4 March 2009: Schools clinging to outmoded educational model

Schools clinging to outmoded educational model

For President Obama, the three driving domestic issues in addition to the economy are energy, health care, and education.

In Clear Creek, the trilogy is similar. Besides economic development, it’s transportation, renewable energy, and education: TREE.

In both cases though, like love being the greatest in Paul’s trilogy—along with faith and hope (1Cor. 13:13)—despite being last, education deserves the most emphasis because without it the goals of revitalizing the economy, bringing about energy independence, and creating an affordable, effective health care system as well as a 21st-century transportation system will not be realized.

There is debate about whether the Chinese symbol for crisis is the same as that for opportunity; regardless, a crisis provides an environment for radical change that does not exist where there is a high level of comfort.

In an astute piece in the Denver Post, educator Van Schoales, a former high school teacher and founding principal of the Odyssey School in Denver, reminds us of why our schools are structured as they are: tradition. It’s the way we have always done it.

Great minds of the early 20th century devised an educational system that helped catapult America to the forefront in the world. It was based on the industrial model of the period.

Student learning was correlated to punching the clock like workers earning their paycheck. Learning was incidental as long as students showed up and did their work.

That system, which might have been fitting for the times, has now grown antiquated.

There are two primary facets of education: content and process.

While there is merit to the position that learners need to have a warehouse of essential pieces of information, such as understanding the balance between the three branches of government, focusing on content at the expense of process and skill development reminds one of the adage about teaching a person to fish rather than giving him/her one.

Jared Heng of Computerworld Singapore writes, “Global digital information (the digital universe) amounted to 281 billion gigabytes (281 exabytes) in 2007, or almost 45 GB of digital information for every person on earth. The figure is 10 percent more than the previous estimate, and is expected to hit 1.8 zettabytes (1,800 exabytes) in 2011.”

In case you’re wondering, a zettabyte is sextillion bytes, which then prompts one to ask: How many is a sextillion?

Let’s just say it is a lot that even Barack Obama’s brain is incapable of warehousing.

Our schools, from the grade-level system to how we grade, are anachronistic.

Why 12 grade levels? Because there are 12 ages between age 6 and age 18.

Why assign grades? To show how smart my kid is and how dumb yours is.

Why high school credits?

“The unit was developed in 1906 as a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. For example, a total of 120 hours in one subject—meeting 4 or 5 times a week for 40 to 60 minutes, for 36 to 40 weeks each year—earns the student one ‘unit’ of high school credit. Fourteen units were deemed to constitute the minimum amount of preparation that may be interpreted as ‘four years of academic or high school preparation’” (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching).

In other words, seat time along with test regurgitation and work ethic—homework—are the primary measures of achievement.

In Colorado, the penultimate testing mechanism is called CSAP, the Colorado Student Assessement Program, a fallacious title given it really is more about measuring a school’s willingness to drill and kill for the sake of high test scores.

Superintendent Dr. Bill Patterson reminds us, “If we agree that everyone learns differently and at different rates, then there is a dissonance between what we believe and what we are doing.”

To say because a child is nine years old, s/he should be in the fourth grade is absurd.

To hold that “seat time” constitutes evidence of learning is ludicrous.

To assert passing a test demonstrates the efficacy of the school and teachers is ridiculous.

That is like believing if your auto technician, who is 30 years old and has worked on cars since graduation, is able to identify 80 percent of the features of your vehicle including its upholstery, he is proficient and you can trust his work on your brakes.

Our current system, created at the advent of the Model T, has been in place for 100 years.

Those who argue our schools are in a crisis because they don’t perform well on CSAP are only half right. The crisis is not about test scores but about teaching 21st-century kids in the confines of an early 20th-century model.

We have opportunity, right here and right now in Clear Creek, to create a 21st-century school system that would be the model for others.

To make that happen, everything must be on the table with nothing sacrosanct.

Next week: Renewable energy here in Clear Creek

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