Thursday, July 11, 2013

Five Challenges to Iowa Education

It's that time of summer where I become a bit reflective about Iowa education as a whole.  For the last two summers, it's been big news, with @COjasonglass promoting different ideas on a state level, but this summer is different, as the #iacomped conference seems a bit muted.  Here are some things that are on my mind.

Teacher Leaders

I really wonder where this model will go after its adoption by the Legislature.  Because the real Teacher Leaders are often NOT the people the staff loves and cherishes.  In making their classrooms vibrant and  student-centered, they have upset the status quo.  I had this conversation back in February, talking about resistance to innovation in schools.  Systems self-perpetuate, unless the guidelines for change are  specific and Districts are held accountable.  Just not sure how how that will work, but here's a starting point.  Whatever teacher leader system your district adopts must utilize parent input and student input.  Those stakeholders can tell you, straight up, what works for them and who helps them find relevant learning.

Jump on the Bandwagon PD

The quality PD I have had in my career has not come from top-down structures, which tend to be reactive structures. No, the best learnings have come from personal networks on a social media or a building level.  Building level PD is decided jointly by building-level leadership teams of administrators and teacher, or led by teams of autonomous teachers who decided to make a difference.  I often wonder if we gathered survey data from our teachers on the previous year's PD what it would tell us, and how leadership would respond. PD is not often differentiated for the needs of various teachers, who should be astute enough to tell leadership what they need individually.  How can your District change that?  Here's a sample idea, courtesy of Edutopia.

Transform, not Reform

I used to think that PLCs would be a game changer, because it should allow us to focus on student achievement, but after listening to so many teachers across the state, it appears that many PLCs are focused on administrative tasks that reform the way we have always done business.  And that's a concern, because until we start to transform education, through #gamification or #pbl or #geniushour or #longtaillearning or #competency or kids will continue to be bored.  PLCs appear to be the meeting de jour, rather than the more valuable Community of Practice that we really need to be seeking.  Not sure of that?  Check out the comparison and what duFour has to say on the issue.

STEM as a part of scientific thinking

I love STEM or STE(A)M, and I accept the fact that not everyone has the deep conceptual background to develop their own product from the ground up, but a large amount of what STEM education purports to be is simply an engineering add-on, at the expense of current science and math initiatives.  IF you are are redesigning your science courses, or integrating STEM products into currently existing courses, kudos!  IF you are hiring new teachers to enhance gaps in the curriculum because you have realized the value of a certain STEM program, that's awesome.   But often, we are cutting teachers current loads and adding on a class, as a reform, not a transformation. It's time to really think about that as the Next-Generation Science Standards roll out. It's time to believe that all kids can learn science, but not all in the same depth or differentiation. To see what I mean, take the time to read Appendix K and think about the implications for your school.

Online pacing

Iowa, we're behind.  We still develop curriculum in isolation.  Iowa Learning Online has helped make things better and provides a cadre of well-trained online coaches and a lot of 9-12 options.   The IACOPI project brought blended learning into the forefront.   And things like the CAM  K-12 and the Clayton Ridge K-6 online programs are a start, have helped some students, and have been better options than workbooks (and yes, Scott McLeod was right, even though it took me a while to see it.)

On the horizon are things like Project BIG and the AGORA to allow collaborations beyond strictly defined locations or content boundaries.  But we have shrinking district size, small pools of qualified teachers, and a lot to do. We either need a huge pool of money (the average teacher cost in Iowa is $49K + benefits) way beyond what the Legislature adopted for Iowa Learning Online or some creative thinking.  Where are the courses for kids who have a need for online credit recovery out-of-district--with an anytime/anywhere start date?  Where are the classes for low-income kids who cannot afford an APEX course, or who are ill, or whose parents decide mid-year to do something differently?  Right now, you can get anything online you want--at a price.  Our online expansion has to include thinking differently.  We need to develop shared K-8 emphases for G/T kids and kids who prefer a holistic approach.  How are we going to do that?  If there are only five kids in each district across Iowa who have a need like this, that is a lot of students.   We need our teachers to look at Evan Abbey and his work with Iowa PD Online, but we need a visionary leader as well.

We have about five weeks before the next round of schooling starts.   And the conversations are critical to a changing ecosystem of learning.

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