Modernize U.S. Public Schools
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Let's use our contemporary understanding of how children learn to create a new generation of schools that ignite passion and curiosity . . . and stop wasting effort and tax dollars on an outdated model of education that is harmful to students, burns out teachers, and frustrates parents.
We’ve all heard the litany of problems in public schools - too many kids crammed into classrooms, lagging test scores, boredom, bullying, essential skills not taught, teachers overworked and underpaid, low graduation rates in poorer schools, etc. For decades we have been promised that various education reforms would solve these issues, yet they persist with seemingly no end in sight. (Read the Public Education List of Shame.)
After studying these and other problems with schools, many of the world’s top educators and thinkers have come to believe that our continuing education crisis isn’t a failure to enact the right reforms or enough of them, but that the education model itself is flawed. These same visionaries have also pointed to alternative education models that work far better. (Get inspired by these forward thinkers.)
The traditional classroom consists of a teacher, usually standing in front of similarly-aged students seated in rows of desks. The teacher imparts knowledge, and the children are supposed to receive it, learn it, remember it, and integrate it with the knowledge they already have. There are many flaws with this. One is that the children in the class are at various levels of mastery, engagement, maturity and discipline. Teaching the same lesson to a whole class means that some will be bored, some engaged, and some struggling. Another issue is that the our brains are not designed to learn by being a passive receiver of information - we learn by participating, creating, trial and error, inspiration, and following our passions. Finally, it has been shown over and over again that children learn best in settings with a diversity of ages, not just with people who happen to be born the same year as them.
Further complicating our education system is the emphasis on test-taking. Everyone knows most of what we learn is forgotten soon after the test is complete, yet testing (and especially standardized testing) is held up as the holy grail of knowledge, achievement, and future success. (Note: it isn’t!)
Also, the current public school paradigm is standards-based. That is to say, there is a hierarchy of subjects, with literacy plus STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) at the top, then the humanities (history, geography and social studies), and then near the bottom the practical disciplines (art, drama, music, design, and physical education). Most other traditional subjects (like home economics and vocational programs like shop) are rarely taught anymore. And even if they are, this still leaves entire areas of one's future life untouched. How does one learn to save and invest money? Prepare their taxes? Cook a healthy meal? Change the tire on a car? Acquire conflict resolution skills? Know how to start a business? How do we ignite the varied passions and interests of all children without presenting them a broad range of subjects to engage in? We can’t!
We are proposing a redesign of the classroom and the school day to modernize public education. It includes:
- Teaching an innovative 21st century curriculum - In addition to English, computer literacy, math, science, history, social studies and physical education, the following should be taught in every public school: critical thinking, conflict resolution skills, visual and performing arts, technical and trade skills, financial literacy, self-care, culinary arts, media and digital literacy, global citizenship, and foreign languages. (Read 10 Things School Should Teach Us But Usually Doesn’t.)
- Creating a school-wide environment of curiosity where kids are naturally motivated to learn, and teachers can focus on facilitating a learning environment rather than management, discipline, grading and lecturing.
- Reconfiguring all traditional classrooms into project / activity rooms and online learning centers, thus eliminating the teacher-up-front classroom structure. Let’s completely abolish the “factory model” classrooms, “assembly line model” schools, and “mass herding” education systems.
- Putting project and activity based learning as the foundation of our education system. These present students the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge through engaging projects set around challenges and problems they may face in the real world. Instead of relying on short-term memorization strategies, it gives students the advantage of deep involvement with the content and thus long-term retention of the material.
- Online learning should replace traditional classes wherever project and activity based learning can’t. This type of learning can catapult a student's learning and a teacher's effectiveness in ways we could only dream of a generation ago. Online curricula gives us the ability to have the world's greatest minds in every single classroom, every single day. This is far and away the best and most elegant solution to the unrealistic and stressful workloads we put on teachers. By doing this, all students can be challenged at their current ability and mastery level. Online learning also and makes it possible for the most remote and poorly funded school districts to have the same potential learning opportunities as the most elite and well-funded ones.
- Employing Chief Motivational Officers (CMOs) - Every public school should have a life coach on staff, replacing the traditional role of a vice-principal. We call them CMOs. The emphasis should be on hiring charismatic people (role models) whose job it is to really care about each student’s well-being and success, check in with them, inspire, and act as a problem-solver when obstacles arise.
- Creating a personalized student growth plan for every single child - These customized plans would be designed by a group of advisers with full participation from the child. The plan would be design to support the student’s emotional, social, physical, and intellectual needs while motivating them down an academic path that would maximize their learning potential. The advisers would include parents or guardians, teachers, community members and their school’s CMO. The same group would support and follow the child’s progress over the years.
- Implementing peer mentoring (kids teaching kids) - Mentors have the opportunity to share what they have learned, enhance their confidence in the subject, learn to be supportive, and build communication skills. Mentees feel more engaged because they are relating to a peer, and experience a wider range of perspectives. Peer mentoring also frees up the teacher to focus their attention where it is most needed and thus be more effective in creating a true learning environment.
- Building parental involvement and community engagement into the system - Including parents and community members into the classroom dynamic builds on the concept of project-based learning, and expands the school into the whole town / city / county.
- Creating school schedules and calendars that better line up with adult work commitments and child sleep patterns. - Schools should be open 220 days a year from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM so that before and after school care is not such a burden for parents and guardians. (Note: attendance would only be required the normal number of hours, for example 9 AM to 3:30 PM.). School schedules should also reflect age-appropriate circadian rhythms (sleep patterns).
- Stopping the endless “reforms” and practices that attempt to make the wrong public school model right. This includes ending multi-tiered approaches such as RTI and PBIS, instructional frameworks such as 5d+, and every other scheme designed to prop up obsolete schools and school systems.Read more about the New Education Model.
Read more about the New Education Model.
We are suggesting nothing less than completely redesigning K-12 public education throughout the United States. We feel it is time to scrap the obsolete model we currently use, and replace it with a modern, 21st century one based on forward-thinking, solid educational principles. At its core, the idea is to inspire and educate each child as an individual, rather than as part of the herd. If we care about our children as much as we say we do, then we should begin moving forward with these changes as soon as possible.
Note: The model we are proposing can be operated within existing school budgets. There will be some up-front costs to transition to the new structure, but in the long run they will cost the same as or less than operating the obsolete public school model.
More details on everything in this petition, plus more information about the Education Revolution and what you can do to help, can be found at DemandSchoolChange.org.
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