Providence, RI Superintendent of Schools Susan Lusi is the kind of education reformer we really need – one who cares about the well-being of students far more than she does about any test scores. Superintendent Lusi was interviewed by PBS reporter John Merrow in summer, 2013. The conversation was about the Providence schools in general and specifically their unique summer school program. The summer program is based on getting out of the classroom and experiencing the outside world and then integrating the knowledge that comes from it into meaningful work back into the classroom. At one point, Merrow questioned Lusi about test scores:
John Merrow (PBS): This district doesn’t have terrific scores.
Susan Lusi (Superintendent): We have horrible scores.
Merrow: Don’t your kids need remediation, instead of this summer fun?
Lusi: I think the kind of drill and remediation that might lead to a temporary bump in scores is not the kind of education that really any parent wants for his or her child.
Three cheers for Lusi. She, along with others, has designed a summer program that is a far cry from the normal “drill and kill” approach. She wants summer school to be fun because she knows that will engage the students, expand their interested in learning and ultimately will result in a collateral effect of improving test scores.
Watch Reinventing Summer School to stop kids’ Learning Loss on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
The PBS report is littered with edu-babble such as “Students worked collaboratively in the field and they applied what they learn back in the classroom to solve complex problems. This is what educators call deeper learning. Another gem is how educators describe a summer without formalized learning opportunities; educators call it summer learning loss.
Clearly, Lusi has not allowed the educators to block common sense as a guidepost to reforming education. She knows that many students in the district rarely get away from Providence, much less their neighborhood. There literally is an entire world out there from which to learn. The obvious question is why isn’t experiential learning the norm during the regular school year? The answer is that it’s a threat to the way top-level edu-crats have been doing things for years; they’re ultimately fear they would lose their jobs because their work would be irrelevant. But there is an extensive amount of evidence that experiencing the world can work as the norm for the regular school year. During the 1970s, there were a number of alternative schools, both private and public, that dotted the United States. Many of them were based on experiential learning. The reason why most of them did not succeed in the long-run is because they didn’t attract sufficient funding to stay alive while not compromising their principles. Perhaps what Lusi and others are doing in Providence during the summer will rekindle a broader movement towards reform that makes learning both fun and meaningful for kids.
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.