Wednesday, January 24

If we could ask the schools in the U.S. to do just one thing different, what would it be?

Let me ask you all this one question, which I was asked recently by a well-known governor. If we could change just one thing in the U.S. school system, what would it be?

Is there any chance that we can break the Bryan Chapman critique that we as a community of education and training professionals:
  • all agree on our dislike on the current system and
  • disagree on what to do better.

Could we work together with our various degrees of clout and make things better in the school system? Stage one is brainstorming, so let's air all of the ideas.


HowCron said...

Just one? That's tough. But my #1 change would be "No homework". Instead, provide "at-home activites" that students can complete for various rewards and extra-credit... but don't make it mandatory. This is primarily for elementary and intermediate schooling, as I think mandatory homework would be beneficial at the high school level.

If I were to continue, at the elementary level, "recess" should never be taken away as punishment and should happen twice during the day. Punishing a 9-year-old boy by limiting his physical activity will only cause him to do WORSE at his work, since the built-up energy will cause a loss of focus.

Also, no more standardized tests. Or more specifically, no more standardized scores on the tests that ALL students of the same age must attain. Tests should measure student progress, and teachers who show the most progress in their students should be given a very nice compensation.

Matthew Nehrling said...

1. First, eliminate teacher pay based on contracts and instead, compensate based on success.

2. Eliminate most teacher's unions and PACs. Teachers should be directly accountable to their students (& student's family). Decisions about education should be put back in the hands of local communities, not bureaucratic middle men.

3. Open up teaching certification to those who are degreed in their field. In many States, to be a certified teacher doesn't mean you know anything about the field you want to teach, or even have a degree in that field, but instead, go through 'certification' classes that mostly relate to legal issues. Even though I am a MBA, I would not be allowed to teach even a basic business class in most States.

4. Toughen up standardized tests and have more accountability to succeed in those tests. The fact is life is a test and if you don't know the fundamentals, you won't succeed. The tests have become too politically correct to the point that the '3 R's' are left by the wayside.

5. Eliminate grade advancement based on age. Advancing in grades should be based on mastery of skills. Some students will go through quickly, others will need more time but the skills should be mastered. (this should tie into #4 as standardized testing is the best way to ensure that the basic skills are being mastered.)

6. Open up the educational marketplace. Add some free market competition into the mix.

I'll stop with this for now.. I'm sure I could think of dozens more as this is a very personal issue to me.

Doug said...

If I had just one thing to do, it would be the same thing Seymour Papert has argued for - allow every student to have their own computer.

Other than that, I would pretty much argue the opposite of Matthew Nehrling suggested. We need teacher unions, teacher job security, less emphasis on teaching to the test.

I don't believe in giving someone a certification to teach biology for example just because they have a degree in biology. Does that person have any training regarding learning and development? Does that person know the typical misconceptions students (and adults) have about the theory of evolution for example? (there is research on this) This is the distinction between content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (shulman I believe).

We have to remember that the government spends 20 times more on agricultural research as it does educational research. The government needs to fund more educational research and more educational software and curriculum development.

Tom Haskins said...

With several moderate positions already clearly articulated, I'll jump in here with a more radical stance. Imagine a spectrum of K-12 schooling options that extends from some gigantic PS101 in every large city to a home schooling parent alone with his/her kids. In the middle are smaller public schools, private schools, experimental schools and charter schools. Except for home schooling, all those other options meet the developmental needs of employers. They herd too many learners into the same classroom, forsaking the varied timing, motivations and interests of each student. The developmental needs of K-12 students are met by extended families, resourceful communities, and vibrant villages. Access to exceptional content, current teaching materials, new project ideas and possible collaborations -- are all available online now. Many more students have become "autodidactic", self-directed learners thanks to camera phones, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, IMing,and all the rest of Web 2.0. Home schooling has gone to an extreme to achieve learner centered, varied paced, and intrinsically motivated growth. Redeployment of the vast infrastructure of school buildings is possible if each neighborhood forms collaborative groups to "home school" together in the spaces that were formerly used for textbooks, tests and tedium. I could be started with pilot programs using the savvy Clark recently described here.

Karl Kapp said...

If I could only do one thing it would be to reduce class sizes. The student to teacher ratio should be 5:1. I think you need some others in class for group activites and teamwork but no more than 8 at the most.

Larry Copes said...

We can make all kinds of changes, but what really matters is the teachers. And how are those teachers trained/educated? Sure, they have education and content courses. But the most powerful part of their training, according to them and their trainers, comes from observing and interning (student teaching) in the very schools that are failing. There are efforts to put them with good mentor teachers, but even the best teachers are embedded in a culture to which the new teachers try to comform, especially if the only school culture they know is the one that they grew up in, one in which they were among the few successes.

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Christy Tucker said...

OK, I know I'm a little late to the conversation, but I wanted to take some time to really think about it and narrow my list down to one big item. My top priority would have to be encouraging lifelong learning. The world has changed and we don't live in a society where you can learn everything you need in school and be done for the rest of your career, so we need to help students learn how to learn and keep learning.

I think there are many thing we can do to encourage lifelong learning, and I know we may not even agree on what those things are. If we have that as our goal though, I think we can solve a lot of the problems and really prepare students effectively.

I'm also with Doug in disagreeing with most of Matthew Nehrling's comment. I don't think that subject matter knowledge alone is enough for a teacher to know how to inspire and teach students. It may be that some states don't have sufficient requirements for subject matter training, and that can be a problem, but the idea that all you need is content expertise and don't need to know anything about teaching won't ultimately help students.

I also don't see how standardized testing helps promote lifelong learning. When was the last time you went to a job and were handed a scantron sheet to fill out? What about the last time you got together with friends to complete a stack of bubble forms together on a Saturday night? But we are spending time on these blogs conversing together and learning. We spend time playing games and reading and talking and creating YouTube videos. Let's see how we can take the passion that is already there and take advantage of it in the classroom.

Clark Aldrich said...

While I was hoping to find some alignement, I think that still seems premature.

But clearly, many great thoughts.

Here is my one thing. I would hope that the curriculum of schools to be developed and evolved with input from everyone in the country, not just the most tenured teachers.

Ken said...

same thing thing I thought after one year of teaching (30 years ago)- make decisions based on what is best for the students' education, not based on the cost.

Donald Clark said...

Go from SAT to SAT 2.0. As a side note, you can read the Demos study, "Their Space" that is cited in the post here.

Valerie Bock said...

The one change I would make is to do away with the rigid age-to-curriculum mapping which characterizes most elementary schools. Children do vary in their ability to master material, and each day elementary school teachers must choose between asking one set of very young people with limited attention spans to sit quietly for another day in which nothing new to learn will be offered, or frustrating another set by moving on to a new topic before these children have had the time they require to master the concepts being taught.

Regular challenge, and regular opportunities to succeed are what keep learners motivated. We need to provide structures which maintain, instead of frustrate, children's natural interest in learning.

Braidwood said...

Howcron - I like the recess idea. Remember, 9 year old girls need recess too!

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