucial to the school and affects the conditions of teachers is approved by the teachers and only through their vote is change initiated. These changes may occur in the realm of curriculum, assessment, design of space, discipline, selection of textbooks, or various other issues. Nonetheless, we give our teachers the shared responsibility and trust to make these decisions for themselves. We feel that teachers make hundreds of decisions each day concerning issues in the classroom, but decisions that directly affect teachers lives have historically been made by someone else. Exclusion from important decisions concerning the school isolates the teachers and makes them feel ineffective. We give teachers power within the school governance and decision making system to allow for greater involvement and thereby allow teachers to make direct connections to the school through their own voice (Barth 34).
Teachers dedicate their time in student growth but rarely have time for their own personal and professional growth within the school. Roland Barth says that the development of the teacher is directly related to the development of the students that the teacher serves. He goes further to relate teaching to the practice of pottery: "Just as potters cannot teach others to craft in clay without setting their own hands to work at the wheel, so teachers cannot fully teach others the excitement accompanying learning without themselves engaging in the messy, frustrating, and rewarding 'clay' of learning" (Barth 49). For teachers, the issue of their learning is a personal issue rather than an institutional responsibility. Career development at Jacksonville Charter School is an issue of the school.
Professional teacher growth is achieved by a variety of means in which group growth is also considered. Formal and informal faculty meetings to develop something such as assessment of students or curriculum are easily supported by the daily schedule of the school. Meetings are an arena for teachers to examine and critique one another's thoughts and teaching methods. We strive to make these meetings a customary part of everyday school life. Our scheduled meeting time for teachers is arranged similar to a model used by Central Park East Secondary School in New York. At Jacksonville Charter School, like CPESS, the schedule is arranged so that teachers have a common planning period while the students are involved in community service (Wood 242). This way, teachers can discuss issues of importance to the school during a set time in the week without having concern about what their students are doing.
We will encourage and support teachers to attend workshops on an issue, such as science curriculum, where the teachers can examine their own practices that address their area of interest and thus help them to improve their craft. Teachers constantly need new resources to help replenish themselves and the ways in which they teach. Through workshops, teachers can become learners and help in the development of fellow teachers as well. A veteran physics teacher who attended a session on skilled teaching commented by saying, " That was very valuable. It gave you a way of seeing whether you were in a rut. It introduced a few new ideas that you may try, looking at it all from a slightly different perspective, pulling back and getting an overview" (Barth 255).
We also support introspection by of teaching methods by self and others. This is through formal evaluation and assessment by other teachers which will be required throughout the year. In this practice, teachers are able to critique the performance of their peers and thus gain a greater insight on their own teaching (Barth 55). Teachers fill out forms identifying strengths and weaknesses about another teachers methods and share them in an arranged faculty conference. In this arena, problems can be addressed and observations can serve to teach teachers about professional learning.
In terms of relating professional growth to new teachers within schools, we have implemented pre-service and in-service training for aspiring teachers much like the model described by researcher David Perkins in his book Smart Schools (Perkins 226). This mentoring system allows teachers-in-training to learn much about the process of education from a primary viewpoint rather than in the text of a course teaching how to teach. Many teachers who had been interviewed by researcher Susan Johnson found that the student teachers introduced the veterans to new ideas and subject-matter content (Johnson 330). In addition, novice teachers did their best with the support of more experienced colleagues.
In Horace's Compromise, Ted Sizer writes,
Teaching often lacks a sense of ownership, a sense among the teachers working together that the school is theirs, and that its future and their reputation are indistinguishable. Hired hands own nothing, are told what to do, and have little stake in their enterprises. Teachers are often treated like hired hands. Not surprisingly, they often act like hired hands (Sizer 184).
Indeed teachers are given little control about matters which influence them directly. They are stripped of the autonomy that is given to other professionals. They are forced to work within a scheduling system which tells them how much time they should be spending on certain aspects of school life. Teachers rarely decide what the curriculum will be and rather are forced to deal with one that is handed down by administration or boards. They are not given the trust to select texts and teaching materials. In general, teachers are rarely consulted and given minimum control of the rules and policies which govern their workplace: "The world had long assumed that teachers gracefully accept their lack of influence in school policy and disregard the absence of opportunities to learn, grow, and advance in their work. However, teachers take stock of their workplace " (Johnson 14).
In order to allow teachers to organizationally make schools more thoughtful places, we have developed longer class periods so that teachers will not feel rushed to cover a certain amount of material within strict time constraints. We feel much like David Perkins in that the process of schooling is dull and ineffective with short, limited time class periods and that longer classes call for a better use of time (Perkins 16). Teachers will have a longer time to improve their craft in practice rather than having to deal with a chaotic scheduling system which leaves them frustrated due to time constraints.
We feel teachers cannot be handed down regulations and prescriptions on curriculum and policy which limits and undermines their ability. They need a say in what and how they teach and Jacksonville Charter School invests in them the trust and respect for judgment that is given to other professionals (Johnson 16). Thus administrative policies is a matter of cooperation amongst faculty and not obedience by teachers.
Our school possesses a decentralized governing structure so that teachers have a substantial amount of autonomy. After all, authority in decisions should be made by those who are closest to the students. The entire decision-making process about policies regarding the school is not from a centralized source, but teachers, students, and the principal share a role in development of the school. This gives the entire school community various roles and responsibilities rather than limiting decision-making from one source (Barth 215). We trust the teachers to make well-informed decisions based on their intellectual experience and wisdom.
To the teacher, the school is the workplace. In Susan Johnson's definition, "A workplace is more than a physical setting: it is also the context that defines how work is divided and done, how it is scheduled, supervised, compensated, and regarded by others" (Johnson 1). Jacksonville Charter School has created the means necessary to achieve the end of a supportive and nurturing environment for teachers. In the end, we have created the conditions and practices in which both teachers and students learn.
Even the best curriculum with the best teachers and resources cannot survive without a support system for its students. Adolescence is a difficult time of transition and students are forced to deal with adult issues. "Many of the activities and customs that distinguished adults from children in previous decades are now commonly shared by both age groups" (Bukatko and Daehler 12). Jacksonville Charter School must be prepared to help its students overcome their difficulties so that success in the classroom is possible.
Pregnancy, gangs, and chemical abuse are just a few of the problems facing teenagers today (Ounce of Prevention Fund 1992). Support groups and individual counseling are ways that schools can combat these social dilemmas. Tutoring and future planning are other aspects of a students life that benefit from support and guidance (Bender 1994). Many different methods of support have been successfully utilized by secondary schools throughout the United States. The following examples show that students can be instructed as well as supported.
Traditionally, high schools divide their faculty into very distinct groups. One of these groups is the guidance department which often ends up "arranging schedules and job and college interviews and the like..." (Sizer 137). Guidance counselors are consumed with paper work and usually have little time to really connect with their students. A well-proven alternative to the rather impersonal guidance department is the use of all faculty members as advisors.
George Wood describes the "advisory" program in Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS 44). Each teacher is assigned about fourteen students of the same grade level with whom he or she develops a strong relationship. "This structure is a clear and deliberate attempt to create community, to support children and integrate them into the life of the school" (Wood 45). CPESS advisors meet with their groups for about three hours every week. They keep contact with each student's home in order to report progress to the families. These groups hold discussions, write journals, and take trips together so that a rapport can be established with group members and the advisor.
A similar system is used at Thayer Junior/Senior High School in New Hampshire (Wood 55). Every faculty member is assigned a group of ten students which remains together for all six years spent at Thayer. A teacher at Thayer describes advisory in that "it makes the school smaller...[Students] know someone's there for them, they are not getting lost among all the other students...In advisory we don't talk at kids, we talk with kids" (55). Each group meets for ten minutes every morning and once a month, an hour long one-on-one conference is held. As at CPESS, Thayer advisors also report grades and other issues to the homes of their advisees.
Based on these successful models of student support, Jacksonville Charter School has adopted a similar, but slightly adapted, program of advisory. The two main goals are to create a dual role of teacher/advisor and to provide an intensive, personal advisor for an extended period of time. In order to do this, students switch advisors when they switch houses. Thus, they are able to build a two-year relationship with a faculty member, yet they have the ability to get fresh perspectives and ideas from new advisors at various points during their six years at Jacksonville.
A student's teacher also serves as her advisor so that they both can know each other in a variety of settings. This setup means that a student has the same teacher for two years in a row. However, the second (non-advising) teacher changes every year. This way, teachers interact with each other more and students are introduced to a new group of students in the classroom. An example is provided below:
In the seventh grade, Joey's advisor and teacher is Ms. Westheimer. His class is made up of 34 students: half eighth graders, half seventh graders. All of his fellow seventh grade classmates also have Ms. Westheimer as their advisor. The eighth grade students have Mr. Hatfield as their advisor and the two teachers lead the class together. When Joey moves on to the eighth grade, Ms. Westheimer continues to advise and teach him and his eighth grade classmates. They are joined by a new co-teacher and a group of seventh graders. In the ninth grade, Joey has a new advisor and a new co-teacher in his class.
After completing a two-year stint in one of the three houses, teachers then move on to a new house, advising a group of seventh, ninth, or eleventh grade students. Because they can move from house to house, teachers can avoid getting stuck with one age group for a number of years. Every teacher is able, at some point or another, to practice his or her ability to instruct students of various ages. Each teacher will advise about sixteen or seventeen students in both group and individual settings. Specific advising techniques are devised by the teacher and class members as necessary.
Teachers are trained in counseling and advising before the beginning of the school year. First-year Jacksonville teachers undergo a more extensive training session; returning teachers learn new techniques and study new ideas to refresh their advising skills. Throughout the school year, meetings are held which address the advising aspect of teaching. Any large-scale concerns or questions can be discussed here. At all times, Jacksonville teachers are encouraged to speak with their colleagues to resolve any problems or questions they might have in advising or other areas.
The advisory program at Jacksonville shows how students in various situations can use school guidance to improve the quality of their life and school work. The use of teachers as advisors provides an increased sense of unity.
Electives are not included within Jacksonville's Curriculum. Yet the role that electives have within many schools is heavily emphasized in extracurricular activities after classroom hours.
The specialized nature of electives is contrary to Jacksonville's curricular goals of connected, interdisciplinary learning. By allowing students to specialize in an elective, traditional schools allow students to compartmentalize their learning. Electives do not allow students to draw connections to other material they are learning in school (Adler 34). Jacksonville does not give students an array of choices among classes, but gives students the basic tools with which to go about problem solving, a goal which, as Howard Gardner iterates, is the ultimate goal of schooling (Gardner 35). Along similar lines, Jacksonville does not include vocational training which focuses on job-specific skills. They easily become obsolete whereas thinking techniques underlie all job-specific skills and never become obsolete when technologies change.
Jacksonville requires participation in extracurricular activities because of several benefits. Although extracurriculars are not explicitly part of the curriculum, they maintain a very important focus during the day, as the chance for students to work on specific skills of interest. There is a specific learning goal for all extracurriculars, set about by Jacksonville's Team Program.
Specific skills learned in an activity, as in classes, should be utilized, not carried out for their own sake. Team activities allow students ample opportunity to utilize their skills as part of a group effort - not in isolation. For example, Jacksonville does not have a gym program, since it would force students to merely focus on the basic skills of physical education (i.e. fitness, coordination) whereas an athletic team allows students to hone their skills for utilization in athletic competition as part of a group effort. Being a member of a team promotes discipline because teamwork is a structured activity that works toward a goal. Team activities are also an excellent opportunity to show and learn leadership abilities.
All extracurriculars revolve around "practice periods," in which students develop the skills involved, and the "performance period," in which skills are utilized. This performance period can mean games for sports, or a collaborative exhibition in Visual Arts. All extracurriculars are led by a member of the faculty, who facilitates the acquisition and utilization of skills by his team members. This adult leader will act similarly to the school's teachers, as the facilitator of knowledge. He or she may or may not be a teacher in the school.
In order to facilitate reflection on learning, all extracurricular activities utilize the Learning Log. Students are required to keep a bi-daily journal of their progress, to be discussed with their team leader at the beginning of each week.
All extracurriculars meet from 3:00 to 5:00. Activities are offered three times a year on a "seasonal" basis. Students must participate in one sport each year to satisfy state mandated physical education requirements. Students must be involved in an extracurricular during all of the three seasons. Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis if a student has work or family obligations that preclude her involvement in an extracurricular activity. Teachers are required to lead an activity at least one season a year.
The Jacksonville schedule is based on the 1996/97 school year and can be adjusted for later years. The school runs on a 36 week schedule which is split into two 18 week halves. The first day of classes is August 19, 1996. During the course of the first half, attendance is not expected on Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Thanksgiving (two days). Classes for the first half end on December 20, 1996. The second half of the year begins on January 6, 1997 and continues until May 16, 1997. During this half, Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, and a week long spring break (which is determined by when Passover and Easter fall) are observed.
Jacksonville Charter School uses its classrooms for both foundations and learning labs. Students are seated in groups of about six at desks. The exact setup of the room is left up to the teachers and students depending on their needs. Offices for each of the teachers have doorways which open directly to the classroom and the adjoining office, giving each teacher both a space for personal work and a feel for the connectedness of team-teaching. Both general supply closets and learning lab closets are provided for each room. These are used to hold any materials that teachers may need during the course of the day: anything from writing paper to hydrochloric acid to fossils from a recent archeological dig.
The classroom is designed in a way which promotes the exchange of ideas and cooperative learning. Students are not isolated to individual desks which all face in one direction. Instead, students are grouped together and face each other so that discussion can follow in a more natural manner. Also, the teachers are not always the focus of the classroom. They can "become a part of the class" by joining students at the tables; additionally, students can adopt the traditional role of the teacher by leading the class.
The entire school includes fifteen of these sample classrooms. Each teacher, the principal, and the community service coordinator all have offices of the same size. The school also includes: agymnasium (and outdoor athletic fields), an auditorium, a library, a cafeteria, an art room, a music room, a multi-purpose room, and bathrooms. The gym and athletic fields are used for after school sports; the auditorium for extracurricular theater and any presentations; the art room for after-school and in-class art projects and supplies; the music room for the practice and teaching of musical skills; the multi-purpose room for anything from teacher collaboration meetings to student food drives; and the library for research and computer services.
Every component of the physical structure is located in one building. All areas of the school interact and share resources most effectively without physical barriers to separate them. For instance, teachers have fewer problems arranging meetings during the school day if they can simply walk down the hall and not have to trek across campus. Jacksonville is an comprehensive school that integrates all aspects of education, including the physical building in which it is located.