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Saturday, February 05, 2011

It's a Great Line but Does SPS Really Value Academic Achievement?

Update: The NY Times had an article on the decline of science fair participation.

At his State of the Union speech, President Obama said something to the effect of it being just as important who wins the science fair as who wins the Super Bowl. It got a good round of applause.

Pondering this, though, I have to wonder. In SPS, it seems like there is a ton of work and effort all towards the goal of academic achievement for our students. But:
  • We have a gifted program that gets spotty attention from the administration and attacked from within/without (people in the program worry about quality and loss of the program, some people outside the program wish it didn't exist).
  • There are individual school programs that compete in academic programs like debate, Latin and robotics but only in competitions outside the district.
  • Schools are spotty on whether they have honor roll in middle and high schools. When my son was at Eckstein, I was told they suspended it because "it hurts kids' feelings". I believe they may have brought it back since then.

Do you have academic competitions at your school? Should a school science fair honor outstanding work? Does it matter or are good grades enough?

10 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Compare the response - at either the school or district level - when a Seattle high school team wins a championship in sports to when a Seattle team wins some honor in academics.

chunga said...

I agree with Charlie in terms of media attention focusing too much on sports instead of education, science, arts and other more "academic" areas.

I disagree, however, that the focus should be on "winning" and competition in these areas. A focus on such extrinsic motivators hinders genuine interest in learning. Refer to
* Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us - (http://www.danpink.com/drive)
* Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation- (http://www.amazon.com/Why-We-What-Understanding-Self-Motivation/dp/0140255265)
* Punished by Rewards (http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/pbr.htm)
* No Contest: The Case Against Competition - (http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/nc.htm)

Science fairs are great, but there's no need for them to be competitions. It seems highly likely that's why, as the NY Times article notes, parents so often do the projects for the kids.

Anonymous said...

At our school, my kids know not to speak of how well (or not) they do in school. As for math and science fair, we enter every year, and it is more of a social thing. Some teachers give some time in class for the kids who participated to present their projects to the class, but other teachers put the projects in the corner of the room until parent volunteers come by to gather the projects for set up at the fair.

My kids do well academicallly, but at our school it is best not to shine publicly. The kids have learn this lesson so well that when they were being interviewed for a private school, when asked to describe their best qualities, they just couldn't speak about them.

We are happy our kids are modest, sensible kids, but we do think there is an odd pervasive attitude in our school about academic achievement. It is valued when it helps the school's statistics. There seems to be a fear that if we acknowledge academic achievement in some and not others, this will result in hurt feelings and marginalization.

We have no answer, but are just telling you our experience and what other parents tell us in private.

SPS parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

SPS, I've heard your story many times and that's what puzzles me. The district seems to say one thing and yet the evidence is to the contrary.

ParentofThree said...

GHS and RHS music programs get a lot of attention from the media, especially around the Ellington competition in NYC.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Parent of Three, those aren't academic programs in the traditional sense. It's great they are such fine programs but I don't view them as academic.

seattle citizen said...

Reading SPS parent's comments got me thinking about "acheivement." SPS P writes that her/his children couldn't quite articulate their qualities. In context of this thread, do we mean two different things here: 1) actual (and real) individual qualities, what every child has; and 2)"achievement" as recognized on a scale or in comparison to others?

I'm sure this is all common sense, I'm just thinking out loud.

Is it possible to foster in students the ability to recognize their own (and other's) individual successes without it being in competition? A culture of supporting, and recognizing, individual success would foster a student's ability to describe their qualities (and also those of others) without an "I won!" or a "we won," or a "I'm in the top 20%"

Perhaps to many it is the competitive "successes" that merit attention because competition is so much a part of our culture. But it's possible to recognize individual or group successes that aren't competitive. How much of this do schools do? How much does the district? How much do parents and guardinas do this?

Anonymous said...

SPS Parent, I'm sorry to hear of the culture in your school. In our SPS elementary school we have not encountered anything like that. It's true there isn't much in the way of competitions (no science fair) but academic success is encouraged and expected. No one keeps their accomplishments under cover. Much of the work is solo or in small groups working at their own pace and it is well known who is the farthest out ahead -- with the feeling that progress of that sort is to be admired.

In one middle school we found the opposite culture; now in high school there seems to be a sort of middle ground.

Anonymous said...

The culture at our elementary school is as SPS parent describes. Sheepish about academic achievement ... In spite of advanced learning programs.
-central mama

Anonymous said...

Bryant just discontinued their long-time public speaking program. Evidently because it culminated in speech tournaments and the competition was very bad for children.

According to their newsletter.

Bryant neighbor