The “Education Equation” has it wrong and change comes slowly. A study conducted by the U. S. Department of Education in collaboration with Germany. perhaps Japan as well, concluded that we have it all wrong. If you look at the education equation, we tend to hold time constant and make education the variable. If we truly valued education, we would hold education constant and make time the variable. However, our schools are generally not organized that way, nor have they been for the past century.
Schools in the United States still tend to run on schedules, daily schedules, semesters, years according to grade levels and so on. And within that larger context there are so many minutes allocated to class periods, so much time for a test and a student either gets it or he/she doesn’t. Schools in the United States, for the most part, still operate on an academic year rather than a calendar year and many have a several month hiatus in the summer, left over in part by an agrarian culture that no longer exists. Our students are not working in the fields on the family farm! And, it takes younger students several weeks to go back and pick up where they left off in the Spring.
If the goal of learning is mastery of a subject, what if it takes some students longer than others to reach the desired goal? Does it matter in the long run? It does if you want to encourage and support student learning. Provide the time needed and for heaven’s sakes create an optimum environment without clocks on every wall or bells and buzzers. If one can become absorbed in meaningful learning experiences, time all but disappears.
There must be some compelling reasons why the systems have been so slow to adapt to change that is obviously in the best interests of students. Learning doesn’t stop with the ringing of a bell or by dismissal from school and there are many ways to capitalize on learning beyond the walls of any classroom or school. In fact, some of the most transformative learning experiences for students have taken place in other than school environments.
There have been some shifting of schedules to allow fewer subjects and classes in an allotted time with more variations in the weekly and quarterly calendars. Variety adds interest and the emphasis on depth over breadth has some advantages as indicated by block scheduling.
A few of the promising signs on the horizon are things like PBL (Project Based Learning) Experiential Education, Expeditionary Learning, Maker Spaces and organized groups such as RethinkingSchools.org
I leave you with these three questions for the coming year;
1. What one or two things might you do to facilitate genuine reform where you are?
2. Who are the key people who are willing to work together for a common purpose of changing the structure dramatically?
3. What are a few realistic, measurable objectives for the coming year?