Monday, November 26, 2012

Time for a New Education Paradigm

The subject of this posting is going to make a lot of people uneasy, as I propose eviscerating what stands today as the core content curriculum standards. Now I am assuming that most readers of this blog are adults, and so I have a question: what do you remember from high school? Separate what you learned in college and just think about high school. Now think about what skills you learned in high school.

The purpose of this thought experiment is to make an enormously important point: unless the content is in some way connected to our current jobs or experiences, we have pretty much forgotten everything.

There are two main reasons for this. One is the issue of “who cares?” Let’s be honest, most of the content we learned in school we learned because it was required, not because you were truly interested in it. The second, more important reason, is that because state mandates are so broad and deep that teachers don’t really have the time to confirm that the content was actually “learned.” It was remembered long enough to take a test, and it may rest ever so precariously somewhere in the recesses of our mind, but we never really learned it. Learning is a long, complicated process that requires a great deal of reinforcement and assessment. To really be certain that someone has learned something, they should ideally be able to engage in a discussion of the subject matter and probably also be able to write on the subject; then and only then can there be some assurance that the content has been broadly understood by the class.

By requiring too much, we are actually making true learning less likely. All this content is demanded because we have academicians in all of these fields determining what they believe should be required learning. Is it any wonder why there is so much required content?

Learning skills is another matter. I have read the new national skill standards and find them to be perfectly constructed to meet the needs of today’s society. Unlike the content, skills will be reinforced across the curriculum. If we are to require anything, it would be the skills. Let teachers have greater freedom to design the curriculum content they will use as the foundation for skill building.

I have total faith that, with input from teachers, students, administrators, and the community, that a curriculum will be developed that is perfectly tailored to the future goals and interests of the students. The problem is that our political leaders don’t have enough confidence in teachers to design engaging, challenging curricula on their own, and that is a real disappointment. Granted, there are teachers performing at the lower end of a performance continuum, but hopefully the new evaluation process will help end that. I am also hopeful that the State will support financially school districts that want to reach out and find college students outside of Schools of Education, students with expertise in engineering, accounting, economics, zoology, or any number of fields of study. It is these “future teachers” that will bring their knowledge and passion into the classroom, creating courses that inspire and challenge. Supported by a strong system of clinical supervision, these teachers will help transform our inner city schools into vibrant centers of learning.

All I know for sure is that what is being done now and over the past decade has yielded horrible results. It is time for a new paradigm and a new outlook on education. Let’s give these inner city schools, its teachers, its parents, and stakeholders in the community a chance. I am confident that success will follow.

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