Monday, March 16, 2015

If You Want A Different Perspective On Education In Illinois, Go Judge a Regional Science Fair...

I have judges science fairs before for a neighboring school district that covers Naperville and Aurora but I had never done a regional fair before.  It was quite the eye opening experience.

The region I was a judge in covered the southern half of Cook and Dupage Counties and Will County...

It gave me the chance to see kids (middle school aged) from a variety of educational backgrounds. The students my team judged came from

  • A private school in DuPage county for gifted kids 
  • A Catholic school in Southern Cook County
  • A public school in Naperville
  • A public school in one of the poorest suburbs in the Chicago area...

The differences in resources available at home at school were obvious when looking at the projects and research produced by the students.

(I am being kind of vague here, specifically so people can't be identified)

One of the kids from what I suspect is an expensive private school (I know it is a private school) thanked three teachers and their tutor for their assistance on the project. (It had 15+ APA format pages of tangential research).

Another kid was able to get specific chemicals from their school for their experiment.

Another kid was able to spend at least $150 on materials (and that estimate may be low) for their tests as part of their project.

The kids from the public school in the poor suburb, thanked their teacher for letting them use the computer (giving the impression they didn't have access to one at home), didn't have any research in their paper, it wasn't APA formatted (all of which cost them points based off the judging rubric) and didn't appear to have gotten much if any guidance on the paper or their project.

Afterwards looking at the projects and the kids who did them got me thinking...

It first got me thinking about my own son (who qualified for state), how he had access to a computer, a dad who understood and could show him how to use Excel to produce charts and graphs and show him how to add them to his paper (that he had to redo in APA format since his school science fair didn't require APA format) and was willing to stay up until 11:30 the night before the fair to help him with computer issues.  He also has an amazing science teacher, who has a depth of education and a real commitment to her students.  He doesn't go to school in a wealthy district compared to some in the area, nor a poor district compared to others.  He also has parents who encouraged and is sometimes required with a 13 year old cajoled and ordered him to work on his project.

He has some advantages money provides, he has some advantage genetics and the backgrounds of mom and dad provide and he has some dumb luck advantages (for example his science teacher could be teaching at a different middle school in the district).

Some of the kids I judged didn't have any of those advantages, not through any fault of theirs, but it doesn't change the fact they didn't.  I don't see how tossing more money at their education addresses much of that. Doing a quick check the district in the poor suburb spends almost 3x my district per student on operational spending per student and 30% more on instructional spending per student than my district.  So if it takes that much money to get to that point, I am not sure what it is going to take to get to parity.

But there has to be a partial answer to what it is going to take besides money.. We may not be able to get every kid to the point of thanking three teachers and a tutor and I know not every teacher can be like my son's science teacher. But as a society, it is our responsibility to raise the platform as it were for some of those kids.  I know there are a people a lot smarter than me, some with vested interests, some without working on these issues.

But if we are going to try and make it easier for folks to move up in this world, we had to reduce the educational disparities in this state

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