It is clear that we can no longer just continue a status quo that doesn’t work for students, families, taxpayers or even good-to-great teachers. Yet there will be no silver bullet for overhauling American public education. It will take a variety of ideas and approaches to make it happen. In this Voices of the Dropout Nation, Florida teacher Dean Kalaher offers his own model for school reform. Read, consider and offer your own thoughts.
As a public school teacher for 25 years, and with no pun intended, the handwriting is on the wall. America’s public schools are broken and need serious changes if we actually want to educate our citizenry and maintain our culture. Unfortunately, the fundamental problem with all education reform efforts is that, for all there good intentions, they are fatally flawed. The reason is that educators keep applying all the same faulty principles in their reform efforts that have already shown to be ineffective in educating children. In short, the very same people who created the education problems in the first place still believe that a round peg can fit into a square hole simply because they feel compassionately that it should. Sadly however, feelings don’t teach kids how to read, write, and add.
So what do we need to drive effective change in the public schools? Jim Collins, author of the highly acclaimed bestseller, Organizational Leadership: Good to Great has outlined some vital components.
It starts with the ensuring that decisions must be consistent with a simple, coherent concept or operating model that reflects understanding of what you are trying to achieve, and how to best drive the organization toward the goal for whom (children) you are deeply passionate about. To preserve the mission and stimulate progress there must be adherence to core principles combined with a willingness to challenge and change everything except those core principles. You must have unwavering intellectual understanding, discipline, and faith that the core model will prevail by confronting even after the most brutal facts of your current reality regardless of the difficulties. And ultimately, cultural change within the organization is a responsibility not a job.
Along with heeding these guidelines, my One Room Schoolhouse model outlines a multi layer philosophy that allows for academic achievement to be maximized. It is effective because the principles encompass a different, yet not new, set of understandings and applications of human behavior. The key to understanding its composition is to learn and follow a specific process in both the intangible intellectual theory and the tangible behavioral practices. This produces the cohesive and fundamentally sound format necessary for creating a learning environment that fosters success in the classroom.
Many of the ideas outlined will seem to be wrong minded and against conventional wisdom. In fact, they need to be seen as counterintuitive reasoning that reflects accurate analysis. Remember, just because something is a paradox does not make it wrong. Ask yourself: if the education principles, techniques, and reforms of the last 40 years have been a dismal failure, then would not the opposite principles, techniques and structure have to be successful?
What we need is a reform that deals with the importance of student achievement in a pyramid framework. It starts with the goals of ensuring literacy, high achievement, and good citizenship for all kids. It comes from embracing the principles of learning, power, equality of opportunity, expectation, freedom competition, human nature, and efficiency. We must address structural aspect such as the professional role of teachers and administrators, school leadership, rules and accountability, the one room schoolhouse concept, and specific behaviors for all role models. And we must address the optimism of everyone in education, subject mastery, planning, evaluation, empathy, questioning, and presentation.
The One Room Schoolhouse concept isn’t about facilitating equal results for all kids. It is about bringing out the potential in every child. Every child should be able to read, write, conduct math equations and have important science knowledge. They should be equipped with the tools needed for lifelong learning – and know how to learn. And they should be able to speak fluently.
The One Room Schoolhouse is about having strong curriculum standards for learning. But it is more than that. All children should learn how to work together in teams, learn how to acquire needed skills, and be healthy. They should also be good citizens, with the ability to lead, the knowledge of American history, and understanding of economic principles needed for their lifelong success.
This doesn’t work if kids don’t learn. Learning involves repetition of knowledge so they don’t forget (and overcome the forgetting curve). They to learn in workable parts so they can easily memorize and learn. And we must help them crate mental maps so they can understand how every subject works together.
The One Room Schoolhouse concept also deals with power within education. Those who work within it cannot threaten, coerce, bribe or withhold information, skills or love from our kids. Power should be taken away from those who believe they hold it instead of from those who understand what is supposed to be used for. For teachers, it means adhering to articulate, consistently-practiced and clearly-defined educational principles, values and moral judgments in the classroom.
For our kids, they know who they are and be comfortable in their own skins. From that, they become humble and also charismatic. They also learn good character, self-actualization, the acceptance of people for whom and what they are. They also learn other values, including the benefits of competition, the importance of high expectations for themselves and everyone around them, and how to be accountable for their own choices. And they gain strong self-esteem based on their own achievements, as well as be able to see who they really are.
For teachers, the One Room Schoolhouse requires teachers and administrators to be serious about learning with their kids and learning on their own. For principals and administrators, it is about decentralizing power. We hold everyone to consistent, reliable rules and accountability systems. We don’t take student behavior, good or bad, personally.
But this will take plenty of changes. Teachers must focus on teaching and students learning, not on fellowship and power politics. They must also be role models, serving as honest, responsible, cooperative, reliable and ethical leaders and practitioners who behave with integrity. It also means being passionate about the subjects you teach, liking every student, enjoying and respecting their humanity, and, as I say, believing in the “brain surgery” you perform every day. It even means teaching and thinking aloud, demonstrating concepts to kids and conducting dialogue with them; it also involves teaching “the why” behind the task (and not just telling students that they will use it someday).
And ultimately, the One Room Schoolhouse adopts the Individualized Education Plan model that is required under federal law for special ed students. Each kid should get an individualized education that fits their needs and respects their potential.
The framework can be applied to an entire school district, school site, department, or individual classroom. As you work to master the plan, individual parts may be used as stand-alone techniques to enhance the learning environment. With that said, however, transforming the learning process requires embracing every aspect of the philosophy. Change is a slow process, but each incremental step in implementing this model will positively reinforce the changes you are making in your educational architecture. This will further motivate you to transform the way you approach education. The end result: successful students, teachers, and administrators who are meeting the needs of parents and society.
The time for a new model of education is here. As Thomas Sowell has said: “Perfect students with perfect parents in a perfect society cannot learn things that they are not being taught.” Educators must stop making excuses for the terrible state of our schools. The reshaping of our education architecture must have the look of a fundamentally different vision of how the world works and how students learn. The old rhetoric embracing tired educational principles must be silenced.
It’s time to change how education is “done.” Sowell reminds us that, “Teaching is both one of the hardest and one of the easiest jobs in the world, depending on how conscientiously it is done. It is also one of the noblest and one of the most corrupt occupations- again, depending on how it is done.” Sadly, how it is done has become marginalized to mediocrity.
The time for excuses is over. The time for business as usual is over. The time for a new model of education is here. The time for The One Room Schoolhouse is now.