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What Would You Do for Students in Poverty if you had Billions?

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Though our dialogue with the Gates Foundation has ended, some interesting questions continue to stir things up. In the comments that follow the Gates Foundation's last post in the series, a reader named JT posed this question:

You might be right, but if you were giving away your money, how would you fix poverty? I would invest in education. What are the alternatives? We have deep divides in our society about the role of individual responsibilities and government which have been going on basically forever. To think a family foundation should focus its resources there is not practical.

An educator named Karen Packard provided a wonderful answer. With her permission I am sharing it here:

If I had Bill Gates' money, I would start with one of the inner city elementary schools in a high poverty neighborhood that it's district has failed to maintain, but one where it's teachers and principal have a heart for kids. I would build a replacement school in the same neighborhood, one with a library full of books and science labs full of supplies, a white board in each classroom, computers in each classroom, a gymnasium with equipment, a music room with instruments and a supply room full of teaching and learning supplies. I would purchase building blocks, water tables, sand tables, manipulative math materials for every kindergarten, first and second grade classroom and I'd insist that children be allowed time to play with those materials because I know that's where so much important language development takes place (as opposed to listening to the teacher talk). I would expect each classroom to be large enough for project based work with a sink and drinking fountain (dehydration is hard on the brain).

I would hire a constructivist educator with an understanding of childhood development to work with the principal and teachers to create a curriculum as good or better than that at the private school Gates' children would attend or the private school I know President Obama's children attend. I would invite the teachers in the old school to participate in inquiry-based staff development and to begin implementing child-centered learning opportunities in their old building while the new one is being built. Portfolio assessment would be part of the plan. I would pay teachers to attend the staff development meetings and work with a university to extend credit to them for learning. I would provide breakfast, lunch and healthy snacks and open the school to parents. I would be sure all of the children had health and dental care and would provide parenting classes and cooking classes and any other classes parents might want.I would keep class sizes low and the school small. If necessary, I'd build two schools to replace one.

I would measure success of the project with observations and surveys of students, parents, teachers, administrators and other building staff. I would also measure success with student portfolios and teacher portfolios, which would include anecdotal records.

John Dewey would be pleased. This wouldn't overcome poverty, but it would be a big step in the right direction and a lot of worthwhile learning would take place. If I had Bill Gates' money I could repeat this scenario again and again with school after school and district after district. No two would be exactly alike, but all would be successful.

-- Karen Packard

So readers, what do you think of Karen Packard's ideas? What would YOU do if you had billions of dollars to spend? How would you make things better for students?

Karen Packard describes her career as an educator: I taught in kindergarten (1963) and first grade (1964) in Colorado and K and K-2 in Alaska. In 1977 I earned a ME at Seattle Pacific University as a Reading/Language Arts Specialist and started teaching teachers part time. We moved back to Colorado where I was a Title I Reading Specialist for a couple of years. Alaska pulled us back and my husband and I taught in logging camps for four years. During that time I participated in the Alaska Writing Consortium, first as a teacher participant and later as a teacher leader. We moved back to Ketchikan and I wore a lot of part-time hats: early childhood courses for Ketchikan Community College, reading and language arts course for University of Alaska, SE, and Adult Education for the Ketchikan Indian Corporation.

In 1988, my husband retired from teaching math and we moved back to Colorado. I started my doctorate in Language, Reading and Culture with Ken and Yetta Goodman at the University of Arizona. Before finishing it, I became the Title I Coordinator and implemented a highly successful early intervention program in that rural school district. Completion of my EdD led me to Northern Arizona University in Yuma for five years and then back to Alaska where I taught at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka. I was Chair of the Teacher Education Program when that little college shut down in 2007 and I chose retirement rather than pursuing another teaching position.

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