Thursday, November 30, 2006

No Jewish Child Left Behind

Barnea Selavan regularly forwards me articles of interest about education that he thinks deserve attention. Today he sent me an article that appeared in the NY Times magazine section over the weekend. Entitled "What it takes to make a student," it focuses on the successes and failures of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" legislation. This program aims to narrow the education gap between rich and poor, whites and minorities, by forcing states to set standards in math and reading that all schools would need to meet.

I have always felt that "No Child Left Behind" has little to do with the system of North American Jewish day school education. Nevertheless, the article is worth reading. Aside from commenting on "No Child Left Behind" it also presents studies that attempt to find the root cause of the differences that exist between academic success and failure and how those differences are tied to race and socio-economic factors. Moreover, the article then examines the methods used by schools to overcome the disadvantages that the less successful students bring with them to class.

These studies and methods should be of great interest to the Jewish educator - including the individuals who are personally charged with Jewish education - parents. Knowing that simple exposure to language - and the tone and nuance of language - plays a significant role in children's development, is intuitive, but is worthwhile hearing repeated. It is in the area of remediation, however, that day schools have the most to learn from the programs that are successful with these students. It is "a counterintuitive combination of touchy-feely idealism and intense discipline" that help some of these schools succeed, which includes a longer school day, setting goals on an annual, monthly and even weekly basis, and working to guide the behavior and values of the students.

Many of these ideas dovetail with the ideals of Jewish education. While most of our students do not face the challenges of poor, minority groups, we can certainly learn from the academic research and practical solutions that have evolved from the "No Child Left Behind" programs. How many of us spend as much time as we should talking to our kids at home? And how many of our schools have well-planned (or planned at all) syllabi for Judaic studies that state clearly what students are expected to learn every year?

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