Time for a New Paradigm: A Model of Education for the Future

Education is not about test scores. It’s about preparing students for a productive life. It’s about helping all students find a purpose, a passion, and a meaningful way to make a living. It’s about teaching students:

  • Reading in English to open countless doors;
  • Math to solve problems logically and to have the tools for financial literacy;
  • Writing to communicate effectively,
  • Social studies to understand the meaning of good citizenship, our place in the global economy, and world politics;
  • Science to understand nature, health, and spark innovations for the future; and
  • Fine and performing arts to find beauty and to appreciate expressions of culture in our world.

Education should foster child-like curiosity and creativity, key ingredients of life-long learning. If we are spending billions on creating standards, tests, accountability systems, and a myriad of curricular materials, we are not spending this money on educating our students. Our current system demands that one size fits all. Our students are not all alike. They have distinct talents, diverse backgrounds, and very different needs. Future engineers need four years of high school math; future landscapers, artists and chefs do not.

What a costly, horrific mess we have made of public education in America. It has perpetrated a whole industry of test makers, consultants, statisticians, and curriculum developers, costing us billions of dollars. In the name of accountability, we strive to preserve an ineffective system, where educating the student is not the priority.

We urgently need to stop, re-examine education, and create a new vision before it’s too late. As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

An example of a geodesic dome based on Fuller's design

The geodesic dome based on Fuller’s design at Epcot Center http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Epcot07.jpg

This new model needs these elements:

  • Dedicated, visionary leaders and respected teachers who focus on the students;
  • Unlimited, organized curricular materials in all subject areas;
  • Student leaders who are rewarded for their efforts and recognized for their talents;
  • A parent, guardian or involved adult; and
  • A system that makes this possible.

Successful schools build a leadership team that understands what their students need and finds ways to meet these needs; this includes students with language, cognitive, emotional and social issues as well as those with abilities and talents that require nurturing. Leaders need to understand the mission and be able to implement all aspects of making a meaningful education a reality for all their students.  In James C. Collins’ book From Good to Great, the author starts with importance of “getting the right people on the bus.”

All curricular materials should become part of a national repository, available to all online, coded to essential standards, vetted for accuracy, and keyed sequentially to depth of understanding. Wikipedia has made encyclopedias obsolete; similarly, this repository would make textbooks a costly thing of the past. The power of technology vastly improves curricular resources with embedded videos, assessments, hyperlinks, text-to-speech, ease of access, and lack of printing costs.

Grade levels would be based upon student mastery, not chronological age. In the early years of schooling, students would work on basic skills on the computer, in small groups with the teacher, whole class activities, and in pairs, as appropriate. Skill mastery would be measured by the computer assessments. Students would progress, as in martial arts or scouts, by earning their badges or belts for completion and then moving to the next level.  Students demonstrating proficiency and a desire to tutor may be paired with others needing more help.  More mature students can be formally developed as tutors to assist struggling students. Groups of students with similar interests can work on projects that foster creativity, apply knowledge, and develop collaborative skills.

The teacher’s role will be one of a good coach. Teachers will be expected to:

  • Have in-depth knowledge of and a passion for their subject;
  • Know their students, their strengths and weaknesses;
  • Schedule class and group activities;
  • Monitor each student’s progress;
  • Encourage students’ talents and keep them challenged.

The school leadership will set a culture of high expectations with all students and teachers working to realize their fullest potential. Collaboration among teachers, peers and parents will be the norm. Every teacher and student in every school will have a portable electronic device with access to the repository. Instead of one mass of marginally meaningful data that our present testing scores provide, computer systems will set standard competency levels in all subjects and then include multiple paths for students to pursue until they have met sufficient requirements for graduation with a marketable set of skills or preparation to pursue advanced studies. Parents will be able to access the repository as well as their child’s progress electronically.

The need for legislation, policies, and earmarked funds for specific groups of students would no longer be necessary. This new model would meet the needs of all students and truly provide an appropriate education for each and every one. It’s time for this new paradigm.

The National Curriculum Project: A Repository for Universal Access

What the world of education needs now is a National Repository of Curricular Materials. This would be an online library of lessons on every subject with pre-assessments, instructional media, practice tasks, quizzes, and tests all linked to the common core standards.

Can this be done? There is a precedent, the federal government funded the National Genome Project at a time when gene-sequencing work was fragmented, competition in the field was rampant and yet, the entire human genome was sequenced for all scientists to access worldwide.  This made possible exponential progress in science because the common good prevailed.

Analogously, private interests by textbook publishers and educational consultants would need to allow funds to be allocated centrally for this to happen in education. Currently, the common core standards have spurred a flurry of disparate activities to create texts, units, and lessons by teachers, professors, consultants, publishers and others. Yet teachers and students don’t have the materials they need at their fingertips. Over 40 years ago, we had a textbook that was the curriculum, complete with quizzes, tests and tips in the teacher’s edition. Teachers planned, taught, and focused on their students.

But the world is far too complex, the classrooms of today far to diverse for static textbooks. We need appropriate, engaging materials available for all students: for helping struggling students, for challenging proficient ones and for addressing the needs of all students in between. The vast majority of these curricular materials already exist: in published and online texts, states’ extensions of the standards, uTube videos, online assessments, educational games, etc.  They need to be vetted, indexed and made available to all.

The intended consequence of this proposed curricular project is access to an appropriate education for all. With this tool, students could progress at whatever pace is most suitable to them: delving deeper into areas that interest them and repeating lessons similar to ones they find difficult. Teachers would finally have all the tools for differentiation in their classrooms. Every student would have the world at his fingertips.

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The Repository would allow the system to break the mold of education by chronological age. Students would be grouped by progress, as in martial arts. Classrooms would be different. As communities of learners, students could shine in their areas of strength. Students would learn that practice and perseverance lead to success and recognition. Teachers and student leaders could spend time in small groups, clarifying concepts, discussing issues, making one another think, and providing encouragement for the pursuit of excellence.

Teachers’ roles would be re-defined as coaches, mentors, progress monitors, and discussion leaders. They will have time to know their students, encourage them, and build on their strengths. Sparking students’ interests and passions is how education will give us future successful citizens.

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In 1868, Ezra Cornell said “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Today internet access for all and the organized, vetted materials of a National Repository of Curricular Materials can make this possible!

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Photo from dreamtime.com _______________________________________________________________________