A quality education system is the key to economic success, regardless of country, state or region. As the CEO of an IT security company, I understand that a strong education system, particularly in the STEM disciplines, is not only crucial to a thriving economy, but also to our national security.
I believe there is a shift in the way our country is beginning to view education. The traditional, standardized education system is being challenged by the notion of student-centric, personalized education. Let me explain.
Personalized education would require that each student within a classroom would work toward essential comprehension and skill-sets (like our current system), but would be given the option of different content, processes, and products to achieve those objectives. Students, teachers, and parents would regularly monitor and maintain specific objectives to help the student achieve those comprehension and skill-set goals. School of One is a pioneer in this emerging field of personalized education.
In a challenging and engaging, student-centric environment, students would be given the opportunity to learn at their own pace, with the use of 21st century technologies. Take the Khan Academy, for instance. Khan Academy has an online portfolio of hundreds of free math and science lessons using YouTube videos as its medium. Some teachers around the country have used the Khan Academy videos to flip the classroom on its head; video lessons are watched at home, at the child's pace-with the ability to pause, repeat, review, etc.-and the Q&A sessions occur in the classroom. By removing the ‘one-size fits all' lecture approach from the classroom and allowing the children to use the video content at their own pace, the classroom becomes a place to work through problems, ask questions to understand why the math or science works that way. This new learning environment fosters more interaction among peers and between the student and teacher.
Of course the Khan Academy is only one example. Regardless of medium, continued teacher training would be an essential component of a successful shift towards student-centric learning. A personalized learning focused curriculum would force teachers out of their comfort zones, by moving away from their traditional lesson plan and toward the new tools and strategies of a personalized learning environment. Instructors would learn to leverage technology to play an active role in the delivery of instruction.
When executed correctly, personalized learning holds the student, teachers, school administration, and parents accountable for the student's education, by requiring active participation from everyone. That heightened accountability will result in all parties taking more ownership in the student's education. More participation, accountability and ownership will foster greater education outcomes for our region and our country.
My four years as a high school business teacher in Virginia shaped my strong views on public education.
I agree with the necessity for individualized education for all. Most, if not all teachers and administrators agree with this and support this. Teacher training emphasizes and requires that lesson plans be taught for varying learning styles to accommodate all types of learners. The “old school” lecture style of presenting material is not emphasized at all. Many teachers are using technology to deliver instruction. This is awesome. School of One is an excellent model.
If we have true individual learning, then we need individualized grading or some way to measure accountability to the skills and work ethic that each student demonstrates. If the “one size fits all” learning approach doesn’t work, then the “one size fits all” grading approach doesn’t work either. This is where I saw the system break down.
In theory, should every student be able to obtain an “A” grade. Yes and No. I’ll illustrate this with a horrible experience I had in a parent-teacher conference. My student who received a “C” grade demonstrated average skills based upon the standards that are established for each course. Her parent wanted to better understand why she was receiving an average grade. According to her parent, she was lazy and wasn’t applying herself. She was compared to her older sibling who had always received “A’s.” My observation of her work ethic in class was the exact opposite. She demonstrated a strong desire to understand everything that was presented to her. Her work ethic was much higher than many of the other “A-B” students, but realistically she was never going to be able to possess the “A” required skills. She agreed with her mother that she was lazy and would try harder. As the year progressed, she “gave up” and no longer continued trying. As a result her grade dropped. I wish I could have presented her with a more accurate assessment of her skills based on her own grading scale, but she didn’t have an IEP.
In a perfect world, the best STEM educational program and individualized learning will succeed only to a point because our culture dictates something quite different to our youth. The goal of education should be to maximize the ability of every student, allowing every student to succeed at whatever skills they possess. A lot of students can't visualize success or have a clear understanding of what success is. Our culture over emphasizes college prep grades for students who should be focusing on other needed vocational skills. I saw over and over again the choices young people made. The pursuit of a professional athletic career can be the enemy of a young man capable of becoming a heart surgeon or chemical engineer. An easy “A” for some prevents the refining of a gifted young person. Should a capable young person be allowed to fail? If they did fail, a teacher would be sued or fired.
Educating and motivating our young people is a difficult task but I’m glad to know that so many dedicated professionals are up for the challenge. John, keep pushing for the best education possible for our young people. Our culture will be defined by the young people of today.