11 August: Public education needs an overhaul

Public education needs an overhaul

The 2010-11 school year is on the horizon, and with it a comes new day that has far and deep implications for students, teachers, administrators and the paying public because of the legislation signed into law by outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter revolutionizing, and not for the better, the way education is done in the hallowed walls of our public schools.

In short, the law mandates teacher evaluations be tied to student performance. Supporters insist it’s about reform, accountability. There are those with whom I’ve spoken who genuinely believe that, but for others, it’s obvious it’s not about reform but about hidden agendas from completely doing away with public education to union busting. Regardless, uncertainty, fear and apprehension hover like dark clouds over schools due to the SB 191’s myriad problems, weaknesses and inadequacies.

Early 20th-century reformers looked at the industrial model at hand and concluded schools should mimic it since it was so successful at creating wealth, at least for the owners. The logic was that if the model creates financial wealth, the same should hold true for creating intellectual wealth: learning. In addition, they established a calendar to correspond to agricultural cycles, which, as we moved from an agrarian society to an urban-centered one with built-in leisure time, came to mirror the culture’s vacation/traveling practices. The results were the same: summers off.

Early 21st-century reformers are repeating that mistake in logic by applying the business model to education. One difference between the two models, though, is that the factory model — seatwork, the Carnegie unit for class credit, and standardized testing — was more about process than results, to which new-age reformers cry, “Aha! That’s the problem.”

However, the NAR fail to recognize that today’s business model looks considerably different than that of 100 years ago. Imagine that! Thus, we have a 21st-century concept being applied to an outmoded early 20th-century structure.

It gets worse: Compounding it is the business model, like the current antiquated structure, is an inappropriate model to apply to how kids learn. So, a lose-lose situation. Since history is not Americans’ strong suit, it has an irritating habit of repeating itself.

If we’re truly serious about true educational reform, three things need to happen. First, politicians and other well-meaning, but hopelessly unprepared, ulterior-motive agenda advocates should get out of the business of school reform and stick to what they know.

A model for that occurred in 2006 when Ford Motor Co. turned to Boeing CEO Alan Mulally to reform the way Ford did business and built its products. While GM stumbled, Ford has excelled, proving it a sound move. At the time though, I doubt Ford’s board seriously considered hiring a career educator to lead it. The company needed the skill-set of a successful business leader and not of a school superintendent.

Second, teachers and other educational professionals need to recognize the model under which they grew up and were educated and to which they are accustomed is antiquated and increasingly ineffectual and stifling. Teachers need to become proactive innovators of change.

Three, a radical restructuring of our public education system — from funding to the layout of the schools themselves — needs to take place.

Towards those ends, other steps should be taken. My top five:

• Do away with standardized testing including CSAP, as potential governor John Hickenlooper has called for.

• Eliminate grade/age levels, which are capricious and artificial methods of grouping.

• Move from the meaningless A-to-F grading system, which is basically about labeling, to an authentic assessment method that truly pinpoints where students are in terms of their learning.

• Restructure the academic calendar to match the needs of learners.

• Overhaul how the state funds schools, including the per-pupil standard, which encourages schools to raid neighboring districts for students to keep their numbers up and to hold onto students who are ready to move on before reaching 18 years of age.

Serious-minded reform is not about setting up false criteria and placing blame when they are not met, as SB 191 does, but about innovation in learning that provides for the highest levels of skill development, emphasis on critical thinking in a democratic society and fostering the creativity innate in every human being.

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