Where should schools focus their efforts? This seems to be a frequent topic of conversation from political pundits. Here in Michigan our governor has just released a plan to reinvent our educational system to prepare students for a global economy. Are there some needed changes? YES, our system has pretty much remained the same for our 100 years. Changes need to be systematic. It starts at the TOP with a singular focus on our students. Four major steps need to occur for our state to shift our education system to focus on STUDENTS.
Seek educator input: The state department of education and our legislative body currently hold meetings and often make major decisions regarding education with NO classroom educators at the table. Schedules need to change so that education committees meet during the summer or travel the state to receive educator input. Regular school visits need to be held by any key decision makers. Teachers should be the largest voice heard. We are the experts. When legal reforms are made: Lawyers are listened to, medical reforms listen to doctors, construction reforms the contractors are heard, but when it comes to education it seems that teachers are the last one heard. WHY? All current road blocks to hear classroom educators need to be stripped away. Without this happening our reforms are like asking a lawyer for advice on how to repair our roads: just not going to work well.
Sadly every education commission focuses on having business professionals input. WHY? They seem to only focus on how the education system can benefit their industry, no build an educational system that benefits all students.
Meet students at their level: Students arrive in classrooms at all ability levels. Some come ahead, some behind and many at grade level. How students arrive in schools is a function of our society not teaching. Many factors impact how students arrive, school have to accept them where they are, show the benefits of growth and help them grow. We can’t expect one-size fits all standards and growth. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Our system needs to promote a growth mindset for students by eliminating the rank and sort system. Sure all students CAN go to college, our system need to reflect ALL career fields and most careers don’t require a 4 year degree. Trade skills are being lost in our country due to our college focused educational system.
Collaboration: In Michigan our schools compete not only on the sports fields but for students to fill seats in the classroom. With open school of choice and uncapped charter schools collaboration between districts and charters does not exist. Since businesses compete out legislative body (influenced by lobbyists) decided our schools should compete for students. The impact of this decision has drastically widened the gap between the haves and the have not schools. School spend money on advertising and marketing that should have been spent on students. Parent choice decisions are made based on cool school names, flashy advertising, infrastructure appearance, or technology. One school’s gains in another’s loss. With this constant battle for students, districts struggle with long term planning, causes staffing uncertainty hindering district growth.
This model of education system would be similar to ask General Motors to have each of its business units to compete against each other. A companies business units collaborate helping each other with weaknesses so they all can succeed together. Schools need to collaborate in this way, not compete, leave that to the sports fields.
Equity: From community to community schools vary greatly. This is okay when the variation reflect the community. A school near a GM plant has an engineering focus, school by a fishery has natural resources strand or a school by resorts has hospitality program. Many times these variations are due to funding. One school has 1:1 technology program and the next is functioning on old computer lab model. The state needs to remember that equity does not equal equality.
Equity is often used in the argument for choice, but it isn’t working well. If schools are treated with equity, the choice is easy most would go to their local, closest community school. Sure their would be some specialized charter school but not the plethora of choices that are all the same.
Let’s build a better educational system! Just remember where our focuses should start, in the classroom, listening to teachers talk about THEIR STUDENTS. This is the shift that needs to happen NOW. End the rhetoric that persists that our schools are failing and it is the teachers fault. Society has been failing our schools, now it is a time for them to be a focus!