Posted: August 26, 2011
The arena of educational reform is littered with exhausted participants.
Articulate, well-meaning and dedicated folks have devoted years of their lives to improve our situation, yet the most common descriptor is "broken." Parents, teachers, school boards, administrators, departments, legislatures and foundations are among the warriors in the reform effort. While intentions are almost identical (create intelligent, productive, positive members of society,) methodology and priorities are often at cross-purposes, to the exhaustion of all.
School districts have the freedom to teach HOW they want. They get most of the credit and/or blame for the outcomes. Local school boards have considerable influence, as it should be. The Department of Education determines WHAT is taught, measures development, and coaches schools in best practices. The Legislature decides how much money they both get to do it with.
For centuries, people have been training youth to be successful members of society. We have taken a very natural function and made it exceedingly complex.
Relevance. When we teach only that which is relevant a natural shift will occur. Parents will buy in, student engagement will automatically escalate, teacher gratification inevitably will increase, and math, reading/writing skills will most certainly improve.
We currently have a fragment-based educational system. We pour 12 years of seemingly unrelated fragments into young minds. For them to put these fragments together into something valuable in their lives requires a whole new set of skills that we do not model or teach (analysis, synthesis, evaluation, & problem solving.) Successful people figure it out for themselves. All others become collateral damage.
If a UFO landed, and we wanted one, we would reverse engineer it... an obvious strategy. Apply the analogy. What do we want? We want young people to become positive, productive members of our society. Why not go to the successful people of all branches of our society and reverse engineer them? Find out what academic skills they really need to achieve success, and let those be our academic standards. Successful people are more available than UFO's anyway. Educators and educators alone designed our State Standards. I was among them. Each committee spent scores of hours writing State and No Child Left Behind standards and Grade Level Expectations. Therein lies the flaw in the system. Educators know HOW to deliver knowledge. They do not always know WHAT knowledge is necessary, as they do not operate in the arena and professions where most students will function. If a teacher were to say to students, "We did our homework. We sent scouts ahead to where you are going, and 'this' is what they say you'll need to be successful when you arrive. Let us help you get there," student involvement would naturally soar. Teachers would then facilitate travel towards perceived success rather than impose standards that are a painful blend of boring and irrelevant. We have spent millions of dollars on aligning our curriculum to the standards, and barely a dime aligning the standards to the reality that students perceive they will enter. The variable we have overlooked in education reform is the "T-Rex in the room": the State Standards, which haven't changed much since I was in first grade 60 years ago.
That which should have been fluid has been treated as sacred, untouchable, and concrete. While our future constantly changes, the standards paradigm retains its cold, unrelenting structure. The cure demands that representatives from all meaningful career paths together with parents (those with ultimate responsibility for the children) and some teachers sit at the standards table and bring us to modern relevance and reality. The arena of educational reform is littered with weary participants. I would stop trying if I could stop caring. But I can't.
Representative Alan Dick
Chairman, House Education Committee
Since receiving a B.Ed in cross cultural education in 1979, and before becoming chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep Dick taught multigrades in some of Alaska's most remote village schools. He developed health, science and math curriculum and was the Voc Ed coordinator for Iditarod Area School District.
For eight years, he traveled the state with the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative, instructing in science/culture camps in the summer, running local, regional and state science fairs in the winter.
He has authored several published books, and produced hours of instructional video promoting locally relevant curricula.