I have a vision for a 21st century school, and I’m determined to make my vision a reality. I know that a lot of talk is going on right now about education reform and what are we going to do about our current school system. Honestly I’m not sure that the problem of the public school can be fixed from the inside.
I have long believed in the power of the free market – yes it can be used for evil and not good (RE: current economic crisis and meltdown of wall street) but I also know that, just like my students in the classroom, excellence is bred in the evolutionary soup of survival of the fittest (I’m of course being metaphoric here). Anyone who has read 1984 knows that mediocrity is the only thing that comes of everyone doing the same thing because it’s what they are supposed to do, and that is what our public school system has become.
First of all, we have to get rid of the “one size fits all” educational system that we currently have. Okay so maybe we have two sizes, possibly even three if you count special education, but overall you are either advanced or you aren’t, and other than that we all learn the same thing (give or take). I can tell you that from looking around at the population of my school, 65 percent, 65 PERCENT (and I’m understating it even I think) of the students at my school are being failed by the system we have in place. Our test scores are great, our graduation rate is the highest in our district (and that is including the rich schools), we were even Recognized ratings in the accountability standards, and only missed Exemplary by a few points, and still I say we fail them. They know that they are just jumping through a series of hoops in order to graduate, and in the end many of our students are unprepared for the rigors of college, and are certainly unprepared for the real world critical thinking and problem solving that will be expected of them. Not to mention that the majority of the students in my school have little ambition to even attend college (many are poor and first generation (if that) citizens) and so will leave high school with that notch on their belt and join the working world. WHY are we not preparing them for the path that they intend to take???
I’m calling first of all for a return of the vocational school! There is no shame in a student learning a trade that will actually benefit them and give them a valuable, marketable skill (not to mention that many skilled tradesmen and women make more money that us teachers do!) in the process. Many economists are citing the lack of skilled tradesmen as one thing that is hurting our economy as we have to outsource many of the jobs that were originally done by Americans. Many of our students are checking out mentally, and sometimes even physically, because school has lost it’s relevancy to them. We are one of the few first world countries that still tries to force everyone to fit the college-bound educational mold. Why?!
Secondly, we need to be integrating blended education into the “traditional” schools that remain – classes that meet online the majority of the time and only meet face to face a few hours a week. This would eliminate the need for “seat time” requirements, allow students to work at a pace that fits their lifestyles (when do most of your students do their work… I guarantee you it’s after 7pm) while still giving them a measure of accountability in the face to face meeting times. Students who are advanced can work ahead or be given supplemental assignments without it being awkward or difficult, and students who are behind or need extra help can get remediation BEFORE the test because the remediation will be a built in part of the course.
Flexible scheduling will also allow for school buildings to be smaller – rooms can be shared when meeting times don’t overlap, which cuts down on maintenance costs, and the role of the teacher switches from that of dispenser of knowledge to that of a facilitator. This could even potentially allow for teachers to take on (slightly) larger numbers of students, as many online tasks can be automated and when you are answering questions and facilitating it takes much less time per student than lecturing, grading, discipline management, etc can take currently. Teachers can also lighten the grading load by assigning collaborative projects in which the students work in more realistic group settings than individually, and even can allow students to critique and assist each other. One of the greatest side-effects of my class facebook page has been that when students have questions they post them on the facebook page, and other students will actually answer them!
Another benefit to flexible scheduling will be in creating a more college like atmosphere to help prepare students for the actual schedule of college. I know that one reason many of my friends struggled in college was the adjustment they had to make to the new schedule. Add in the fact that many professors just didn’t take attendance and you had a recipe for disaster. If students are already familiar with and comfortable with only physically attending classes a few hours a week, plus have it built in as a habit to attend class, I think they will find it easier to adjust and make them more likely to attend their classes. Not to mention the fact that the type of blended classes I envision are going to build in the students a habit of learning on their own and using all of their available resources to make sure they understand, which is going to create more independence and self-reliance – definitely both traits essential to success in college. Right now many students are learning the exact opposite in their secondary school classes (ex. if i keep quiet or alternatively yell out the wrong answer enough the teacher will give me the right one).
Flexible scheduling also will be useful to students who are heavily involved in other activities. If you do not have to be in class every day, or can schedule to attend on a different day when conflicts arise in your schedule, then you will have more control over your learning, and be less likely to be penalized for being absent for various activities. As an example I have a student who recently switched into my class, and I kid you not today was the 4th time I have seen her in the 3 weeks she has been in my class. Now she was sick a couple of days, and I was in Arizona at VSS for another 3 of those days, but the rest of the time she has been out for various school activities. Her grades are suffering because she hasn’t been present in class enough to keep up with her work and really know what is going on. Her learning is seriously disrupted by her extra curricular activities but there is no way she is going to give them up if you ask her. I’m sure that other people have had experienced similar situations.
This idea is still open to suggestions and if you have any I would love to hear them. As I said I fully intend to see my blended school become a reality one day soon, although I may have to leave the public school system in order to do it unfortunately. I would really like to open something like this in Seattle and last I checked charter schools were still a no-go there. Texas allows charters but I love the weather in Seattle… plus I have never seen so much green in all my life. Plus how can you not love a place that has the craziest looking sci-fi museum ever, and a troll under a bridge?!