Vail Daily column: A model to transform education
The term “transformation” has been thrown around so much in education reform debate that it has become irritatingly cliche. Too often, these so-called transformational reform efforts fail at even bringing about incremental changes in schools. Tougher tests that are taken on a computer instead of on paper, Byzantine evaluation systems and accompanying performance pay schemes, school choice systems designed to have schools compete against one another in a sort of Darwinian race for survival — all of these approaches have been called transformative by those advancing them.
Depending on the context, there might be a place for each of these reform elements where their implementation would bring about some positive change. However, they all fail to bring about a real educational transformation because they do not provide clarity as to how the experience of the student will be radically different, or genuinely transformed, as a result of the reform.
More directly, changing things like student testing, teacher evaluation and merit pay, and school choice options do not necessarily lead to a transformational learning experience for students. In fact, these policies may actually make a truly transformed learning experience for students more difficult to bring about. Any system change which amps up the penalties for making a mistake also makes innovation and change that much more difficult.
So what would a real transformation look like? To find the answer to this question, we must turn away from big, sweeping, macro-level approaches and think instead about the individual student and their experience. So the focus and the real change must be at the student-level and not the system-level.
Through this student-level lens, we know what we don’t want: the classic, factory-model educational experience of students sitting in rows, working in isolation, memorizing facts and ideas with little connection and meaning to their lives, inside an experience that is controlled entirely by the teacher in terms of content (what is learned) and pacing (how quickly content is covered).
In the genuinely transformed experience, students organize fluidly depending on what they are being asked to do, more frequently than not requiring collaboration and a team-based effort. They work to demonstrate knowledge of facts and ideas through relevant and meaningful projects with a clear connection to their lives and futures. And the students have a much greater level of involvement in determining what is to be learned, in what order, and at what depth — with an educator as a guide and facilitator in that journey.
Admittedly, this transformed model of education is more difficult to implement than the memorization-in-isolation model most of us grew up experiencing. If we think back to how we all learned best, it was when the learning was shared, was important to us, and where we had a high level of engagement and voice in the process.
To steal a phrase from the Expeditionary Learning model, truly transformed education requires students to be crew (engaged, involved, responsible) and not passengers (just along for the ride).
If we really want to transform education, then this is where we need to be focusing our work and effort. While other reforms may bring about change, for things to be truly different we must genuinely transform the student’s learning experience.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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