In every issue of Edutopia, published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, the Sage Advice column offers responses from teachers and others to a specific education-related question. For their next issue, the editors are asking the question "What five things would you do to save public education?".
If you’d like to send them your thoughts, the address is on the column’s page. However, I would like to challenge all of those bloggers who write their own columns on educational issues to post an entry with your answer to that question. If enough people respond to the idea, I’ll post all the links here. Or maybe The Education Wonks could make that a theme for their Carnival of Education one week.
Accepting my own challenge, here are my five ideas to save public education.
- Throw Out The Cookie Cutter. The structure and curriculum of today’s schools is largely in the same mold as those of fifty years ago. We need different approaches to running schools which address the needs of different groups of kids. This includes publicly-funded, independently-run (but still accountable) charter schools, small secondary schools, vocational alternatives to college-prep, and more. As to the curriculum, in an age of instant communication and access to incredible amounts of information, warehousing of facts is not the best use of the few hours students spend in school. Nor does it produce adults who are capable of finding what they need to know for themselves and making the best use of it.
- Change the calendar. Speaking of changing the structure, it’s time to kill the concept that education is a part-time affair, either for students or teachers. Extended vacation time could be built into the schedule to allow for family vacations and other outside experiences kids need, but going year-round adds badly needed continuity to replace what is now a very choppy, start-stop approach to learning.
- Embed Professional Development. If schools ran all year and teachers were paid as full-time employees, we would have the opportunity to make learning for them a fundamental part of the job. Name another essential profession that requires its members to learn new, job-related skills on their own time, at their own expense, and almost completely independent of the work place. It’s time to think of teacher professional development as a basic part of the job, not something you do just for a raise or to renew your certification.
- Involve Students In The Reform Process. Now, for those of you who have an allergy to "progressive" education, don’t panic. I’m not suggesting that we should let the kids decide for themselves what they should learn. However, any attempt to reform public education will not work (and I would argue, has not worked) without the serious participation of the people at its core: the students. They benefit most if we succeed and suffer the most if we fail.
- Require Politicians to Volunteer in Public Schools. I know, it’s probably not legal or practical. However, if the people who vote on the fate of public education actually saw what was going on – good and bad – on a regular basis (and without reporters in tow) maybe they would offer more intelligence when proposing laws affecting teaching and learning. I can dream can’t I?
I can think of many more than five but I expect that the education blogging community as a whole will come up with some great ideas not included here. And some that I’ll most certainly disagree with. But the collection should make very interesting reading.