open letter

Page 1


Rethink everything.

Table of Contents

A Message to our Educators………..................................……….……….4 Introduction……….................................………………........…..................……10 The Challenge…………..................................................…..........……...........10 The Pedagogy Problem.............................................................................21 A New Solution...............................................................................................26

What does it mean to lift the veil of ignorance today?

Lifting the Veil The Booker T. Washington Monument Tuskegee University

A message for our educators

Dear Valued Educator: So why are we here? We are here, first and foremost, to make a case for change. Too often, what masks as educational “reform” is simply a reconstituted variation of an inherited model education that, quite frankly, is out of sync and out of touch with the realities of today’s world. “Reform” usually means that we add a program, reduce class sizes, hire new teachers, fire existing teachers, increase the standards or change how or by whom schools are governed, but we keep the traditional concept of “school” firmly in place. Consequently, most of these efforts at reform have one thing in common—their spectacular failure to reform anything. So why are we here? We are here because we cannot keep teaching our students the same way (in teacherdriven, lecture-based classrooms), using essentially the same tools (textbooks, overhead projectors, blackboards and sticks of chalk) and somehow expect different educational results. We are here because our nation faces no more urgent challenge than preparing this and future generations of children for a world that is now fueled by technology, knowledge and innovation; a world where the only constant seems to be change. We are here because now, more than at any time in history, children that do not possess the skill, creativity and ability to think critically necessary to this new era will be left behind and lost. So why are we here? Because it’s time to make a choice. It’s time to choose to change.

A truly great education should be a gateway to meaningful opportunity. It should prepare our children to create and contribute something of value to the world. It should ensure the American Dream, and all it implies, remains open and accessible to all children. Because this much is certainly true—while children under 20 only make up approximately 25% of our population, they make up 100% of our future. So their future—and ours—depends on decisions we make today. So where does meaningful reform start? As profoundly simple as it may sound, it starts by beginning a conversation. We start by simply talking. Why is talking so important? Because conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change—personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change. If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive. For as long as we’ve been around as humans, as wandering bands of nomads or cave dwellers, we have sat together and shared experiences. We’ve painted images on rock walls, recounted dreams and visions, told stories of the day, and generally felt comforted to be in the world together. When the world became fearsome, we came together. When the world called us to explore its edges, we journeyed together. Whatever we did, we did it together. Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another (2006) So let’s talk. Let’s talk about choice, about change and about the challenges our children will face in an increasingly global society. Let’s talk about what it means to “modernize” our schools, what “21st century pedagogy” is, what “21st century classrooms” should look like and how we can best support the unique learning preferences of today’s “21st century students.” Let’s talk, openly and honestly, about our fears, our obstacles and our concerns, but let’s not stop there. Let’s talk about solutions. Let’s talk about how we can better reach our students, better teach our students and better prepare all of our students to live, to flourish and to thrive in the 21st century.

Learning cannot be designed. Learning happens, design or no design. And yet there are few more urgent tasks than to design social infrastructures that foster learning. Those who can understand the informal, yet structured, experiential yet social, character of learning—and can translate their insight in the service of learning—will be the architects of tomorrow. Etienne Wenger Communities of Practice

And so that is what we must do. Engage. Innovate. Educate. That is the E3 Solution.


Change is in the air. The growing push for educational reform is driven by the widespread recognition that our schools must change, and change fundamentally, if they are to prepare this and future generations of students to compete and succeed in the global economy of the 21st century. Today, our students represent an unprecedented level of diversity—in abilities, learning styles, prior educational experiences, attitudes and habits related to learning, language, culture and home life. The challenge of educating these students requires a new vision for school and a new orientation for the educators who make the decisions that influence our students’ lives. It requires a commitment to basing instructional decisions on better learning rather than units, grades, graduation rates or standardized test scores. Most of all, successfully meeting this challenge will require throwing off the shackles of time and tradition and the ability to embrace something different, something new—something that truly has the potential uplift and empower the largest and most diverse student population in our nation’s history.

Where have we been... Look at most schools today and what do you see? You see learning environments that look… institutional. Indeed, without close inspection it can be difficult to tell the difference between a school and a factory or warehouse of the same era. Like factories, schools emphasize command and top down control—the orderly assembly and processing of aggregated products. Both in form and function, these institutions reflect the linear, objectivist mindset of the Industrial Age. But our world has changed—in the form of an information explosion, global connectedness and technological convergence—that has shaken the foundation of everything we know and do. Consider this: For more than 100 years, schools met the needs of our students by organizing learning around a curriculum delivered in standardized time periods called Carnegie Units. Within this structure, curriculum was defined as a set of units, sequences and facts. Credentials (Carnegie Units) were based on time served rather than deep and meaningful student learning. But for the most part, this system of education prepared generations of students to find their place in American society. Where it did not, the economy had a place for people who were willing to work hard even if they lacked the basic skills to succeed in school. But all that has changed. Today’s students need a very different approach to education as they face the realities and demands of a technological and global society. In 1959, 80% of all jobs were unskilled or semiskilled. In 2009, 85% of all jobs are skilled or professional. (Price, 2002). The workplace today demands that individuals understand multi-dimensional problems, design solutions, plan their own tasks, evaluate results, and work cooperatively with others. These expectations represent a new mission for education that requires schools to not merely deliver instruction, but to be accountable for ensuring that educational opportunities result in all students learning at high levels (Visher, Emanuel, & Teitelbaum, 1999). However, our current school model—our current pedagogy—does not achieve this goal. A recent report by the American Diploma Project states: “The [high school] diploma has lost its value because what it takes to earn one is disconnected from what it takes for graduates to compete successfully beyond high school—either in the classroom or in the workplace. Reestablishing the value of the diploma will require the creation of an inextricable link between high school exit expectations and the intellectual challenges that graduates invariably will face in credit bearing college courses or in high-performance, high-growth jobs.” (Rockman, 2003).

Employers echo this sentiment. In a recent survey, employers from across the country were asked to identify the skills they considered “very important” to success in the workplace. The skills rated as “very important” were: (1) professionalism/work ethic; (2) oral and written communications; (3) teamwork/ collaboration; (4) critical thinking/problem solving; (5) reading comprehension; (6) English language (spoken); (7) ethics and social responsibility and (8) information technology application. The respondents were then asked to rate the skill level of new entrants by grade level. New entrants’ skill level could be rated as “excellent,” “adequate” or “deficient.” (The Conference Board, et. al, 2006). Four-year college graduates were deemed “deficient” in written communications, writing in English and leadership. Two year college graduates and technical school graduates were deemed “deficient” in written communications, writing in English, lifelong learning/self direction, creativity/innovation, critical thinking/problem solving, oral communications, ethics and social responsibility. However, high school graduates were deemed “deficient” in every one of the “very important” skills necessary for workforce success. (The Conference Board, 2006). The bottom line? Designed in response to different demographic and economic conditions, our current pedagogy —or model of teaching—is simply not responsive to today’s realities. The size, structure and traditional orientation of our schools contribute to student alienation and academic failure. Too many are characterized by large, compartmentalized, and impersonal school settings; low expectations for student performance; and curricula guided by dated and autonomous departmental priorities. The student’s role in the educational process is passive and subordinate. There is a pervasive over emphasis on teacher-directed instruction and a fragmented curriculum that prevents students from seeing the connections between the content learned in school and real life. The vast majority of schools find ways to divide students on some real or perceived measure of ability, which diminishes opportunities to learn for some students and contributes to increasing inequalities among students over time (Marsh & Codding, 1999; Visher et. al., 1999). This inadequacy is particularly endemic to urban, high-poverty areas where too many students leave school without developing the proficiencies required for success and dropout rates remain unacceptably high. Evidence of poor student performance in these schools is indicative of the fact that too many students feel disenfranchised, disconnected and disengaged from learning. This is especially true for students who are at risk due to poverty, cultural differences, or the demands of learning a second language, and a lack of a clear path to adulthood. High rates of student failure underscore the pressing need to restructure low-performing schools into more engaging and supportive learning communities.

we tell you

We tell you... Teach! Reach! Engage! And motivate our children. We tell you... Prepare our children for the world as it exists now. Not for our past, but for their future. But what are the tools we give you? Worn and recycled textbooks? An overhead projector? A stick of chalk? A piece of slate? We tell you... Leave no child behind. Or you’ll lose your funding. You’ll lose you job. We’ll hold YOU accountable. Then hold back your kids... Or close your schools. We tell you... Over and over and over again— You’re NOT good enough. Their failure is your failure. But honestly— Who’s failed whom? Are you failing our children? Or have we failed you? Before we lay the failure of our schools at your feet. Before we decry and condemn you... Perhaps we should ask ourselves... Have we really done everything within our power to help you teach the child we’re not reaching and reach the child we’re not teaching? You know that child. You see that child everyday.

The child in the back row. The child in the soiled shirt. The child with the sad eyes and angry face. The child who cannot read. The child who will not try. The child who can remember facts and figures... But cannot reason, think critically or apply. The child—and so many like that child—who is in fact being left behind. We tell you... The overworked and underpaid... The embattled and the brave. We tell you Teacher can’t teach. But who are you? Really? You are heroes. You must guide and inspire the next generation of “big picture thinkers” and “meaning makers” who will lead our nation into the 21st century You are soldiers. Soldiers on the front lines of the most important fight that we have or will ever fight. Not a battle for land, money or power. This a battle for the hearts and minds of our children. No. It’s more than that. This is a battle for the future of our nation. And it’s a battle we cannot lose. But right now... It is a battle we are losing. Sounlike snake oil salesmen of old who promised a quick fix and an easy answer, All we ask is just for a moment of your time. A moment to consider something different— Something new.

This is not a fad. But a shift. Fads come and go. Fads change nothing. A shift— However small... Is a permanent change from something... To something. So we ask you.. Teacher. For just a moment... To consider this.

A Shift. An option. A choice. A change. Because this much is certainly true... There will be no reform in education. No meaningful innovation. There will be no change.

Without you. We tell you.... ŠMichael E. Summers

A New Paradigm

The growing urgency in American education to transform low-performing schools into more responsive learning environments has been paralleled by an emerging body of research that puts student learning at the center of comprehensive school reform. In our white paper, 1-to-1, we provide a comprehensive framework for 21st century education. In 1-to-1, we do not make a case for computers, we make a case for constructivist education. We make the case that 21st century education should be intellectually rigorous, interactive, responsive to diverse learners, connected to real-world experiences and most of all, student-driven and learning focused. This view of 21st century education is very different than the paradigm for educating children that has characterized education for more than 100 years. Some of the differences between the traditional classroom and the se differences are illustrated below.

The Traditional Paradigm The “inputs” and process of education are emphasized over results. Curriculum is “covered,” and instruction is organized around limited time units prescribed by the school schedule. Schools accept the failure of a significant number of students.

The New Paradigm The school mission emphasizes high levels of learning for all students. Diverse abilities, developmental levels, readiness, and learning styles are addressed so that all can succeed. There is flexibility in the use of instructional time with an emphasis on learning, not how much content has to be “covered.”

Learning is organized around a standardized curriculum delivered in standardized time periods. Credentials are awarded based on “time served,” issued in “Carnegie Units.”

Learning is organized around what students know and should be able to do. Advancement is based on student demonstration of proficiency in these skill areas.

The curriculum is derived from existing content, which is most often determined by textbooks. The curriculum is organized around a set of units, sequences, concepts, and facts.

The curriculum is derived from standards that define what students should know and be able to do. Subject matter is “integrated” around “real-world” tasks that require reasoning, problem solving, and communication.

School accountability is defined in terms of programs offered, attendance and dropout rates, the number of students who are advanced, and the results of norm-referenced tests. There is minimal systematic monitoring of student progress on an ongoing basis.

Schools are accountable for demonstrating that all students develop proficiencies that represent high-level standards for what students should know and be able to do. Student progress is monitored frequently.

Assessment is done at the end of instruction and is narrowly focused on lower-level and fragmented (end-of-unit) skills that can be assessed through paper-pencil responses. Norm-referenced standardized test results are the basis of accountability.

Assessment is integrated with instruction and focuses on what students understand and can do. Methods assess students’ competencies through demonstrations, portfolios of work, and other measures. State-based assessments are the basis of external accountability.

School improvement focuses on: improving the existing organization; adding new programs; changing textbooks; offering teacher workshops; improving school climate; and increasing staff participation in decision making.

The emphasis is on systemic reform of school structures, the curriculum, and instructional practices. Collaborative leadership and continuous professional development are emphasized. Improvement is based on sound data about student learning and achievement.

Constructivism as an educational theory or is not new. Its origins can be traced back to the early 20th century work of John Dewey, whose view of “progressive education” was that greater emphasis should be placed on the broadening of intellect and the development of problem solving and critical thinking skills rather than the rote regurgitation of facts. In 1907, Maria Montessori based her first Montessori school on the belief that a child constructs knowledge and intelligence primarily through his or her own activity. Jean Piaget, a contemporary of Montessori, also created a highly influential model of early childhood development based on the belief that developing children learn to understand and respond to their environment by building cognitive structures—or mental "maps"—and these cognitive structures grow in sophistication over time through experience, experimentation and exposure. The most influential constructivist theorist of the latter part of the 20th century is probably Jerome Brunner, who asserted that learning occurs only when students are allowed to pursue concepts on their own, individually or as a group, so that new information and knowledge is built, or “constructed,” on knowledge already attained. The work of Dewey, Montessori, Piaget and Brunner has been enormously influential, particularly in the field of early childhood education. There are currently over 3,000 private Montessori Schools in the United States as well as hundreds of public schools that offer Montessori programs. Dewey’s theories on “progressive education” have inspired advocates of educational reform for decades. Brunner served on advisory committees for two presidents (Kennedy and Johnson) and most pre-kindergarten programs to this day refer to the work of Piaget as the theoretical underpinning for their method of instruction. Despite this, and despite a wealth of research from other constructivist theorists, scientists and reform-minded educators extolling its virtue, constructivism has been slow to gain acceptance as an instructional model in our middle and high schools. The primary critique is that constructivism seems too loose, too “permissive,” and that it will require teachers to abandon a formal assessment-based curriculum in order “to pursue the whims of their students.” Criticisms of this sort underscore the inherent tension between constructivism and many of our past and present efforts at educational reform. The primary focus of constructivism is better, deeper, more meaningful learning. Unfortunately, claims of “better learning” do not readily assuage the concerns of educational stakeholders who demand outcomes that can be easily tracked, marked and measured. As a result, instead of educational reform that focuses on better learning, many of our efforts at “reform” have focused on quantifiable results—most notably, improved standardized test scores. Standardized tests have, of course, been used by educators with varying degrees of success for decades. But the importance of test scores has risen to a new, unparalleled, and some would say dangerous level, particularly in the aftermath of the “No Child Left Behind” (“NCLB”) Act of 2001.

The intent behind NCLB is certainly good. The goal is to bring millions of children currently “lost” in the educational system back into the mainstream of learning and achievement by creating new levels of accountability. NCLB requires that all children perform at grade level in reading and mathematics by 2014. In order to achieve this, schools must set annual targets for raising students’ academic performance. Schools that do not meet these targets face sanctions, which may include the loss of critical federal funding. However, NCLB allows each state to set its own educational standards and design its own standardized tests. This creates an obvious flaw—schools in states whose tests are rigorous run a greater risk of sanctions than schools in states whose assessments focus on basic skills. This forces schools boards and superintendents to make an untenable choice. Do we educate our students at a high level or do we focus on basic skills in order to produce the outcomes required by NCLB? The end result is a curriculum increasingly driven by assessments, and classrooms where what we teach is narrowed in order to produce gains on state mandated standardized tests. This, in and of itself, should be cause for enormous concern. But when standardized tests are also used as a basis for determining student advancement, teacher salaries and job security, district funding and schools’ autonomy, all of which are the case under NCLB, and the consequence of performing becomes more important than the quality of student learning, then we have moved into dangerous territory educationally. In too many classrooms across our country, meaningful learning is being shoved aside as teachers focus on boosting test scores. Education is now characterized by a test-taking frenzy as teachers (by necessity) teach to the test. However, this kind of “learning for the test” results in a shallow, disconnected and easily-forgotten understanding of content and leads to what Joseph Renzulli of the National Center on the Gifted and Talented refers to as the new 3 R’s of education: the “ram, remember, regurgitate” curriculum.” And with many schools still in the process of aligning their curriculum to state exams, one can only wonder at the potential gap in the future between test results (good or bad) and what our students are actually learning (and retaining) in the classroom. Which begs a critical question—what exactly do these standardized tests, which have become the driving force in modern-day education, actually measure? Intelligence? Creativity? Talent? Job readiness? The answer, for the most part, is no. Many educators believe that standardized tests simply measure the ability to recall and repeat discreet bits of information. Research also suggests that some of the recent, highly-publicized, post-NCLB test score gains have more to do with schools aligning their curriculum to standardized exams and increased district spending on bolstering test-taking skills than better learning or better schools. Despite this, and despite a mountain of evidence which suggests that the relationship between test scores and actual intelligence is tenuous at best, students who test well are still deemed “smart” while students

who test poorly are often branded as “challenged,” “deficient” or “dumb.” But is this fair? Should standardized tests which essentially assess test taking skills set the standard by which we measure the intelligence of our students or the quality of our schools?

The proper focus of education in a knowledge-driven economy should be creating better learners —and students who know how to learn. To achieve this, students should be given the freedom to think for themselves, to question, to reflect, and to interact with ideas, objects, and each other in an effort to construct meaning. If this sort of intellectual freedom does not fit what we test or how we test, then the problem does not lie with the students but with the test. Narrowing what we teach is not the answer. This “pushes aside big ideas and intellectual curiosity” and is fundamentally inconsistent with the mission of education, which, ideally, should be to engage, motivate and prepare all of our students to live and thrive in the 21st century.

Technology and Student Achievement

Reform-minded educators are increasingly using information and communication technologies at every stage of the learning process to help students locate, analyze, process, present and share information and knowledge. Interactive technologies, virtual learning communities, web-based curriculum and online assessments increase the speed and immediacy of feedback and enable more flexible approaches to curriculum delivery. Networked technologies are connecting learners with experts, teachers and other learners beyond the walls of their school while supporting collaboration, creativity and cooperative learning. This increased connectivity allows teachers to individualize instruction at a pace, place and time best suited to learners’ needs. Teachers with ubiquitous access to networked technology are also better able to access and monitor all relevant student data and then share this data with a body of interested educational stakeholders—students, parents, caregivers and superintendents, school boards and the community at large—who increasingly require and demand regular and accurate information about educational outcomes and student achievement. But before we go too far, before we embrace technology as the next new panacea for all that ails our schools, we must first remember one basic fact: technology is a tool and a tool is only valuable to the extent that a human being organizes its use in a productive way. What this means relative to the use and integration of computers, laptops, whiteboards, document cameras and other interactive technologies in the classroom is this—technology, in and of itself, does not improve test scores, grade point averages or student achievement. Yes, the promise of technology is real, but this promise depends on three things: First, there must be a shared vision for why technology is being used in the classroom. Second, there must be a comprehensive plan for how technology will be integrated into the learning environment. Third, the use of technology must be tied to a clear educational purpose; to performancebased standards and to the actual educational needs of a schools and its students.

So thoughtful and correct implementation is the key. But the research is clear. When integrated in a well-planned and instructionally sound manner, technology can and does close increase curriculum choices and pathways for learners, break the barriers of geographic isolation and socioeconomic limitation, extend the range of instructional and assessment methods, increase access to specialist support and improve student outcomes for all students at every level.

Case studies. One of the most comprehensive examples of effective technology integration is Missouri’s eMINTS program. eMINTS focuses on innovative instructional processes, and helping elementary teachers to develop student-centered, inquiry-based instructional practices through multimedia and computer technology. Evaluations of the program involved studies comparing students in eMINTS classrooms with those in non-eMINTS classrooms in the same grade at the same school. The results reveal statistically significant differences in the performance of eMINTS students to non-eMINTS students across an array of subject areas. For example, students who participated in eMINTS classrooms have consistently outperformed their peers in statewide math assessments administered through the Missouri Assessment Program. The results are similar in communication arts, where students in eMINTS classrooms have outperformed their counterparts every year except 2002. Third graders in eMINTS classrooms scored significantly higher in science in 2001 and 2004, and fourth graders scored significantly higher in social studies from 2001 through 2003.


Results in other states are similar. Michigan’s Freedom to Learn (FTL) program provides laptops for students in a number of the state’s middle schools along with extensive teacher professional development around technology integration and curriculum enhancement. Evaluations show that students participating in FTL had significantly higher levels of engagement in their work and in using technology as a learning tool when compared with national averages. The results are consistent for school years 2004–05 and 2005–06. In one notable FTL school, 8th grade math achievement doubled from 31% to 63% between 2004 and 2005, and science achievement jumped from 68% to 80% between 2003 and 2004. In Texas, the Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP) for middle schools yielded reductions in disciplinary problems and increases in student technology proficiency and use. As with FLT, these results were consistent across school years 2004–05 and 2005–06. Students in one fully engaged TIP middle school saw their math achievement scores increase by 5% among 6th graders, 42 percent among 7th graders, and 24% among 8th graders. TIP evaluations pinpoint the critical importance of teacher professional development and increased student engagement as key factors influencing these outcomes. Iowa’s Department of Education, through a technical assistance program with the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), has implemented a new comprehensive, scientifically based and sustainable professional development system for elementary and middle school reading and math and the use of technology in those subjects. Preliminary results indicate that achievement scores of students participating in the program have increased by 14 points in 8th grade math, 16 points in 4th grade math, and 13 points in 4th grade reading, significantly higher than scores of students in the non-control group. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, the district developed new technology-based curriculum units in math, science, English and social studies. Student attrition was reduced by 50% in the historically worst performing schools. They improved community outreach and enrolled more atrisk students. Patricia Miller, former Director of Technology stated, “Technology is helping to increase the rigor of our academic program, and at the same time, stimulate curiosity and more interest among students in completing their education.” When looking at the effect of technology in raising achievement in specific subject areas, of 11 studies published since 2000 assessing technology integration and mathematics achievement, seven showed strong positive effects on scores among elementary and secondary students. Three showed little discernible effects of education technology on math achievement. In literacy and reading achievement, 14 out of 19 studies reviewed showed strong positive effects of educational technology on reading achievement. (ISTE, 2008).

Three recent studies show generally positive effects of the use of educational technology on science achievement. Dunleavy and Heinecke (2007) found that ubiquitous, or 1:1, computing has a positive effect on science achievement among at-risk middle school students. Van Lehn et al. (2006) showed positive effects of computer mediated tutoring on physics test scores when students who had not taken a physics course before were introduced to intermediate material, but not when they studied material designed for novices (demonstrating the value of using technology to encourage higher-order thinking skills). In a meta-analysis of the effects of different teaching strategies on science achievement, Schroeder et al. (2007) showed that instructional technology had significant, positive effects on science test scores. Meanwhile, Taylor and Duran (2006), analyzing Detroit’s MITTEN Program, found significant, positive effects on social studies learning by increasing student interest in the subject material. The research findings described above clearly demonstrate the relationship between education technology and improved student achievement, especially among at risk students. And while standardized test scores continue to be the measurement du jour, the use of technology is having an equally positive impact in helping students gain the necessary 21st century skills that prepare students for higher education, life and work.

Community Outreach

A seed is an amazing thing. When you look at a seed, it may not look like much. When you put a seed in the palm of your hand or touch it with your finger, it may not seem all that special. A seed is fragile; easily damaged. It must be watered and nurtured. It needs good soil. It requires the warmth of the sun. But when all of these things work together—water, earth, sun—and a seed is nurtured and protected by kind and gentle hands, then a simple seed can grow and bloom into something more; something new— Something extraordinary. And what’s true of a seed, a simple seed, is equally true of a life. All life. Look at a child. Any child. When a child is nurtured and well-nourished, encouraged and well educated and embalmed by the protective arms of a community, then that child, like a seed, can blossom and bloom into something more, something new— Something extraordinary.

Did you know that more babies were born in the United States in 2007 than in any other year on record, surpassing even the post-war baby boom of the 1950s? Most people assume, incorrectly so, that we are having fewer babies as a nation, not more. But what really stands out is this statistic: 40% of these babies were born to unwed single mothers. This, too, was more than any other year on record. And two questions come immediately to mind. First, how should this growing trend of single parent households impact the role that schools play in our communities? Second, how should this trend impact the role that teachers play in the lives of our students? These are important questions; questions rarely discussed under the auspices of education reform, but questions that we certainly need to consider and consider carefully. We cannot approach reform in a piecemeal fashion; we have to look at everything holistically and carefully consider how each proposed reform fits into our larger vision of what “21st century schools” should be and how these schools meet the needs of 21st century students. **************** Historically, what was the role of school? Narrowly defined, it was cognitive development; to dispense knowledge. Emotional, behavioral and moral development, values, mentoring and role modeling, were considered province of the parents. Yes, teachers were regarded as absolute authority figures (we never ever referred to teachers by their first name; we spoke only when spoken to), but only within the context of the classroom. There was a clear line of demarcation. Teachers taught. Parents parented. At some point during our education, each one of us have undoubtedly heard a teacher say, “Look, I’m not your mama or your daddy.” And that was very true. Being mommy or daddy wasn’t a part of the job description. But has that changed? The reality is that in thousands of communities from Maine to California, it is not the parent, but teachers, who are a child’s first and most important role models. It is not home, but the school, that provides sanctuary, peace, safety and whatever positive affirmation exists within a child’s life. It may not be fair, it is certainly not in the job description, it just is. The line of demarcation between the home and the school, between the public and the private, has become murky and blurred. The question is— What do we do about it?

How should we respond? I guess that depends on your vision of the “school of the future.” **************** When we think about the school of the future, we don’t think about buildings. We don’t think about classrooms. Though we advocate ardently for the integration of technology into our curriculum and classrooms, we do not focus computers and cables. We think first about connections. We think first about building communities. We think places of learning defined as much by compassion and caring, than by school colors, the size of the gym or ACT scores. There was a time in our nation’s history, not too terribly long ago, when three institutions served as the “glue” for most communities: the church, the school and the family. Each served a different, but interrelated function. Each connected us not just to a place, but to people. So when we sang our school fight songs, we did so with pride because we weren’t singing about a building, we were singing about ourselves. About our community. And that meant something. We were connected. And it was in this connectedness, that we grew strong and sure and we developed our moral and mental fiber. Of course, we all had a biological mother and a biological father, but our priests, rabbis and pastors, our neighbors and friends, our coaches and our teachers, even the neighborhood business owners, also embraced us, nourished us, nurtured us, watched over us and protected us. A community wrapped its arms around us and embalmed us with the love, compassion and concern of a mother and a father. We were, in fact, all mama and daddy to all of our children all of the time. But now that connectedness is gone. Communities have been replaced with condominiums. We are having more babies than ever before, and yet we feel more isolated than ever before. And our children? So many are lost. So many are aimless. So many are angry. So what do we do? There is no one answer. There is no quick fix. But a huge part of the answer, we believe, revolves reestablishing our schools as one the the hubs of the comminity.

Community outreach and education should not be viewed as two seperate things, but should be intertwined and interrelated. Our schools must support our communities. Our communities must support our schools. Imagine this. Imagine the school of the future. Imagine classrooms without walls. Imagine school buildings repurposed as multi-use community centers. Imagine the technology that is available inside the school being made available to parents and community members outside of the school. Imagine schools sitting, once again, at the hub of the community. Imagine this. Imagine volunteering 10 minutes of your time each week to read bedtime stories to a specific child or a group of children using an application like skype. Or using garageband on iTunes to create podcasts of you telling a story about famous figures in history and what they meant to you. Not into technology? That’s okay. Then coach a youth soccer league. Buy cookies at a bake sale. Walk into the elementary school in your neighborhood and ask the principal, “What can I do? How can I help?” You might be amazed how so small an act can change and transform a life. Because you’re showing a child who might not otherwise know just how much they matter. You’re showing a child who might be in desperate need of a role model, just how much you care. That’s our vision of the school of the future. They are places of learning and light, classrooms and connections, education and empowerment. And these schools are not just available to those with means. A great education will no longer be a commodity, bought for a price and made available for a price. It will be, and should be, available to all of our children all of the time. And what about our teachers or those thinking about becoming a teacher? I’ll close with this. You have a tough, tough job. There’s already so much on your plate. We’ve got to find a way to pay you more; a lot more. You need more support and more time for professional development. But in the end, if you want to do more than just get through the curriculum, if you want to do more than just get by……think of a seed. Then look at your children. Then ask yourself—Can you nurture these children with the same care that you would give a seed that you plant in the dirt? Can you mold their minds and help to shape their character with kind and gentle hands? No, you’re not their mama or daddy. That’s not in the job description and never will be. But can you reach your children, and then teach your children, with the love, compassion and concern of a mother and a father?

Because that’s the difference between a competent teacher and a great teacher. So there you have it. One man’s humble opinion about 21st century education. It’s not about technology. It’s about people. Because systemic change will not occur because of school boards, politicians or policymakers. Change starts with us. It starts with you. And the simple, but profoundly powerful act of caring about others.