Where I work, we are looking forward to a new project that would relax restrictions and increase technology, training, and other resources into a small group of schools that are willing to make changes. A group of educators got together and tried to imagine what schools would look like if they could make any changes that would be helpful. They struggled with this thought. It was very difficult for them to really re-imagine schools, and they did not believe that relaxing rules was really possible. They wanted a guarantee that things like “seat time” and union-driven scheduling would go away before committing to any change. What really struck me was the immediate gravitation toward the barriers. Every time one person would say something, another would chime in with a “well - we could not do that because...” The facilitator attempted to redirect the group telling them they needed to imagine so we could begin designing the schools our kids need, but it was not possible for them to do.
Charter schools are supposed to be places where this sort of re-imagining is possible, yet they become stuck just like traditional schools. In most communities, charter schools must live with the same computer-driven schedules for middle and high school students, seat time requirements, bussing and lunch schedules, and sometimes even state-adopted text books. Classes must be taught by teachers with specific certifications, creating unnatural segmentation of learning at the secondary level.
Even the film “Waiting for Superman,” considered a bit radical by many in the education establishment, concluded that all we need to do differently is make teachers better through improved human resources policies and training, and put kids in classrooms longer. While that would be a great start, I think we need to do much more to transform our students into the creative, divergent, collaborative thinkers they need to be in the 21st century. Here is a list, in no particular order, of some things that real reformers are already doing to create inspiring schools:
1. Eliminate grades as a way to evaluate and communicate the quality of student work - See this great article by Alfie Kohn to learn more.
2. Incorporate the technology kids are using in the real world into the classroom, instead of banning it. My colleague Lisa Nielsen has written volumes on the topic.
3. Consider altering daily schedules of schools to be in alignment with the biological needs of kids. You can learn more about this on my website.
4. Make learning personalized, following the individual needs of children. Many groups are doing great work in this area including Kunskapsskolan and School of One.
5. Eliminate our high school credit (Carnegie Unit) requirements, and replace them with expectations of mastery. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development proposed just that in its High School Reform Proposal in 2006.
Create teacher preparation and professional development programs linked to competencies that make a difference in the classroom. Use these to replace the current certification requirements that have little or no correlation to effective teaching. The New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are doing great work in this area.
We know what to do...all we need now is courage. Make 2011 the year when YOU have the courage to do what you can to begin transforming our schools to become what our kids need.