Tradition wrestles with reform
December 3, 2003
According to U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, former chairman of the Senate Education Committee, only one in five high school seniors is proficient in math and science and only two in five are reading at grade level.This rings an alarm bell across the country concerning how well we are educating our kids.When asked if he could name a single program of school reform that had been successful in the last 15 years, Dr. Theodore Sizer, former dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and chairman of the Annenberg Institute For School Reform, said he couldn’t think of one.He went on to say “Forget the fads the old way of teaching kids through traditional academics works best.”High tech highPicture a school with no bells to record the changing of classes, no baseball fields or basketball courts, no cheerleaders, pep rallies and no football rivalries. Perhaps you don’t think any school can be worth much without all those so-called amenities. Where does the school spirit come from? What can a kid learn there?Now visualize hundreds of the latest computers, equipped with the latest software.In your fantasy, see students working on hands-on computer projects, such as aeronautical designs and building a mini-hovercraft. Notice that each student is working on his or her Web site, building a portfolio of projects, spending at least two afternoons a week working at an internship that will prepare him for a creative future.No, it’s not an impossible dream, it’s a reality at High Tech High in La Jolla California. Founded by Gary Jacobs, former CEO of Qualcomm, schools like this are sprouting all over the country.These schools were founded to give students appropriate preparation for the modern world of commerce. These students spend at least seven hours a day working both independently and as a team on projects that will be utilized by businesses to advance production and productivity.The old industrial-model school has been cast aside by independent thinkers and replaced with a new concept.Kids want to do something meaningful with their lives and it isn’t just on the football field, in the gymnasium or at social events.The real worldThe founders of the schools say the facilities are an outgrowth of business leaders’ concern for the quality of training that they saw in candidates for jobs at their corporations. Corporations have set up remedial classes for trainees and executives alike and still find they need to retrain new talent.The message is that there must be a better way to educate kids for serious careers in the new corporate world. Corporate leaders and educators are constantly asking how can we improve math, science and technical studies and this seems to be one answer.Other programs have been introduced to “reform” schools. Some are more successful than others and most of them attempt to rethink the purpose of education and relate it to real life experience.Top on the list in any of these programs is the smaller classroom. Statistics have proven that smaller classes allow teachers more time to meet the needs of individual students, which results in better grades and stronger motivation.Private voucher programs have been introduced in various cities around the country. The vouchers give parents greater choice in the selection of schools for their children.At the present time, many of these programs are being challenged in the courts over the use of public money to finance attendance at private and parochial schools.National dilemmaDuring the next decade more than two million teachers will need to be hired to replace those retiring and leaving the systems. Unfortunately, the pay scale for teachers in many areas does not give school boards the opportunity to hire the best or even enough instructors to meet their needs – and you cannot improve schools without having well trained teachers.Educational reform is a national dilemma.The physicist Steven Hawkins underscores the national problem when he says we should stop using our students as “lab rats” by switching from new program to new program. He says we should return to traditional methods that have proven to be effective.For further information contact: Helen Ginandes Weiss M.A & Martin S. Weiss M.A., Learning Consultants, at email@example.com, P.O. Box 38, Twin Lakes, CO. 81251, or 1-719-486-5800.