So what changes should be made?

by Steve Wyckoff on November 17, 2010

In my previous post, School change:  so does Oklahoma get it, and Kansas doesn’t?, I was responding to an e-mail sent to me after my post, School change: Oklahoma gets it, Kansas doesn’t. Part of that e-mail asked the question:

Other comments have to do with what the direction of education should be. We keep hearing that we need to change and there is never an answer about what needs to change. I know the long range vision would be to do something different with our educational system but my question is what?

So I’d like to take a shot at answering that question. Again, this is my opinion, and I would love to hear your opinion on this topic. Bear in mind that I’m trying to describe in a few paragraphs what would require months if not years of discussion and transition for full implementation. And my focus is on high schools.

There are three main areas that we need to address; what we want kids to know, do, and be like; what their educational experiences would look like; and how we would organize our schools to facilitate learning.

The first thing that needs to be addressed is what the educational experience would look like for our students. We should begin the transition to learning by doing, rather than learning by sitting and listening. I think that Erie in high school has demonstrated how you can begin to successfully transition to a learning by doing environment.

They have chosen project-based learning, which I would include, but you could also have students solving real-world problems, engaging in real world career experiences, and entrepreneurship opportunities. Stafford high school is a leader in this area. They have students engaged in construction that last year built the first new home in Stafford in almost 25 years. They have students engaged in health sciences who will be certified in areas such as CMA, EMT, and phlebotomists. In addition they will have college credits in all these areas. They also have students in their entrepreneurship center, the SEED Center, that are rationally running their own businesses.

In Oxford students are running the local restaurant, and in Pretty Prairie they are working to have their students run the local grocery store. I believe that all of these, and others based on the needs of the students and the community, should be options as well.

The “what we teach” should be changed to what we want students to know, be able to do, and be like when they graduate. All of our current standards should be reframed in the context of their real-world application. We can actually start this process today by working with teachers to understand how they can validate standards mastered in real-world experiences.

The key to the success of learning by doing experiences is the ability to give core subject academic credit for standards that are mastered and demonstrated in a real-world context. The pieces are in place to do this today.

The last area is how we organize the school day. I’ve written about this before in a blog post titled; School change: how we organize schools makes no sense. The Carnegie schedule is a relic of the past and needs to be abandoned.

Obviously, this is an oversimplification, and addresses only the changes necessary at the high school level. In my opinion the high school level is the most critical piece of the puzzle. If we change high schools, middle level and elementary level educational experiences will naturally align accordingly.

But even with that caveat  there is a great deal of work that would need to be done. But as I identified above there are schools already doing these things. There is nothing magical here. As Ron Edmonds and Larry Lizotte said, “all we lack is the will to do it.” If we want to change schools for the better, and make every student educational experience more relevant and useful we can. –  Steve Wyckoff

Previous post:

Next post: