Friday, April 8, 2011

Don't Stand in the Way of Personalizing Learning

Ronald A. Wolk, founder and former editor of Education Week, hits a homerun in his new book, Wasting Minds: Why our education system is failing and what we can do about it (ASCD, 2011). Of particular note is Chapter 11, titled One Student at a Time, where he describes in the opening paragraph what personalized education should look like -- not standardized systems bent primarily on higher "abstract test scores," but real work demonstrated in a variety of real-world applications. He goes on to prescribe in simple terms how to create personalized learning schools:

Today's students come from different socioeconomic situations and cultural backgrounds, learn in different ways and at different speeds, and have different talents, problems, and aspirations. To accommodate this enormous student diversity, the strategy should encourage the creation of new schools that are different from conventional schools and from each other, and they should offer a variety of educational opportunities. - pages 101-2

I contend that we once had this system of education, until the "great industrialization" and subsequent grading of schools came along, only to be followed later by the "great high-stakes testing era" we find ourselves in currently. Once upon a time, the classroom teacher was master of his or her domain and the students were of all ages where personalization of learning was the only successful avenue. Now, teachers are expected to spend all their time conforming to a one-size-fits-all curriculum, using the same strategies from classroom to classroom, and working in lock-step to prepare students for state and national tests. Failing to do so dooms the teacher by saddling her with the label of "ineffective."  For learning is no longer the true measure, just progress of her charges towards proficiency on some abstract multiple-choice test.

Wolk suggests that new schools for personalized learning be created alongside so-called conventional schools, but why would we want to keep the latter? Why not unbridle all of our public schools -- traditional as well as charter -- and allow for the complete personalization of learning from top to bottom? Eliminate unreasonable laws and regulations that only serve to corral public schools in yesteryear methods and restrict their ability to readily transform into the personalized schools of tomorrow. Provide for a stable funding base (not asking for more money, just stable funding) that allows schools to plan long-term the improvement strategies necessary to support this transformation. Take public education out of the political arena and allow local communities to push for the types of schools they feel serve their kids best. 

NCLB-ESEA in its current incarnation based on standardization of public education stands in the way of true educational reform and personalizing learning.