This year’s VEX Robotics state championship at both the High School and Middle School division levels were dominated by a small private school in Manassas. Not some deep-pocketed private school that educates children in state-of-the-art, LEED certified, renewable energy-powered, technology laden campuses delivering a Pearson Education curriculum, but a pretty spartan school that still uses chalkboards and Number Two Pencils for everything, and spends far less per pupil than every jurisdiction in the area.
How in the heck is that possible?
2014 Virginia State VEX Robotics Champions - High School Division - Seton School
We’ve been told for so long in Prince William County (and Manassas City as well) that there’s a nearly one-to-one correspondence between how much we spend per pupil and what sort of education outcomes we can expect. In order to deliver a “world class education” the kids need electronic billboards in front of their fabulous LEED-certified architectural marvels, outfitted with iPads, smartboards, computers running iStation, a curriculum sold by Pearson Education, a whole building full of enormously costly administrators and the whole thing run by an outrageously overpaid administrator whose principal qualification appears to be that he somehow evaded criminal prosecution for what he subjected his previous employers to. We must have exactly a very precise number of minutes of instruction during a highly defined quantity of instructional days per year, each educator and administrative worker must participate in a specific number of continuing educational courses, and even every school board member who oversees the whole thing must maintain their razor-sharp edge by participating in a certain number of conferences each and every year.
And it all costs an absolutely stunning amount of money, and by God, we need to spend a lot more. Or else our kids are just going to fail, and all end up sleeping under some bridge in an environmentally-friendly cardboard box that previously contained a refrigerator.
But some little, underfunded school, that operates in some facilities that are older than what surrounding jurisdictions consider well beyond the mandated age of demolition and replacement, that is still using chalkboards for goodness sake, they own the competitions our children participate in. How is that possible? Might it just be that the difference in the priorities they consider valuable might possibly deliver superior results?
A robotics competition offers one opportunity to evaluate some of those differences. Guess how many other teams at the state robotics competition were wearing suits instead of what resembled, in quite a few cases, Halloween costumes? How many were dressed like, and actually behaved like serious engineers?
If you guessed none, you’d be right. These kids showed up like professionals. Their demeanor. Their dress. Their approach to a challenge. Their approach to everything was a unified demonstration of what a professional attitude, careful preparation, and dedication to excellence looks and feels like. They were sober, focused, hard-working and serious.
The second-place team in the Middle School Division at the Virginia VEX Robotics Championship
Maybe if we weren’t so hell-bent focused on measuring the success of our school system based on how much money we spend educating kids, and instead focused on how we can do a good job actually educating them, other local jurisdictions like Prince William County and Manassas City could manage to perform up to the level of what Seton is doing. They’re clearly doing something remarkably different to the point it is immediately apparent just by simple observation.
They even pray to God in that school. And yet they succeed.
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