Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Whole New Schooling

America's high school graduation rates and college admission rates are at their highest level in more than thirty-five years, and America educates a far larger percentage of its population to higher levels than almost all other industrialized countries.  America's higher education system is still the envy of the world, and because of its opportunities, the United States remains that "shining city upon the hill" that John Winthrop described nearly three centuries ago.  In terms of international rankings, when schools with less than 25% poverty are ranked, American schools actually lead the world in test scores, and the highest achieving states like Massachusetts actually outperform perennial academic all stars like Finland, Singapore, and Japan.  In many ways, the public education system is one of the greatest success stories in American history.  Yet, there are clearly huge discrepancies in the opportunities and access to education provided by the current system, and there is no logical way to argue that the system is equitable or that public education is meeting the needs of every child.

The American education system works very well for students whose parents know how to work it.  If a family is not restricted by where they can choose to live and enroll their children, or how much they can access the extras of education - from summer camps to college counselors and ACT prep courses - then they are in great position to reap the benefits of a clearly defined system.  However, the income gap is nowhere more significant in America than it is in the public education system - despite the beliefs by many Americans that the system is a level playing field.  The American system also works very well for many teachers who are granted great autonomy in their ability to manage their classrooms and their workloads and, in many ways, their evaluation.  Teachers are generally more focused on their content and their style of presenting information than they are on adapting to and understanding the way students learn.  In almost all fields, especially professional areas like accounting and medicine and law and information technology, employees need to pursue regular professional development to stay current.  Not so much with education.  And that must change.

With my principal's license I have no immediate interest in becoming "a principal."  However, I am committed to progress in education by contributing to areas of professional development and school culture.  In my perfect world, I could live with one foot in the classroom and one foot in the administrative office, working as an advocate for both teachers and kids, but focusing primarily on "what's best for kids" and whatever works.  Too many teachers lack the support or motivation to be truly visionary in adaptive change.  That doesn't mean, however, that they are altogether opposed to it.  My goal is to find a way to be a bridge and facilitator for teachers who will struggle with the changes demanded by Common Core and SB191 and the school improvement plan.  NCA expects that teachers learn to use data to guide instruction, and teachers will need support in how to do that.  In a pseudo-administrative role, I would seek not so much to be a buffer as to be a filter, breaking down information on what teachers need to know about new expectations, so they can focus on doing what they do - which in my experience can be pretty magical.

As I've noted before, I am interested in working toward a world where teachers don't say "I teach math or English or history" but instead say, "I teach kids."  I've been reading a lot by "ideas guru" Daniel Pink who advocates for new thinking in developing skills in kids which allow them to succeed.  Rather than a particular content, Pink focus on the need for students to develop skills in "numeracy, design thinking, and sales," as these are marketable skills.  The ideas put forth by people like Daniel Pink or Po Bronson or Malcolm Gladwell on "the way the world really works" are the kind of information that I would like to help weave into school culture.  From places like High Tech High to books like A Whole New Mind to plans like "Tough Choices, Tough Times," school culture needs to be adapted and developed to allow greater access and choice for kids.  However, the focus must be on data and results.  "Whatever works" is my motto for education.

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