Less than half — 44 percent — who took the ACT had the reading skills necessary for college. That’s down from 53 percent in 2009. And nearly a third failed to meet standards in four areas: reading, English, science and math.
The failures have persisted despite years of new tests, new curricula and new demands on teachers.
We continue to approach the same problems with the same sorts of solutions, despite the fact that they’re not working. Instead, we need a fundamental shift in how we educate our children. Our public school system was designed to meet the needs of a long-ago era — the Industrial Age. It’s not working because we’re now in the Information Age.
Teachers unfairly shoulder much of the blame for the lack of progress, but they’re hamstrung by roles and rules that don’t work for 21st century students.
We need to change from teacher-centered education to learner-centered. In the Industrial Age paradigm, teachers are a judge and a perceived threat. In the Information Age, they should be guides and coaches who help students overcome obstacles.
One multidimensional approach includes reducing bureaucracy in schools; encouraging students to teach each other with teacher supervision; having interns and other paraprofessionals, including retiree volunteers, assist with guiding student learning; and creating an “educational cooperative,” where a community’s adults can earn access to learning resources, advancing their own education, in exchange for helping students learn.
The new paradigm can significantly reduce the cost of education while increasing the quality. Here are five new roles teachers would have in this redesigned system:
1. Mentor … of the same 20 to 30 students for several years, addressing all aspects of student development. Students and teachers would develop the deeper relationships that foster real caring on both sides. Mentors would help students prepare a personal learning plan for each project period, six to 12 weeks, including helping each student and his parents choose appropriate instructional goals, subject to standards set by the community, state and nation. Mentors would also help identify and support the best means for each student to achieve those goals.
2. Designer … of student work options, mostly projects or tasks, to engage students in the learning process. Open educational resources developed by teachers throughout the country and available to all educators for free via the Internet can alleviate much of the burden of the designer role.
3. Facilitator … of the learning process, which entails monitoring student progress, enhancing student motivation and coaching student performance.
4. Learner … the teacher is always learning with the students, about students, from and for the students. The teacher does not have all the answers, but the teacher helps students find answers. And the teacher is always learning more about how best to meet students’ needs. The new paradigm provides sufficient support for teacher learning.
5. Owner and manager … of the school. Like lawyers and accountants in a small firm, teachers would be partners who own their public school and make decisions about its operations, including budgeting and staffing. This model is already a success at the Minnesota New Country School and other EdVisions schools. This role elevates teachers to that of true professionals, rather than workers controlled by an all-powerful bureaucracy.
These new roles offer empowerment to those who are most affected by our system, the student and the teacher, the latter of whom I suggest calling “guides” to better reflect their new roles. The new roles better serve students in the age in which we live.
(About the writer: Charles M. Reigeluth is an educational researcher who focuses on paradigm change in education. He has a B.A. in economics from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in instructional psychology from Brigham Young University. He was a professor at the Instructional Systems Technology Department at Indiana University, and is a former chairman of the department.)