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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

School Days



I spent close to an hour today discussing the local education system with a friend. We have kids who are more or less the same age and went to, pretty much, the same schools. In general, our kids didn't have the best educational experiences.

I have a friend who says that, as children of olim, our kids were always looked upon as different by the school staffs. I'm not convinced that that's true, but I do wonder if people like ourselves who made aliyah aren't a bit unconventional, and our kids inherited that streak of unconventionality from us -- a trait that is not appreciated by most educators.

I do know that my youngest, who is almost 18 (she's in 11th grade now because she repeated kindergarten) goes to school infrequently and, from what she tells me, doesn't spend much time in the classroom even while she's in the school building. One wonders whether there isn't a better way.

Some friends in the States told me about a new program that's been noted for its innovative approach to improving elementary, middle and high schools. The program, called the System for Teacher and Student Advancement -- TAP -- is, my friends tell me, making a significant difference in schools located in varying socio-economic neighborhoods. TAP aims to encourage both teachers and administrators to work together with the goal of improving teaching, enhancing communications within the school, building inter-staff relationships and increasing student performance through fundamental changes in the way that teachers interact with their colleagues and relate to their job. 

TAP is only implemented in schools that apply to the program. TAP administrators believe that teachers themselves must identify their weaknesses and request assistance in order for the program to function properly. TAP is the brainchild of education reformer Lowell Milken who pioneered the program and  now oversees the system's implementation. TAP is being adopted by a growing number of schools throughout the nation.

The Milken Family Foundation is recognized as an institution that "pushes the envelope." It has created effective tools that allow school staff  to develop teaching skills in a positive atmosphere of mutual cooperation. 

TAP is supported and monitored by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. NIET sees TAP as a comprehensive school reform system that has the power to provide opportunities for teachers to advance their careers, obtain tools for their professional growth and expand their skills in instructionally focused accountability. Competitive compensation is also a key component of the TAP system.

TAP's goals involve guiding teachers to cultivate the potential of each student by successfully developing and nurturing each child's knowledge, skills and experiences. When combined, these elements enable students to succeed academically and prepare to move into the real world of work or advanced study. The ultimate objective of TAP involves increasing educational productivity and leading students in a direction that will allow them to function as productive and contributing members of society. 

When TAP moves into a school it immediately begins to build a community of teachers, administrators and other education professionals who unite to create a positive learning environment for both the students and staff. TAP funds are made available to schools when the administration commits to reward successful teachers through bonus payments and career advancement. Teacher-peer mentoring programs in which team planning sessions enable less effective teachers to utilize the talents and knowledge of their more effective colleagues are an important component of TAP. 

TAP professionals evaluate the performance of schools which receive TAP funds and guidance. Teachers of classes in which scholastic success is demonstrated receive rewards of professional advancement and pay bonuses.

There will always be new ideas in the education field and some will be more successful than others. The TAP concept appeals to be because the program is based on evaluating a school and its teachers through empirical results. I don't see any reason that we can't try such a program in this part of the world.

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