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Letters to the Editor 3/4

March 02, 2001

Letters to the Editor 3/4 Part 2



QUEST: A costly experiment?



A new program called QUEST in being introduced into the Washington County School system.

QUEST will replace Project Challenge and it is expected to be better then Project Challenge. I am disturbed by some of the things that I have learned about QUEST.

I have said that if a major new program was being introduced into Washington County, before deciding whether to support or reject the new program I would ask to talk with a school system that was using it and loved it, and to a school system that had considered the new program and rejected it. Then if possible, I'd talk to a school system that had used the new program for awhile and then decided to drop it.

As I said, QUEST is coming to Washington County and Project Challenge is leaving Washington County. The Project Challenge teachers have been told that their services as Project Challenge teachers will no longer be needed. Upon learning of the new QUEST program, the question I asked was, "What other jurisdictions are using QUEST?" The short answer to my question is, "No other system is using QUEST."

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The long answer to my question is, "The Washington County Model for Advanced Level Learners is a hybrid of successful programs found in many districts throughout the nation. Our model identified the best research-based practices to meet the mission, vision, objectives and student outcomes as defined by the Dialog Group for Advanced Programs."

This statement was followed by a list of eight subsections of QUEST. Each of these eight subsections had a list of various educational districts containing activities relating to that particular subsection of QUEST. (1)

What are we to make of this? There are two ways of viewing QUEST.

1) QUEST is the best of the best. We have reviewed other programs, selected the best parts of each, and, from them, formulated the best program in the nation to meet the targeted population- our advanced-level learners.

2) QUEST is an experimental program that has never been done before. Our students will be the experimental group and next school year between $300,000 and $500,000 of our tax money will fund the experiment. More tax money will be used to fund the experiment in future years. We will spend years using our tax money to experiment on our children as we tinker with the program and try to make it better.

In five years or so we will decide one of two things:

1) By using millions and millions of our tax money we have developed a wonderful program

2) We have wasted our students' time and our tax money and we must scrap the program.

If we actually develop a wonderful program, then other school systems around the nation will be using our program and be very glad that we have spent our time and our tax money experimenting on our students so that these other districts can now use our program without having to risk large amounts of their tax money and student time.

Why do we insist on using our students as guinea pigs? Why do we insist on experimenting on our teachers? If no one else is using the exact model that we have, it means that no one else has decided that the model we are going to use is the best. Why do we insist that we know more than any other school system in the world about how to run a program for advanced-level learners?

In the 50's and 60's we had system-wide educational TV. After spending millions of dollars we discarded educational TV. We had new math. After spending millions, we discarded new math.

We spent millions and millions of dollars building open schools. We now spend thousands and thousands of dollars putting up walls in open schools. We have had team teaching. We no longer emphasize team teaching. We have had the Berkeley Project. It has been a number of years since I have heard of that.

We have had Whole Language. As far as I know we now have thousands and thousands of dollars worth of novel sets collecting dust in various classrooms around the county.

The QUEST train is coming. It is large and powerful. The bridge of broken expectations lies in the future and around a bend. Those on the train cannot see the bridge and do not believe it exists.

In time the QUEST train will start over the bridge of broken expectations and the bridge will crash into the river of wasted time and money. I stand in front of the QUEST train. I wave my arms and I say, "Do not do this!" I know that the power and noise of the engine renders my voice inaudible. I have done my best.

Russell Williams is a candidate for the Washington County Board of Education.

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