by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
In an article published by EdNC, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson laid out her vision of where public education in North Carolina will be in ten years. Is it a vision worth embracing?
It is impossible to predict the political, technological, and ideological changes that will alter our schools and other social institutions. Nevertheless, it is always a fun and worthwhile intellectual exercise to speculate about the future. That is why I thoroughly enjoyed Superintendent Atkinson’s article, titled "What’s Next?"
Superintendent Atkinson believes that students will have more autonomy and that formal schooling will become an integrated educational experience. She writes,
Instead, every student in the year 2025 has his or her own education coach. Beginning in middle school, this coach helps students to develop and follow a personalized education plan that serves as a roadmap for each child’s individualized educational experience. This plan covers learning that takes place in school, at home, in businesses and in the community. Students are required to do projects that apply to the real world and integrate many different disciplines through rich and engaging hands-on activities.
By 2025, Atkinson argues that direct instructional approaches, such as traditional classroom teaching, will give way to an educational system that would make John Dewey proud. She continues,
There are still those who remember and stand faithfully by the "old methods" of learning, but those strategies are no longer necessary. Now, all students learn through doing. They learn through application, through solving problems, and by working in teams. And at the same time, they build strong character and gain respect for themselves and others. Through these projects, they form a clear understanding of how important responsibility is within an organization.
Before this occurs, Atkinson believes that two large-scale changes must take place. First, the state will have to supply teachers with "extensive paid training, development, and advancement opportunities." Second, parents will have to be willing to part with remnants of the old system — grades, segmented courses, and seat time.
As I suggest above, Superintendent Atkinson’s vision of the future appears to be rooted firmly in the ideas of the past.
In Democracy and Education, Dewey argued that education is a process of "reconstruction," reasoning that the role of the school was to "reconstruct" and "reorganize" student experience so that those accumulated experiences lead to understanding and growth. These ideas appear to provide the philosophical foundation of Atkinson’s vision. On the other hand, Dewey was critical of education that valued "recapitulation and retrospection," which is the idea that the systematic accumulation of the knowledge of the past is the best way to prepare a child for the present and future. Modern public schools have aspects of both approaches. Montessori and laboratory schools are examples of the former. Classical schools typify the latter.
Is one system better than the other? The truth is that I have no idea. It depends on the child. I suspect that self-motivated children will thrive in the system described by Superintendent Atkinson. Children who have little self-discipline may be better served by attending a school that uses the "old methods." Similarly, some teachers will do a fine job of "coaching" students, while others will struggle, even if they are provided ample training and support.
I do not have the courage to predict what the future of education in North Carolina will look like. Instead, I’ll simply continue to hope that Big Pharma will give us schooling in pill form sometime in the next 50 years.
Acronym of the Week
DPI — Department of Public Instruction
Quote of the Week
"And finally, society must accept that the traditional pieces of education that so many are familiar with today are becoming irrelevant and will eventually fade away. Grades, segmented courses and seat time will soon join the film projector as things of the past. The real question is not when all of these changes will come but instead, how can we start preparing today so that teachers, schools, and this state will be ready for the exciting things on the horizon?"
– Superintendent June Atkinson, "What’s Next?" published by EducationNC on February 17, 2016.
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