41. A Proposal is Readied for the Curriculum Council

At the next council meeting, Rebecca and Barbara will present the proposal from the language arts subject area committee.

But first they discuss it with Ken and Board member Bryon Garrett in a leadership strategy session.

The proposal requests that the primary mission of the district be supported with a merger of:

  • communications
  • technology
  • project-based methods

Such a merger requires the language arts and district mission statements to be compatible. With the same being true of all other subject area mission statements.

Ken told Rebecca and Barbara to write the proposal in easy-to-understand language. He said, “Use examples and analogies. Indicate what sells the idea to school patrons, students, and parents of students.”

Ken also suggests they try to redefine learning as being characterized as “continuous and meaningful output” more than “tested input.”

That means the curriculum in all subject areas, while founded on building knowledge and skills, is also focused on engaging students in problem solving. Enough knowledge and skills are provided to prompt students to research and solve problems on their own.

Which then expands the breadth and depth of their learning. With technology playing a serious role.

Ken said, “Right now we provide students answers for which they have no questions. The challenge is to create conditions that stimulate curiosity, resulting in lasting and meaningful learning.”

Rebecca responds by using her deep knowledge of learning theory. She tells Ken, “What is being suggested is nothing new. It goes back to Socrates, John Dewey, and hundreds of other philosophers over centuries.

Its most common label is constructivism, sometimes linked to inductive rather than deductive reasoning.”

Rebecca says that constructivism works only if these elements are present:

  • public school patrons and taxpayers agree with and support this learning theory
  • curriculum includes outcomes that incorporate all learning categories
  • teachers use appropriate teaching strategies and assessments
  • evidence is offered that students are prepared for post-secondary education

Rebecca Prepares to Lead Curriculum Council Discussion

Before taking the proposal to the curriculum council, I discussed it further with Ken, Barbara, and Board member Bryon Garrett. The basics of the language arts proposal were reviewed, and we agreed a constructivist approach was needed to incorporate it. But that system will require us to prepare parents and patrons, become serious about applying all learning categories found in Bloom’s Taxonomy, upgrade teaching and assessment methods, and create and establish accountability measures.

This new learning infrastructure is novel in 21st century terms. So, parent/patron reactions will be mixed. A clearly understood foundation must be laid. That includes ways to encourage public acceptance, prepare teachers, and assure accountability.

I elaborated on those three points with additional explanation:

PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE: While there is concern about school quality, political divisiveness is high. People think they know what they don’t like. But are not unanimous about what they do like.

TEACHER PREPARATION: Undergraduate teacher education does not typically offer constructivist teaching/learning techniques. The same is true of in-service training.  Therefore, teachers are not well equipped in terms of instructional methods and ongoing assessment of learning.

MEASURE OF ACCOUNTABILITY: For years accountability has been based on statistically produced data generated by test scores, graduation rates and other measurable information. Qualitative (anecdotal) evidence was rarely studied or reported.

Ken, Bryon and Barbara understand the challenges. Finding ways make the new learning infrastructure work, based on constructivist theories, will be a major hurdle to overcome.

Ken understands that problem better than anyone. And not just because of a new way of thinking about curriculum, teaching and learning.   

Ken said, “As superintendent, my biggest concern about making a dramatic change is frankly public acceptance. The pandemic and multiple social controversies have ripped apart anything accepted as being American education. It is no longer a matter of making improvements to the status quo. The status quo itself has been destroyed or reshaped.

“Board meetings are rancorous over mask wearing and vaccinations. Teacher retention and recruitment are big issues. Student attendance has dropped significantly. Instructional delivery systems jump between in-person, virtual, and hybrid. Administrator burnout is real. Parents are more aware of school strengths and weaknesses because they supported their children in online teaching and learning. Legislatures dictate curricular content and teacher behavior.

“Given all that, doing something as different as the new learning infrastructure seems looney. Especially when we’re doing all we can to keep our educational ship from sinking.

“On the other hand, history tells us new ideas often thrive during chaos. But I do not know how that happens.”

“Maybe we can figure it out,” Barbara said. “As both a teacher and student of good literature, magnificent human stories evolve out of conditions that seem unbelievably messy. It’s a little like a literary chaos theory. Or how one small influence can solve a messy problem.”

While Ken and Barbara were speaking, Bryon jotted down key points in the “public acceptance” side of the equation. Then he read his notepad ideas. Rebecca wrote them on a white board, and added some of her interpretations:

  1. THE PANDEMIC OPENED UP SOCIAL WEAKNESSES: The pandemic upset widespread understandings of how societal institutions work. Many weaknesses and misperceptions were revealed.
  • THE PANDEMIC UNDERSCORED A NEED TO CLARIFY WHAT SCHOOLS ARE FOR: For years the public accepted schools as everything from social service institutions to credentialing organizations. From tax-paid babysitting functions to a sifting process designed to prepare young people for adult roles.
  • AMERICAN SCHOOLS ARE SLIPPERY STEPPINGSTONES TO ADULTHOOD: Schools have been accepted as a fixed reality. Students were guided into their adult social and vocational roles. But American education never established a formal tracking system found in other parts of the world. The curriculum in American schools is confusingly eclectic.
  • MEASURABLE STUDENT PROGRESS IS BASED ON SHALLOW EVIDENCE: Grade point averages, scores on local and standardized tests, participation in sponsored activities, high school graduation levels, and other quantitative indicators supersede qualitative data. Qualitative data are better predictors of success in adult endeavors.
  • SCHOOLS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR NONACADEMIC SERVICES TO CHILDREN: After the initiation of Great Society programs in the 1960s, schools became a primary means to care for “special” people with mental, emotional, or physical disabilities. These services are essential. But do they belong primarily in schools?
  • TECHNOLOGY IS ONLY A SOPHISTICATED TOOL. IT MORPHED INTO BEING A CENTRAL FOCUS: In this 21st Century era of technology-driven concentrations, STEM and similar initiatives dominated the school reform agenda.

After taking a break, Ken, Barbara, Bryon and I focused our attention on how to work with the public acceptance situation. We planned to attack the teacher preparation and accountability issues later.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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