Sunday, June 30, 2013

Students Need Choice/Options, says Aurora Superintendent Barry

Former Aurora Public Schools chief John Barry offers important and valued insight on Colorado school reform, calling for increased school funding and more options and choice for students.  The funding issue is a contentious one in a tax- and spending-averse state like Colorado, but Barry's comments on student choice should find common ground and open ears.

For quite a while now, I've been arguing against the rigid education system in America that places unfounded emphasis on "seat time" and bachelor degrees.  In a changing world of diverse needs and interests, the singular focus on nineteenth century education system is outdated and harmful to the current generations of students.  Cultural critics as varied as Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute and Sir Ken Robinson, formerly of the Arts in Schools Project have challenged the factory model of education that puts students on an assembly line toward one goal.  Though Barry and Murray and Robinson have divergent views, the common thread is offering more choice to students.

As John Barry aptly notes, I would like to see is the rejection of a "single magic solution" to the ills of public education. Complex systems fail in complex ways, requiring complex solutions. We must labor to develop a strategic "mosaic" of integrated programs and initiatives that accelerates student achievement and closes the achievement gaps. This synergistic approach must adapt to the specific culture of the school district community with the understanding that there is no single solution for public education in this country. The pieces of the mosaic must come together to form a picture of students in their caps and gowns — students who are well prepared for college and career success.

The country needs a new "vision" that is not singular, but a shared vision.  Barry asserts, we must completely reconsider what success for school looks like. In today's world, when some students are years behind and others are achieving at levels beyond their years, we must eliminate traditional walls, clocks and calendars. The school day and school year should ensure that students are learning based on their achievement levels and not because of seat time. We must provide students, who start school two or three years behind, with enough quality schooling to help them catch up and reach grade level success. By the same token, we must provide eighth-graders who are doing 11th grade math or 11th graders taking college courses the continued opportunity to excel.

That said, education reformers should emphasize a break from a focus on bachelor degrees, an increased emphasis on the arts and creativity, an expansion of post-school options via career and technical education (CTE), and flexible school schedules and non-traditional settings. Students should be empowered by giving them choice on the education they desire and need.

No comments: