Vail Daily column: Five big ideas for world-class schools
March 10, 2014
At Eagle County Schools, “world class” means that our schools should produce results on par with any high performing education system in the world. Eagle County is an international community, with global perspectives and expectations. The community believes its kids deserve nothing less than an education on par with the best school systems on earth. We are intently focused on building a system to deliver results like those seen in educational giants from across the globe, including European high performers like Finland, Asian high performers like Singapore, Canadian high performers like Alberta, and standout systems in the United States.
So, what did they do to become, and stay, world class? And, how do we implement the same strategies for our students?
Big idea No. 1: Best teachers. We must strive to recruit and retain the best teachers. Our current educators are among the best in the state. We are selective, supportive and have high expectations. To attract and keep the best, we need to have compensation levels on par with other professionals and near the top in the state for teachers — significant challenges for our budget-strapped district.
The best performing school systems in the world consider teaching a high status and honored profession. When compensated competitively with other professionals, education attracts the brightest, most talented people in their society.
Big idea No. 2: Great expectations. We have to hold all students to the same, high standards. This is despite their challenges — whether a language barrier, a cultural challenge, learning disorders or low self-expectations.
The best performing school systems set high standards for all students. There is no “tracking” of students into low and high expectation groups. There is only one level of instruction — everyone takes the equivalent of honors level classes.
Big idea No. 3: Customized learning. We must know what each student needs to successfully absorb and apply the content being taught. This is the only way to move past their obstacles to learning and prepare them for adulthood.
The best school systems do not confuse high standards with “standardization.” Students learn in different ways, require different supports and learn at different paces. High performing education systems never relax standards for success, but they work very hard to customize learning to fit students.
Big idea No. 4: Community supports. The biggest barrier to success in school is poverty. We don’t have the power or size to mitigate the effects of poverty that challenge an increasing number of students, so we need the community’s help. The stresses of poverty rob students of faith in their futures. The day-to-day challenges of survival dilute the primary notion of education: If you put in hard work today, then you will achieve success tomorrow. Their personal experience conflicts with this concept.
The best school systems have a significant support system within the community aimed at mitigating poverty and providing an equitable opportunity for learning. Early childhood education, student health, social and emotional counseling, supports for basic needs — are all parts of the recipe for equity. We need the entire community to understand this issue and work together in support of these kids. Remember, they will be the adults of tomorrow. They are our collective future.
Big idea No. 5: Technology as a catalyst for learning. Core intelligence and learned knowledge is not dependent on technology. But, technology is a tool that can accelerate access to knowledge. And, technology is a significant industry in need of more qualified employees than our universities are producing. Having a mastery of technology is such a necessity that we are working to create media-rich classrooms with every student having equal access.
The best education systems consider how technology can accelerate great teaching and learning. It has to be bundled into a larger effort aimed at deeper learning and integrated with the learning process.
The community’s commitment: Finally, to be genuinely “world class,” a community has to commit to that goal for the long haul. In most cases it took more than a decade of focused work to achieve sustainable greatness. There are no examples of high-performing systems that got to that level through some “silver bullet” approach or politically sparky reform. That may seem like a long way off to some, but we have a “good” system now that is working to make the transition to being “great.” Thank you for committing to this transformation.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.