29 July 2008

Back to School Time - Who's Prepared?

The summer is rolling to an end over the next few weeks. K-12 students around the world will be trading in days filled with couches, beaches, and bicycles for desks, chairs, and fluorescent lighting ... and hopefully a meaningful nine months filled with a quality education.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of education is providing students with skills - life skills - preparing them to be successful global citizens. Yet, I'm not sure we are getting that done ... or even if it can be done given the structure of K-12 public education. Did you ever stop to think that there are 52 education systems in the USA (one for each state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico). While, the federal government shares legislative authority over education, administrative control rests with states and is the responsibility of state boards of education and local districts.As I wondered more about this I began searching for the national policy or the mission of public education. All those people, organizations, and ensuing politics seem like a recipe making chaos.

Well, my research produced a USA national education policy called NCLB which was signed into law effective 2002. It's based on four main principles: accountability based on results; increased flexibility and local control for state use of federal funding; more choice for parents; targeted funding for education methods proven to work.

There are many ways to measure if NCLB is working or not. That will take me houndreds of blog pages to examine. Some perspective, in 1983, the national report, A Nation At Risk, delivered a wake up call for our education system. It described stark realities like a significant number of functionally illiterate high schoolers, plummeting student performance, and international competitors breathing down our necks. It was a warning, a reproach, and a call to arms. Have we learned our lessons ... is NCLB and/or previous education reform improving K-12 education?

One example, a study done to look at if students are prepared for education. Students were considered unprepared if they came to school without 1) books; 2) paper, pencil or pen; and/or 3) homework. The results showed in 2002 there were more unprepared students that in 1980 or 1990. This begs the question, what does it mean for a student to be prepared in 2008 and beyond ?

I know from my teaching days .... sure it's great if students have a pencil but they don't - no biggie - I was prepared with spares they could borrow . No paper - no problem. I had paper for students to use too - I was prepared. Whatever material we needed for class I made sure to have in the classroom, my students didn't need to bring a book. Who uses a textbook in class anymore? Boring. Going to read? Teachers - please - use an article from current research or news to teach the learning objective. Bottom line for me ... I know, without a doubt, that a majority of students who didn't have a book, paper, or pencil/pen were still prepared to learn.

To me, being prepared to learn means being open to thinking, discussing, ready to analyze, and ready to listen to the teacher/students ... ready to do the class work. I think, evaluating a student's preparedness for education based on outdated criteria comes from using an outdated approach to defining education and thus produces an unrealistic image of what learning really is.

As we get ready to start this new school year, let's hope that the educators and teachers are ready to deal with students freshly using methods that integrate 21st Century learning opportunities. I know that many will be prepared to engage students and thus set the stage for a educational school year.

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