- Budgetary shortfalls–catastrophic cuts of curriculum ensue, as does (in Illinois, at least)
- Restructured teacher pensions–which have effectively changed the job and working conditions forever–“lifetime” tenure go bye-bye, “accountability” gets embedded in the new systems being pushed by “Race to the Top” and similar reforms
- Increasing class sizes–40 plus is anticipated for next fall in area high school districts
- Decreasing curriculum choices–the effect of “high stakes” testing has meant sweeping cuts in every academic study NOT on the tests
Such are the problematic circumstances in which American public schools now find themselves. The web 2.0 opportunities that can help solve these problems lie in the following factors, discussed in previous posts (like this one) as well:
- Ubiquitous (at least in school) wi-fi access, the sine qua non of online learning
- Increasing quality and quantity of web 2.0 learning programs, which can be freely accessed online, and since many are open-source, customized to individual learners
- Cheap devices making one-to-one computer:student ratios economically feasible
My administrator friend is compassionate, and sees a market for this online curricular delivery system in those neighboring districts (and across the entire USA there are now such districts) who have felt it necessary to dramatically cut their offerings. How fair is it to current students and their parents to change curriculum mid-stream? Could more capable schools help?
My admin friend thinks that those schools who are comparatively advantaged, with functioning curricular programs in courses like foreign language, higher math and science, and other “enriching” offerings, could use their digital video production teams (student-based) to “capture” and package for free online use their curricular content. Students in the neighboring schools could then be offered free virtual “seats” in the enriched classes. Of course, anyone in the world, including students attending the advantaged school, would also be able to “attend” such courses.
He and I imagined the changes that could be wrought in schools when the classroom model–a teacher and 20-30 learners–gets outmoded. Would the walls between classrooms be knocked down, allowing for an open, café-style atmosphere in schools, in which large numbers of students would sit, tread-mill, chillax, and collaborate on their digital devices? Would not one certified teacher assisted by a couple of para-pros be able to handle 60 students at a time in such a setting? What amazing cost-savings would thereby be made possible?
Furthermore, what mandatory work/service programs could be brought in to stimulate the economy, increase student engagement, and make schooling “real” and relevant in ways that the school bell schedule–another outmoded aspect of schooling–doesn’t allow? Why couldn’t one or both of the last two years in a student’s “high school” education be geared to getting the student into the community doing productive work?
And since the students will all have rudimentary computers in their hands, my administrator friend’s suggestion that all of our students learn and become proficient at programming–enabling them to “program their way out of problems–becomes totally doable–an “essential skill” that every elementary child will leave 8th grade knowing how to do.
The poignant moment in our conversation came when we considered the drastic changes this would mean to the American public school teaching profession, which has been alive and pretty well since the 1850s.
Me: “Right, but it’s what’s best for the kids and society”
To my job-protecting union brothers and sisters, I say, “please understand, we’re just trying to adjust to current circumstances–it’s no longer the hey-day of American public school teaching (the 80’s?): come up with a better plan to meet the needs of students and deal with greatly diminished resources and I will collaborate with you.
Until then, forgive my iconoclastic “visioneering” of the future of American public education.
image responsibly sourced at search.creativecommons.org