Christy Tvarok, in her post “Make Noise, Make Change,” encourages teachers around the United States to share their vision for educational change in our nation, particularly as it relates to digital literacy and technology integration. She is going to mail the aggregated responses directly to the current US candidates for President. Please add your perspectives and ideas as comments to her post. The following is my contribution.

Christy: Thank you for your willingness to extend these conversations beyond the blogosphere and directly advocate for constructive, sensible change in our educational institutions with our political candidates running for President in the United States. Clearly there is a great deal which can and needs to be said. I’ll try to be succinct.

1) We must cut down and reduce our curricular standards and instead focus on cultivating habits of mind in our schools. TIME is the number one obstacle we face for any type of proposed educational change. The elephant in the room, as Dr. Robert Marzano pointed out in his keynote at the Oklahoma state leadership conference in July 2007, is that we don’t have enough time TODAY to teach all the content standards and curriculum we are required to as teachers. In response to the demands of these mandates, high stakes testing, and mania continuing from “Nation at Risk” (2 Million Minutes is the latest example) we have people calling for simply more time in school. We don’t simply need a new wrapper on the same old “sandwich” of school learning. We don’t need food coloring, And we don’t need new flavoring added. We need a new sandwich. This begins with addressing the primary drivers of learning tasks in our schools today: Curriculum standards and high stakes testing.

2) Educational technology must play a fundamental role in this learning revolution. Every teacher and student in every school, from grade three on, needs to be equipped with a laptop computer capable of not only accessing content in various media formats (permitting media consumption) but also permitting media PRODUCTION and PUBLISHING. Creating and collaborating must become hallmarks of learning in the 21st century classroom. These tasks can be performed safety, respecting the privacy and rights of both students and parents. There are many choices and paths forward to advance these goals. Our vision of digitally infused learning in the 21st century must go beyond CAI (computer aided instruction) and using Microsoft Office. The 21st Century Skills our students require include media literacy, multimedia publication and communication, and collaboration with diverse team members separated by space and time. The OLPC costs $180 per unit today, but was developed for the developing world. The EEEPC costs $500 per unit today. Amortize those costs over three years. One to one learning IS financially reasonable for our students TODAY. This is a path we need to follow today, not tomorrow. The textbook industry is NOT going to lead this change, in fact they will continue to oppose it as they did in Texas with House Bill 4. The textbook industry should not dictate our educational policy in the United States, just as the oil and gas industry should not dictate our foreign policy. Without our vocal advocacy, the lobbyists for educational corporations will continue to try and call the shots. This must end. The open content movement will continue to grow and offer higher quality, comparatively better alternatives to paper-based printed textbooks as time goes on. The time to embrace 1:1 learning is now. We do not simply need more desktop computers in labs and in classrooms. We need one laptop computer for EVERY teacher and EVERY student in our schools (grades 3 and up) NOW, not tomorrow. And we need a vision for the constructive uses of these tools for learning, which involves regular CREATION and COLLABORATION as well as consumption.

3) As Phil Schlechty argues in his books and publications related to school reform, we must fundamentally redefine the role of the teacher in our 21st century classroom. Rather than defining the teacher as a fount of knowledge, we must define teachers as DESIGNERS and INVENTORS of engaging work for students. Often, the work students do will have a digital face, but that should not be universal. This is one of the most important elements in the learning revolution we need: Teachers must change their own view of themselves and their role in the classroom (in many cases, for those who remain the “sage on the stage”) and parents need to understand the reasons for this change. There are my reasons accounting for high rates of dropouts in our schools, but one of the primary ones we must address directly is BOREDOM. Many kids are bored in school. As teachers redefine their roles as DESIGNERS and INVENTORS of engaging work, this situation can be remedied.

4) Everyone wants a high quality education for students rhetorically, but the fact is in many states our legislators refuse to pay for it. This strikes home for me here in Oklahoma, where we rank 48th in the nation in teacher pay. We are living in an era of all-time high profits for oil and gas companies in the world, and Oklahoma is a major producer of oil and gas. Yet this year, in 2007-2008, our schools in Oklahoma are facing a $40 million shortfall. This is not just ridiculous, it is a crime. We must exhort our leaders at both state and national levels to pay our teachers higher wages. The economics of our educational situation do not require the analysis of a Rhodes scholar. To address the achievement gaps, we have to pay our teachers in more challenging / lower SES schools more money. We absolutely must not pay teachers based on the test scores of their students. ALL K-12 teachers, regardless of the socio-economic level of the students they teach, deserve and NEED to be paid more. As taxpayers we need to put our money where our mouths are (or should be) and pay teachers high wages so we can keep them in the profession.

There are more things that I could write, but those are some of the main points that come to mind. Thanks for your advocacy and being willing to speak out.

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5 Responses to Speak out and share your vision for education reform

  1. Great list, but I’d add a few more:

    One of the most critical reforms that needs to take place, which I rarely see discussed, is a fundamental overhaul of the property tax-based system we currently have in place to pay for education. This is an inequitable system for funding public education that ensures that wealthy suburban school districts are able to spend significantly more per student than poorer urban areas can. And the situation is only getting worse as cities further erode their tax bases to offer 10 or 20-year tax abatements to businesses and home owners to attract them into the cities. In the case of many companies, as soon as the incentives are gone, so are they, leaving cities on the hook for millions of dollars and their students floundering for even a basic education.

    I also think that schools and teachers will continue to resist change as long as schools are kept separate from the rest of the world. It’s possible (and often happens) to spend an entire teaching career having no real contact with what’s happening in businesses and organizations outside of academia, making it more difficult for teachers to connect what happens in their classrooms to the real world. We need to have more conversations going on as a large community–schools, businesses, government, nonprofits, etc.–about what we need to do. We need to have teachers coming out of their classrooms and their schools to connect to the larger community. Change can’t happen when schools operate in isolated, disconnected niches. We need to build bridges between school and the rest of the world, for the benefit of everyone.

  2. Dean Mattson says:

    Thank you for posting this. It’s a huge topic, and it’s a challenge to think so globally. I’m going to try myself to put something together. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts on your first point.

    I totally agree your proposal of reducing the number of standards. I think the major goal of every group developing a curriculum, especially on a statewide level, is SIMPLIFICATION. Don’t give us a long laundry list with every possible topic that could be taught, funnel them down to the true essentials.

    We also agree that we need to pull back from the high-stakes testing mindset that is destroying our schools. (That sounds like hyperbole, but I really believe it.) I don’t think we’re going to eliminate it totally, at least in the near future. So how about this? Instead of having these tests every single year for every single grade level, why don’t we limit it to fifth and eighth grade? Individual districts and schools can come up with their own assessment plans (but should be encouraged to widen it beyond simple multiple choice type of tests) but states have to limit themselves to those two grades. That will be enough to find out how schools are doing in the interest of “accountability.”

    I think one of the fundamental problems is that we’ve perverted the ideal that “all children can learn.” Yes, all children can learn, but they all have different interests and aptitudes. Yes, all children can learn, but they don’t all learn at the same rate or according to some timetable. How can you have an education policy without acknowledging that truth?

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    Dean: On the subject of cutting back or eliminating high stakes testing, there are two rationales for having them and we should address both. The first rationale is that we need high stakes tests to measure broadly whether our schools “are working.” (That is the position, although I do not agree with it.) That position would argue in favor, perhaps, of your proposal, since we could “see” as a society (again allegedly) if schools are working. There are many problems with this, but the main one is that when we place so much emphasis on testing as reflecting what value the school is bringing to the students it serves as well as society more generally, the daily learning tasks of teachers and students in that environment get very distorted (often) because they have to focus on that test. Here in the US, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is an established test which is setup now to allow state to state comparisons. On a big picture level, I think we can just maintain the NAEP to get state scorecards, and ditch state-level exams which vary widely. NAEP is administered to different campuses in different districts which do NOT know they are going to be assessed in advance (in theory) so it has some benefits because of this over tests that everyone “knows are coming.”

    The second main reason to have standardized tests, I think, is to assess how individual students and individual teachers are doing. Again, the biggest problem with this is that there are SO MANY THINGS our schools have always taught and need to continue teaching which cannot be easily measured on a standardized assessment. Donald Graves notes that “Testing Is Not Teaching and he is right. Teaching and learning are SO much more than testing. I agree with Dr. David Berliner of ASU who contends that high stakes accountability systems inherently corrupt the teaching profession. These provide a distorted view of what should be a well rounded learning environment emphasizing BOTH things which can be readily tested at a knowledge and comprehension level on a multiple choice examination, AND many of the less tangible skills, abilities, and knowledge domains which cannot.

    The point is NOT that we should or can abandon assessment. The point is we must change our focus in assessment, as you say to recognize the differentiated needs of learners. This is where I see web 2.0 tools providing such a great array of options for us. I am going to address this in a keynote on May 15th in Richardson, Texas, at ESC10, and I’ll flesh out more of my ideas there. Basically, as I have heard Dr. Chris Dede of Harvard say, web 2.0 tools can and should be used to collect a wide variety of “data points” about student performance and achievement throughout the year. This electronic portfolio of student work can then be used as a meaningful lens to examine what the student has DONE and CAN DO with respect to knowledge, information, ideas, collaboration, digital literacies, etc.

    To your point about “all students can learn,” I agree this has been distorted. That was a slogan in the first school district where I taught, and while this IS true it shouldn’t mean that we have to force all students to learn in the same way.

    Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing and challenging me.

  4. Wes:

    Nice job articulating this important issue. I am reminded of the old saying that putting more lipstick on the pig does not make it prettier. A radical redesign is needed in which technology not only is used but used to the extent that its use is transparent. I still remember my senior year at the Academy when I got to put away my slide rule and use a calculator. That was over 30 years ago. Now we are no longer surprised by the use of calculators, the same should become true with a 1:1 initiative, but I hope we do not have to wait as long!

  5. […] quietly and watch movies in class the last week of May, like every other week of the school year teachers should be inviting and challenging students to engage in meaningful work for an audience which extends far beyond the four physical walls of the classroom. Rather than […]

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