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From Reform to Transform

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It was in Natalie Wexler’s Forbes (April 9, 2018) article, Three

Mistakes We Need to Fix If We Want Education Reform To Succeed,” that caught my attention in how corporate America still doesn’t get it.  Below, I have quoted each of her points as they were written.  

  1. The real problems begin at the high school level. In fact, the problems that manifest themselves in high school have their roots in elementary school, which reformers have long seen—mistakenly—as the bright spot in education. When students arrive in ninth grade reading several years below grade level, as is often the case in high-poverty schools, the answer is not simply to demand that they graduate within four years, come hell or high water. We need to give students more time to catch up if they need it—and we need to start looking critically at what is happening before high school that leaves students so unprepared.

It was Sir Ken Robinson (International education speaker and writer) who remarked, “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed–it needs to be transformed.”  Where the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice has laid its course of action is at the secondary level because the elementary starts out fine but over time student engagement and motivation are drained by the time students reach high school. 

Why are students needing more time to catch up?  Reformers have already increased the classroom workload, extended school days making for shorter summer vacations, and have added more technology infrastructure including computers, notebooks, and iPad\tablets.  So, what is missing?   

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A team discusses their potential solutions to global issues during the Global Problem Solving Competition held in STEPS on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. Teams were given one hour to create a presentation.

Curiosity is the fuel for exploration, discovery, inquiry, and learning.  It was Walt Disney who pointed out, “Ideas come from curiosity.” Children are born with a natural curiosity about the world around them.  Curiosity naturally manifests itself with questions seeking understanding and answers. But instead of feeding the fire of curiosity, the system slowly creates an environment of silence leading to death for long term learning.  Students are guided away from exploration and inquiry and replaced with pre-assessments, tests, and post-assessments. The grade becomes more important than how the student learns. Standardization has become a machine-like system similar to Pink Floyd’s 1979 song, “Another Brick in the Wall.”

Interesting enough, elementary students already walk in with strong curiosity and motivation.  The question is how is our educational system slowly puts out the fire by the time that child reaches high school.  More content, testing, and technology is not the answer–that has already been proven. When more becomes less than expected the next step is to blame the teacher.

 

  1. The most important factor in educational achievement is a highly effective teacher. It’s true that teachers are hugely important, but reformers have judged teachers’ effectiveness by how much they boost students’ test scores and whether they’re seen to be employing the right kind of classroom “moves.” What reformers have paid little or no attention to is what teachers are being asked to teach. There’s increasing evidence that the best way to improve teachers’ performance is to provide them with high-quality instructional materials and specific training in how to use them.

According to the U.S. Department of Education statistics, 50% of new teachers will leave their profession within their first 5 years.  These are qualified educators who are hired as effective teachers. Why are they leaving? Who are the reformers who “judge” a teacher’s effectiveness?   The Forbes writer sites increasing evidence that to improve teacher performance, reformers need to provide high-quality instructional materials and teach them (the teachers) how to use it.  

Corporate America has changed the classroom environment to mimic their own.  Teachers are referred to as classroom managers. Superintendents are administrators, students are clients, content and curriculum have become business production, grades are paychecks.  Finally, government and state assessments are not based on what the curriculum demands but where they think the client should be by age and grade. The same standardization that made manufactures and businesses work has been applied to human learning–and it isn’t working!

When District and State assessments cut into the learning process to measure what they feel students should know, the so-called high-quality materials are no longer important.  Teachers earn a Master’s in their course of study, they must go through two years of training before they are accepted with certification. The majority of educational businesses are run by individuals who lack both classroom experience and education, and these are the people who are responsible for reforming teachers.  Holding an MBA or Ph.D. in a business field does not give a person the training to teach young children or teenagers. 

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One reformer says, “Remove paper textbooks and give students digital tablets to read from–this will improve their reading skills.”  Of course, it won’t. Reformers are rarely educators. They are business people who sell and market their products or services promising to improve learning, increase student motivation, and a host of other snakebite medicine benefits.  Since 1996, over $80 billion dollars has been invested in internet infrastructure, computers, and digital equipment. These technologies are only tools. Teachers are given the technology and told to incorporate it into their curriculums.  Training is rare, and when given it is only introductory at best. Tech companies always state their products are hands-on intuitive. Technologies are generally designed and programmed for only one or two learning styles, subject matter, or limited content.  Most of the elementary tech tools are no more than electronic rote memory devices. Students wanting to explore beyond what is programmed is not available.

Ask the question  who are these “Reformers?”  From Horace Mann in the 19th Century to the business world today with their acronym of S.T.E.M.  education. Reformers have not in the past 50 years focused on student needs, that has been graded by organizations like P.I.S.A. (Programme International Student Assessment), which for the past 20 years has shown American 15-year old students are still average in science and math and below average in reading.  However, corporate America is not interested in what goes on in the classroom but their business ledgers, stock prices, and marketing agendas. It’s time to give the classrooms back to the educators to transform the status quo into a 21st Century educational journey.

  1. Education needs to be data-driven. What this means in practice is two-fold. First, teachers and schools are held accountable at least partly on the basis of students’ end-of-year scores on math and reading tests. In addition, teachers give students tests throughout the year that are supposed to predict performance on end-of-year tests, and they base their instruction on the results. At least when it comes to reading tests, this approach is actually counterproductive.

Here the article returns not to education but the corporate world.  Equating business mechanics with organic learning. Because this final suggestion is the biggest problem facing our educational system today–data-driven assessment.  The data-driven assessment has not only forced teachers to teach to the test, in order to keep their jobs but has also been one of the reasons many teachers are leaving their vocation.

Anyone who is a teacher knows that teaching a group of students cannot be accomplished by only one mode of learning.  Not all students learn the same way. This is why a student’s curiosity is important because it lends a helping hand to a professional educator on how a student processes information.  

eb8ce968798ca69afe630ef88675abccLeonardo da Vinci wrote, “To have a complete mind:  Study the science of art, and the Art of science. Learn how to see.  Realize everything connects to everything else. Leonardo also wrote, “Every action needs to be prompted by a motive.”  That motive is curiosity.  

We start by rekindling the fire of curiosity at the high school level.  This is the end product and where the problem blows-up. Address and fix this by building the support and mentoring elements that encourage student-directed learning and then we will be able to move down the ranks to elementary where curiosity walks in fresh and ready.  This is the goal of the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice. Leonardo’s Apprentice is an educational nonprofit foundation started by an educator to support student growth, learning, and leadership by encouraging creativity and innovation in solving problems that affect our global community.  

Back in the 1970s, the business world stepped in and said they could produce a better product (student).  50 years later, we are losing more teachers and students who are not performing enough or motivated enough to move on to the engineering and science fields this country needs.  The United States has become a country of consumers and app builders. The high power invention machine that was so powerful in the 19th and early 20th centuries has lapsed into a state accepting mediocrity. If you feel real changes need to be taken, help support the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice, check out our website, and help us as we help engage and motivate our youth in reigniting the fire of curiosity. 

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