Anani Maas Returns And Looks At The Big Picture At Delaware Met

This is the second guest article by Anani Maas in a week, and I have to say I am very impressed! Thank you Anani!

By Anani Maas
Delaware Educator
In response to the discussion on the Delaware MET and the interest in their model, here are some things that I know about Big Picture Learning:
1. It is a charter chain with over 60 schools nationwide.  The first school was opened in Rhode Island in 1995.  They are non-profit, but that doesn’t mean the founders aren’t bringing in big bucks.  If I were a teacher there and I was making peanuts while the leaders are pulling big $$, I’d be pretty mad.
2. It sounds good. From their website: “In the schools that Big Picture Learning envisioned, students would take responsibility for their own education. They would spend considerable time doing real work in the community under the tutelage of volunteer mentors and they would not be evaluated solely on the basis of standardized tests. Instead, students would be assessed on their performance, on exhibitions and demonstrations of achievement, on motivation, and on the habits of mind, hand, heart, and behavior that they display – reflecting the real world evaluations and assessments that all of us face in our everyday lives.” – See more at: http://www.bigpicture.org/big-picture-history/#sthash.ecQGJHsw.dpuf
The problem with good theories is that they are hard to replicate, and hard to meld with DE state requirements.   Delaware requires charter school students to take standardized tests and those tests determine their funding and charter renewal, no matter what their model describes. So, the charter will have to decide to trust their model and risk reduction in funding and difficulty in renewal, OR, teach to the test anyway and attempt to do both.  This almost always means that the model cannot be followed with fidelity.
I personally agree with the model IN THEORY, but as an educator, I know that educational theories and educational realities are usually not the same thing!  For example, their model says students SHOULD take responsibility for their learning.  So, what is their plan if a student doesn’t?  They also say that students will be assessed on their habits of mind, hands, heart, etc.  Again, I ask, what is the plan if students come with horrible attitudes, bad habits, poor motivation, low skill levels, and etc.  What if they won’t or can’t find mentors?  What if the students use their freedom to do nothing at all, or worse, to harm and take advantage of others?
We don’t live in utopia, we live in a real city with students with real problems.  Having good intentions and great ideas isn’t enough to help students who are at-risk!  They need resources, wrap-around services, guidance counseling, qualified educators, etc.  If the school isn’t providing these things, then all the theories and research in the world won’t help them.  In fact, removing them from a school that has those services could actually be hurting them.  Why would you choose to put children who need the MOST resources in a school with the LEAST?
3. They exist through grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as others.  Because Big Picture Learning is promoting “individual” learning, each student needs a computer, and Gates supports those kinds of charter schools.
4. Their website does not offer any independent research that has been done on the model outside of that performed by the founders themselves.  This sounds like more radical changes to education not based on research.