The "All of the Above" Approach to Education Reform?
Those of us who spend a fair amount of time working on education issues are used to a common trend in the debate over reforming public schools. Virtually everyone on our side agrees that the status quo is unsustainable -- and often downright dangerous -- for the nation's children. After we concur on the need to expand charter schools or implement school choice, however, we fly off in a million different directions: should we simply reform curriculum to be more academically rigorous? Should we emphasize college preparatory work? Should we focus on vocational instruction? Should we abandon the traditional classroom altogether and emphasize digital learning?
Well, at one innovative Utah school, the answer to all of these question is 'yes.' From the Salt Lake Tribune:
The high school of the future might look something like this.
The school day has no beginning and no end. Classes go year-round. Students can learn in a variety of ways, including in traditional classrooms, through digital textbooks, at a community college and/or at a career and technical education center. Teachers and parents can track students’ daily work and progress online.
That school of the future is opening this month in Salt Lake City in the form of Innovations High. Local and national experts say the approach may be one of the first of its kind in the country — a regular public school that allows students to build their own schedules, cherry-picking classes from Salt Lake Community College, the district’s career and technical center, the district’s traditional high schools, and the school’s own face-to-face classes, which will be taught using digital textbooks through which students can move at their own speeds, on and off-campus.
For example, if students need help in a subject, they might sit in on classes at Innovations, at 1700 South and State Street, every day. Or, if they have great aptitude in a particular area, they might attend in that subject only once a week. Testing will be done in class.
Two things are worth noting here. The first is that Innovations is a conventional public school, not a charter or private institution. There are probably very few states besides Utah where you could get this kind of flexibility in a state-run facility, but it's still a reminder that it's possible for public school systems to innovate when they're not made hidebound by various and sundry interest groups.
The second is the emphasis on customization, so widely prevalent in consumer markets as to be taken for granted, yet widely ignored in education at all levels. That's a very positive development.
Before he died, I used to harbor a secret fantasy that Steve Jobs (who was no friend of teachers unions, by the way) would dedicate the final act of his career to an attempt to modernize American education. And indeed, based on Walter Isaacson's biography, it seems that he was starting to have thoughts along those lines. It would have been a ripe target for him -- in a world that was becoming defined by Jobs' technology, education still seemed stuck in the era of Henry Ford.
Alas, of course, Jobs didn't live long enough to chase that goal, but I think he'd feel that what's going on in Salt Lake City is a step in the direction he envisioned. I would share that enthusiasm. It's far past time we took American children off of the public education assembly line.