Saturday, December 8, 2012

Classes a la carte - I like this!

According to a recent article in Reuters, my former boss John White is disrupting traditional schooling with a model that I like because it puts students first and gives them MANY more choices and flexibility beyond the traditional walls of the school or classroom where so many students are currently trapped today.  The model is being implemented in a handful of states and allows students to build a custom curriculum by selecting from hundreds (now, maybe thousands later) of classes offered by public institutions and private vendors as long as they take just one class at their local school.  

Students, for instance, could study Russian with an online private tutor, business in a local entrepreneur's living room, geology at a college, Suzuki violin from a certified studio, construction with opportunities developed by their workers' union, physical education by playing on the neighboring school's basketball team or in a community youth sports program, and SAT prep with a national firm like Kaplan - with taxpayers picking up the tab for it.

The naysayers are fearful. 

Especially teacher unions whose members may have to reinvent what they do or lose their jobs. This, however, could become another benefit. A New Orleans teacher is creating an entrepreneurship course she will offer to children. Under this model teachers are driven to provide offerings students will find valuable.  

Scare tactics from the naysayers include warning of students who don't have technology access outside of school. This would not be an issue as students still have access to school and library resources and several vendors provide both technology and access.

Arizona state Senator Rich Crandall asks who would be responsible for making sure his daughter stayed on track to earn her diploma or took challenging classes.  Yikes! The easy answer is, um...well, YOU, the PARENT. But assuming, as so many politicians do, that parents aren't capable of this, I'd ask Crandall if he's seen our nation's dropout rates lately. About 1/3 of our children are dropping out of school. American schools are not doing such a great job of this. Aside from that, this model does not imply the person currently doing this work at schools would change. Schools employ guidance counselors / advisors who do this work. 

The student benefits have the potential to be tremendous. In addition to providing students with a level of choice never before available in traditional schools, other benefits could include things like transitioning more local school staff into those of advisors / guidance counselors as they do in Big Picture Schools and repositioning school spaces from various cells where teacher, text, and test is king to community spaces where students and others can gather for resources and a learning commons.  

If we unhinge learning from brick and motar the potential benefits could be formidable leading to improvements such as:
  • Learning in the world
  • Real work exposure and experience
  • Customized paths to graduation
  • Businesses partnering with schools and districts for learning
  • Teachers becoming creators of classes customized to the interest in their community
  •  The abolishment of the one-size-fits all assessment such as we're seeing with this model in Michigan where they will not require all students to take the same standardized tests. 
The program is already rolling out in some states and in the planning stages in others.  This will not only be one program to watch, it could be one to lead the way to the disruptive innovation that will transform learning in meaningful ways for our children.  
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Editor's note: This isn't a new idea.  Check out this piece from 20 years back in Wired magazine.  
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