It's the teaching, stupid

A bad building may house a good school, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. It’s the teaching that matters.

Take a look at the 52-year-old former church school at 421 Alabama Ave. in Anacostia. Teachers say some floors shake if you stomp on them. Weeds poke out from under the brick walls. Yet great teaching has occurred inside. Two first-rate schools, the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School and the KIPP DC: AIM Academy, have occupied that space in the past few years, and the Imagine charter network, also with a good record, is opening a school there. Or check out the School Without Walls, a D.C. public high school sought out by parents with Ivy League dreams. Its building, now being renovated, was a wreck, but inside, students embraced an A-plus curriculum.

How about the suburbs? Drive past the rust-stained, 44-year-old campus at 6560 Braddock Rd. in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County. Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer of Fairfax schools, says the place needs an electrical upgrade. A lot of windows should be replaced. He is sorry that his crews can’t do the major work until 2012. It doesn’t look like a place I would want to send my kids, yet the sign in front says it is the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, maybe the best public school in America.

I’ve seen good schools in bad buildings and bad schools in updated, computer-laden buildings.

Yes, but asking students to learn in a decaying, dangerous building sends the wrong message — you’re not worth much — writes Robert Pondiscio on Core Knowledge.

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  1. Seems like the correct priority structure to me. A building can probably make a more powerful first impression, but an inspiring teacher will make a lasting impression. Just to be clear, mimimal standards have to be met on both for either to work.

  2. My question: granted that money is not being spent on the infrastructure, is it being re-directed to the important things – grade-level books and resources, computers, science equipment, art supplies, musical instruments?

    Otherwise, it’s possible that school systems will use this as an excuse to fund schools at lower levels.

  3. It’s always been the teaching. It’s never been the building. But, common sense has been forgotten.

  4. Robert Pondiscio-
    Maybe teaching in brokwn-down schools sends the right message… that students should feel worth from what they kno and can do, and not from what is given to them.

  5. Walter Wallis says:

    Schools need to be safe and comfortable. California schools are safe by design. For comfort all classrooms need to be air conditioned, even if admin buildings are not. Back around 1970 I tried to run an engineering office without A/C. The productivity loss would have paid for the A/C subsequently installed.
    [full disclosure – I design A/C systems]

  6. I don’t get why this is being treated as an either or? For the money the taxpayers pour into public schools, why can’t quality instruction and safe, functional facilities be delivered?