Schools for Today's Students Call for Educational Leadership and Advocates
In a capitalist society that values private ownership and making money and defines success in amassing wealth, why are we surprised at corporations seeking massive profits on products like smartphones or products like curricula and testing? So, in the gap created between what was and new standards, teachers were left without much other than the list of new standards and their own ingenuity to plan lessons. The market responded, rolling out information, textbooks, apps and tests.
Textbooks No More
In the past it was the textbook companies who studied the standards and curriculum in each state and developed textbooks that, if followed, would "cover" the curriculum and "measure" the students' acquisition of the knowledge. Great teachers kept the textbooks in the background, using their talent, creativity, and initiative to develop lessons and units that truly taught students what they needed. Sometimes school leaders, when looking at what teachers were doing with their students would ask the terrible question "Where they were in the text?" Either way, with teachers leading the journey or the textbook companies directing it, students learned. It was unthinkable to not have a textbook. It was the anchor for teachers, students and parents as well. The textbook was the standardizing feature.
With the textbooks leading the way, it followed like the day follows the night that the tests were a "fit". We were somewhat convinced that the tests measured what was taught. After all, if we wanted to know the information and sometimes even the skills taught, all we had to do was return to examine the text.
The Internet Opened Possibilities
When the Internet was welcomed into classrooms, a new opportunities were presented and wider perspectives became accessible with the touch of a button. Pioneer Alan November's* second edition of Empowering Students with Technology was released in 2010. In it, he spelled out the ways to use this new database called the Internet to empower students as learners and to offer them a library of information that before this no school could afford to purchase or house. It could also offer access to conflicting views from which to learn. This ran counter to textbooks that were dedicated to presenting one view to be accepted as true. Multiple perspectives allowed for the creation of dissonance from which to teach and learn. Some were excited by this and others, appalled. But, had a variety of perspectives been embraced all those years ago, we might not be wondering about why we see so little empathy now and why many a lack the ability to find common ground with those with whom we disagree. But, not all schools had enough computers, or connectivity, or ready teachers. Not all teachers felt comfortable in this new medium and not all schools offered enough support for them.
The Common Core
Then came the Common Core Standards. The negative responses to them overshadowed any academic freedom they might have brought. There remain questions about the placement of some curricula and skill expectations at certain grade levels. But beyond that, they did offer a new freedom for educators to design the learning opportunities needed with or without an accompanying single text. Along with that new freedom came 'approved' assessments that would measure the new learning for students. And in many places teachers were also 'measured', in part, by those results. On the surface it looked like a logical and good plan. Legislators supported it. But on an informed, educational level, it made little sense and it fell apart.
First, an established rule of thumb for curriculum writing is to write one new "unit" a year. This is frequently done in the summer months when professional colleagues can sit together, offer each other feedback, accept direction from professional development providers, and bring the "unit" to a place of readiness to be implemented during the following school year. Even with the methods developed the Buck Institute when working with districts on problem-based learning, the expectation is for the development of, not an entire year's work, but of a unit to begin.
With standards and the tests, there was a clarion call for examples of curriculum. As they were published, some school leaders and their teachers welcomed them as the replacement for the old curriculum and followed those lessons like some previously followed the textbook. It was an understandable move, since heads were spinning and no experts seemed to be appearing.
In the End
Attention has risen, first about this common core and their accompanying measures, and now about the place they hold in the 2016 presidential election. People who were uninterested before are now paying attention. As educators, we have the opportunity to design our future. Educators have objected to the standards, the tests, and the use of the results. Justly so as all are imperfect. Yet all, also, have a sense about them.
So if we have the attention of the public, even to the point of parent's "opting out" of having their students take these tests, we might want to seize the moment. Can we bring the diverse perceptions within our ranks together to reconceive public education for America and rally support for a plan created by professional educators. What would it be? Our plan must meet the needs of the nation and of our local communities. Commentators remark on the emergence of the extremes on within the Democratic and Republican parties this year. So, let's take a page from the popular playbook. Is it time for a revolution in education? Can we begin by agreeing about:
- Who are the students coming to school in 2016 and how are their needs different from those in the past?
- What do we know about making students college, career and life ready in this century?
- Who will be the spokespersons for a new vision of teaching and learning and how will the plans be articulated and implemented?
- How do we transition our workforce of teachers and leaders for a new system that is future focused and where knowledge, skills and creativity coexist with interpersonal skills to define our graduates in Kentucky, in North Dakota, in Brooklyn, or South Central LA?
This is an opportunity for local voices to be lifted by astute activists. If we are objecting to the common core and to the standardized tests, are we preparing the alternative? How can we be sure that our local schools are attending to the local needs of our local students while giving them the opportunity to compete with students across the country for the jobs that will await them? We need a voice, a message, while we have the attention of the nation.
*November's website offers resources that help even the Internet novice how to tell if a website is valid, authentic, and its history. There is other information about extensions, like .com .UK, .edu, etc. that are helpful as well.
November, A.(2010). Empowering Students With Technology. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin