There is a historic opportunity in education: Don’t blow it!

by Steve Wyckoff on February 5, 2010

We’ve never seen the kind of financial cuts that are taking place in education today. Regardless of how you feel about school finance, and the ability of school districts to utilize their money wisely, the cuts that are being made today in the majority of school districts are painful at best. Decisions are starting to impact staffing decisions, including classroom teachers.

But every cloud has a silver lining. And often times the silver lining doesn’t show itself until much later. School districts are looking at ways to save money, cut costs, and yet at the same time improve the quality of the educational opportunities their students receive.

Down the road we’re going to look back at the decisions that are being made and many of them will have historical significance. Some because they devastated the district, and some districts will never recover from those decisions. But others will lead to creative and innovative solutions that will indeed increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the education our kids receive.

Our industry has been amazingly stagnant for the last century. We are long overdue to redesign major parts of our educational system; what we teach, how we teach it, how we organize to teach it, and how we assess what we have taught. Hopefully,  we will talk about, what the kids learned, how they learned it, where and how they were grouped to learn it, and how they demonstrated their understanding and use of what they learned.

Hopefully there will be enough examples of creative and innovative solutions that they will impact the educational system systemically. What would I like to see those systemic changes be?

I’d love to see all of our students emotionally (authentically) engaged in their learning experiences  on a regular basis. I’d love to see the content of what they are learning be the knowledge and skills that will make them more productive in their lives after school. I’d love to see them organized like we organize for work in the real world, in ways that allow them to collaborate with their peers and with experts from the fields of their choice. I’d love to see us scrap the entire standardized testing system and instead evaluate student learning based on the skills and knowledge they obtain which are aligned with their desired career  areas. I’d love to see teachers functioning as cold learners with the students, assuming a much more Socratic role. And most of all I love to see our students leave school loving to learn, and self-directed in their lives.

Is there hope? Only time will tell. Right now there is little reason for hope. Almost all of the discussions are centered on what to cut. On the other hand I was at the Topeka USD 501 Board of Education meeting last night and they are doing a great job of discussing the changes they can make to reduce expenses while at the same time focusing on improved opportunities for all of their students.

We can only hope that education and educators don’t blow it. – Steve Wyckoff

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