Five Changes Every School Should Make

| August 22, 2011 | 14 Comments
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In her book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking), Duke University professor Cathy Davidson talks about how the education system must be overhauled.

“Her recommendations center on one of the most astounding revelations of the digital age: Even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet. This goes for everything from political commentary to still photography to satirical videos — all the stuff that parents and teachers habitually read as “distraction,” writes Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times review of Davidson’s book recently.

Learning should have an impact beyond getting an “A” on  the assignment.

In last week’s article “How Do We Prepare Our Children for What’s Next,” Davidson listed five changes she would put in place to bring the American education system into the 21st century. I’m reposting this part because I think it’s worth calling out separately.


By Cathy Davidson
  1. End standardized end-of-grade tests. They demotivate learning and good teaching. Instead, test in challenging ways, using tough game mechanics with real-time feedback on results so kids can learn from the test—not be taught to scam the test!
  2. Make all learning real, relevant, tied to communities, with real application in the kids’ lives outside of the classroom. Example: Ban research papers—unless they are published online and have an informative, persuasive, or other real purpose for others. Learning should have an impact beyond getting an “A” on  the assignment.
  3. Teach kids to think through, with, about, for–and create–new, interactive digital global communication. I don’t mean this as an add on. I mean rethinking all the subjects we now teach in view of the possibilities (what techies call “affordances”) of the digital age. That means getting rid of the “two cultures” binary. STEM subjects are impoverished without creativity, analysis, critical thinking. The Information Age is about putting back together the knowledge that the Industrial Age subdivided. A simpler way is to say have them all learn Scratch multimedia programming and think about the possibilities.
  4. Restore arts, music, shop, P.E., dance: Kids need the soul-stirring learning that lets them move, make, sing, create, dream.
  5. Eliminate the “college prep” and AP distinctions, and stop making college the implicit standard for all education, back to preschool. Many worthy careers don’t need higher ed.   Many careers that don’t need higher ed still need a liberal arts education in creative, applied, cross-disciplinary thinking, all of which are as necessary to run your whole hair salon or motorcycle repair shop as they are to get a law degree. Conversely, make college free and open to everyone, at any age. Now, that would be a game changer!
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  • http://twitter.com/davidwees davidwees

    But however would we know if the schools were doing a good job?

  • Joan Roig

    From my point of view all these changes mean more work and implication from the teacher.  How easy is to prepare a test at the end of the semester and grade your students with it?  I’m hoping that there are lots of teachers willing to change towards that system, but unfortunately I know of many teachers that believe that these efforts are not worth it.

    • Liz Slaybaugh

      I, however, know many teachers who are already willing to do much more than what is asked of them and do it every day.

    • Charne Tunson

      I think the problem is teacher vs educator. Teachers teach and collect a paycheck. At the end of the day it is just a job with benefits and it shows with their students. Educators are passionate about making a positive impact on the lives of their students and will do so at any cost, no matter what amount of effort is required. So you are right, not many teachers are willing to make the efforts of change mentioned below- but the educators are anxiously waiting for the latest and greatest innovation to continue to transform lives ;)

      • Olena

        Absolutely!!! Unfortunately, MOST teachers “teach and collect a paycheck”. If you are an ”educator” (as opposed to just “teacher”) though, then not only will you be passionate about causing an impact at any cost, but also, including such elements as teaching across curriculum, making students’ learning meaningful and relevant to their current life experiences, encouraging critical thinking, etc. comes naturally, as I cannot think of proper education in other terms.

    • Sandy Erickson

       ”How easy is it to prepare a test at the end of the semester and grade your students with it?” 

      I am hoping you are not an educator,and therefore, believe test questions are easily written.  Essay questions need to be sharply focused in able to be written in five to ten sentences.  Multiple choice questions cannot have obvious answers but with critical differences to determine if material has been learned vs memorized.  Educational businesses have written poorly phrased questions and answers for state testing and created an uproar within the educational community in several states.  Now you believe each teacher should devise their own test questions for the curriculum they teach???

      I am tired of teachers being the scape goat of the “educational demise” of the United States.  It is not the lone teacher in front of the classroom that is the problem but what he/she has been exposed to during his/her own educational process, the culture of the school and community they work and live in, the school system itself and what it values and how it treats their teachers, and I am sure you can continue with more ideas. 

      As a teacher, I am expected to be a teacher, a counselor, a parent, a disciplinarian, a coach, and know each child’s history who comes to my class, all 150-175 of them a year.  I teach them manners, curiosity, discipline, respect for others and self-respect, appropriate behavior in different settings, as well as the subject manner at hand at different levels to engage all who walk into my classroom.  And I am not alone.

      The majority of my cohorts are in education to be able to teach the future, are fully engaged, help kids outside of school, and pay for supplies and other things the child needs but can’t afford.  I myself have purchased shoes, jeans, school supplies and even donated my previous cell phones to students when I got a new one.  And I am not alone.

      And yet I love my job, like so many others in my profession.  I spend my summer “vacation” in educational classes that I pay for, professional develop to expand my skills, and voraciously read books on bettering my curriculum.  I greet my kids at WalMart, the mall and at the movies, asking how their summer is going and how are they.  Sometimes it’s a quick chat, sometimes we sit and chat for awhile.  And I am not alone.

      I am the majority of teachers out there.  Yes, there is the occasional screwball as is in all professions, but I am proud to be a teacher   And I am not alone. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WDKB3GNU46NW2PJO6R3MD5VYLI ShellyE

    I disagree about getting rid of the college prep and “AP” distinctions in high school. Students should get rewarded for doing extra academic work, and this gives an incentive for the more motivated students. It is a problem that these classes are not always available for all students who are motivated to take them. Also, these classes should not be “dumbed down”, which is why the AP designation can be important.

  • Jan Z

    Come on, no school can just “do” these five things.

    These are as much a problem of organizational and culture change as they are of a policy shift.   Systemic problems are rarely fixed by enthusiastic individuals working bottom-up.How will you teach the (“new”) teachers to deliver?  How will you know the system is working? 

  • Karla

    I couldn’t agree more! I say this fully recognizing the tremendous challenge that such a reform entails. The challenge, however, doesn’t undermine the importance and need for change. 

    I especially think that creativity needs to have a prevalent place in education, not just in the arts but as a way of thinking. Creativity is a fundamental way of empowering children and we need to focus on teaching our children how to employ their creativity in all areas of learning (creative thinking is, after all, at the root of all new discoveries and it is the urge to create what prompts us to push the boundaries of our own knowledge and experience). 

    I am aware of the magnitude of a task like that but it is not one without its many supporters. Indeed, many new projects are breaking ground in the educational sphere providing easy and engaging ways for teachers to integrate creative development into their curriculum goals (e.g. projects such as http://www.rockthoughts.com have the added benefit of also integrating digital technology as a learning tool).

    I don’t think anybody has illusions of this change taking place overnight. Rather, it is a movement that needs to be vocalized and put into practice at all levels of education (i.e. government levels, school administration, teachers, educators, and parents) and promoted as an ideal towards which we are all committed.  

  • http://www.transvaginalmeshlawsuits.com/ Surgical mesh information

    It is very hard to change an education system that radically. As a starting point would be good to establish a school with alternative methods such as the ones mentioned above. That way statistics about this system could be measured: popularity of the system, success of students, formed professional relations, creativeness…
    The idea is not bad, and i`m pretty sure if it will be a large demand for an education system like this, changes will emerge.

    Best regards,
    Chris.

  • http://www.TheSuccessEducator.com Debbie Ruston

    Change in the education system has been talked about for decades, as discussed in this fascinating documentary:  Waiting for Superman  For those that have not seen this documentary, what a wake up of the red tape that has stopped needed change to transpire.  It has never been more important to initiate change in our educational system.  With the change in economy over the last several years, it has become more apparent than ever that society cannot rely on government or corporations to look after their financial futures.  We must educate our youth to become self sufficient through entrepreneurship. Then they never have to be at the effect of someone granting them a job and become fully capable of creating their own futures.

  • Ecaldezjr

    You are right education should be realistic,western education is more on academics look at what is happening to its economy.germany is not affected by global financial crisis due to their emphasis on technician courses for industry and agriculture

  • Wes Carroll

    This is a fine set of ideas that will not come to pass without a radical shift in our cultural valuation of education. In other words: everyone will agree that these are great ideas until they see the price tag.

  • kichera

    these are for highschoolers
    stick to global