To the Editor:

The principle mission of public schools is to help youth develop the complex skills and deep, flexible knowledge base they will need to succeed in the 21st century.

It is every citizen’s responsibility to insist that the schools function so that learning is the first priority every day of the school year.

To that end, all school policy decisions must be justified with respect to a single question: “Is this (technology, activity, teaching practice, funding decision, etc.) going to contribute to student success in mastering the curriculum the district has adopted?”

The current discussion of holiday celebrations by a committee of the Ripon School Board must take this question into account.

There are, as I said at last week’s School Board meeting, two major arguments against the celebration of holidays in public schools.

First, the schools serve a population of diverse religious beliefs, cultural practices, and social circumstances.

Holiday celebrations by their focus on one religion or perspective exclude some children and can damage the sense of common purpose that is essential in building a school community ...

It is the second argument against holiday celebrations that is, I think, more significant given the current emphasis on student learning outcomes in our schools.

That is that in the holiday party itself and their anticipation of it, children lose valuable instructional time and focus on learning.

Holiday celebrations do not advance “student success in mastering the curriculum the district has adopted.” They don’t meet the fundamental justification all school activities should meet.

None of this is to say that schools must be grim and solemn temples to learning.

We know from decades of classroom research and more recent brain research that everyone learns best when the environment is stimulating, varied and safe.

Celebrations of learning like the 100th Day of School at Barlow Park Elementary School, Lumber Jack Day at Murray Park Elementary School, and project showcases at Crossroads Academy, Quest, and Lumen are special occasions that include all learners and put a spotlight on the importance of and joy to be found in learning.

Similar celebrations can be included in most areas of the curriculum ...

Over the next academic year, Wisconsin will begin implementation of the Common Core Standards for literacy and math with science and social studies standards soon to follow.

The criteria for evaluating student learning in Wisconsin have been raised to reflect the standards of the National Assessment for Educational Progress. ...

With this extensive, high stakes emphasis on student learning at our doorstep, it is essential that the district insure that the schools’ focus is on learning for every child, every day of the school year.

— Jeanne Williams

510 Woodside Ave.

To read the entire letter, see the June 28, 2012 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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