The last week of June, I spent a few days along Baltimore's Inner Harbor attending the AASA Summer Leadership Institute where I, along with several hundred others, were feted to the likes of Charlotte Danielson, Diane Ravitch, Doug Reeves and a variety of district administrators. Coming at the end of a difficult and exhausting school year, I used the time and some of the ideas presented by this esteemed cadre to reflect on where public education is at and where we should be headed.
Here are some random thoughts from my "retreat" in historic Baltimore:
1. Teachers really do care and want to get better at their craft contrary to the way they are portrayed in the media.
2. Our traditional industrial school model is not designed to ensure all kids achieve to the same levels. It was designed to sort and select while providing each with a minimal education necessary to be compliant and productive members of the community.
3. The traditional school design worked for what it was originally intended when requirements were simpler and parent and community support were stronger.
4. Because of the traditional industrial design of our K-12 system, we expend an enormous amount of resources focused on learning gaps with very limited results. These gaps are mainly created or at least exacerbated by hanging onto a system that no longer serves the needs of kids. We fail to recognize this and instead simply throw more resources at the problem with at best mixed results.
5. For all kids to have a chance to achieve at high levels, our school model has to change. This must include:
a. Eliminating the graded structure by at least starting at the lowest grades and working up.
b. Unchaining the learning cycles from the traditional school calendar and daily bell schedule, in essence moving from a compliance-based to a competency-based system for progression.
c. Valuing and providing daily time for teachers to collaborate with their peers planning quality learning experiences and analyzing results.
d. Infusing more technology including sophisticated learning management systems that will differentiate learning for each student on a daily basis.
e. Providing students with flexible learning options and relevant, collaborative learning experiences.
f. Structuring learning experiences in ways that students take ownership with high expectations for contributing to the learning, not just passively taking it all in and regurgitating it later.
g. Opening traditional school district borders in ways that provide students with "mix-and-match" choice opportunities to pursue courses and programs in different schools that interest them, not just settle for what their home district provides.
h. Valuing and providing rigorous learning experiences that include communication, collaboration, creativity and contribution skills as much as reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies and the arts.
School reform is not about working around the edges, tinkering with the numbers, talking about the details; it is about reimagining and reinventing the entire structure, so ALL children get a chance at an excellent education. ~ Patricia Kokinos