School change: KBOR just doesn’t get it

by Steve Wyckoff on September 28, 2010

Not all school change is good.  For example, the Kansas Board of Regents is considering adding an additional year of math in high school for students to meet qualified admissions for the regents universities. They think that having kids sit through another year of math class is somehow going to prepare them better to be productive members of society.

It may better prepare them to sit through another math class in college but there is little evidence that another math class will benefit more than a very small number of Kansas high school students. And the reality is it will cause more students to drop out, and probably lead to more students being disengaged from the educational process.

What the Kansas Board of Regents doesn’t get is that we don’t need to have students learn “more about” any subject. What we need to have Kansas kids learn is the discipline of particular fields.

Let me explain. I was in a conversation last week with four Kansas school districts who are collaborating on creating entrepreneurship programs in their schools. They were very clear, they don’t want kids to know more about entrepreneurship, they want kids to be entrepreneurs. They want them to learn and practice the discipline of being entrepreneurs.

Our kids don’t need another math class they need to understand the discipline of what it means to be a mathematician. You don’t get that by covering more math absent the context of the real world. That’s a major issue with our entire core curriculum. We have kids learn about the social sciences, and we have them learn about the language arts, and we have them learn about communication, and we have them learn about science, and we have them learn about math.

What they don’t learn is how to practice the discipline of being a social scientist, or the discipline of being a communicator, or the discipline of being a scientist … You get the picture.

Want an example? A young lady at Erie high school, the project-based learning school that I’ve talked about many times, developed her project around cloning cattle. She found a mentor in the area who is a world renowned bovine geneticist. She actually practiced the discipline of being a scientist. Specifically a geneticist. She may not have covered all the content that other kids covered in a traditional science class. But she has a far greater understanding of science, and what it means to be a scientist, than any student who has simply sat through a science class.

If the Kansas Board of Regents really wants to improve the education of our kids, and better prepare them for post secondary education, they should start a dialogue with K-12 education to dramatically change the educational experiences our students receive in K-12 education. And also change the expectations that they have for what students will know, do, and be like when they arrive on campus.

Unfortunately, I don’t see real school change happening if KBOR is involved. If anything they are more entrenched in a decades old system, perhaps centuries old system, then K-12 education. –  Steve Wyckoff

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