Few people are satisfied with our current education system, and many more people are unsure what changes need to be made.
This past May 5, superintendents, school administrators, and education researchers gathered for the 2015 Superintendent's Summit presented by the American Reading Company in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania to discuss the latest solutions in addressing the achievement gap, particularly with an eye to literacy, access, and equity.
Many ideas were discussed at the 2015 Superintendent's Summit, but the three ideas I have selected below summarize what I deem to be some of the most promising potential changes.
1. Change the "new teacher" model
Today, the paradigm exists that students with the most resources receive the most trained, most skilled teachers, and new teachers often start in challenging classrooms with little support. These challenging classrooms are where the most trained, most skilled teachers are actually needed most. When interviewed, many beginning teachers say that their pre-service programs did little to prepare them for the realities of classrooms, including dealing with unruly students. In instances where the teacher feels overwhelmed by classroom misbehavior, effective instructional practices such as cooperative learning, service-learning, and project-based learning are easily opted out in favor of a regimen of lectures and textbooks. Consequently, gifted students continue to advance, while other students fall behind with this inequitable use of resources; therein, an inherent discriminatory effect unfolds. New teachers should first start with gifted students and the best-behaved classes in order to prepare for more challenging classrooms. Teaching the gifted students should not be a reward that educators are able to cash-in after many years of service, but rather the education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.
2. Address summer reading lost
Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer, but this gap is even more significant for low-income students. Middle-class and low-income youth acquire and retain knowledge at relatively the same rates during the school year, but low-income students lose more of their knowledge over the summer than their middle-class peers, because low-income students are often unable to access mind-engaging opportunities such as summer travel and summer camps. Subsequently, the kids who start the most behind are often the kids who stay the most behind. To address summer reading lost, nearly every school district has implemented summer instruction programs, but not every school district is following prescriptive best practices for these programs, and there are never enough resources in low-income communities to build out more effective summer reading programs. Additionally, libraries play an important role in making knowledge more accessible over the summer. While there are more libraries than McDonald's in the United States, these libraries are located in communities inequitably, and not all libraries offer child-friendly programming. Our nation's current efforts to address summer reading loss must be re-examined, and new ideas such as year-round education or an amended school calendar should also be considered as valid solutions.
3. Radically re-think the role of students
Legislators in Kentucky recently proposed a bill allowing a Kentucky student to serve on the search committee for the state's superintendent. While the bill did not pass, the mere potentiality of this bill signals a potential cultural change in the societal expectations of young people. Just a few years ago, it was a novel idea for young people to participate in board room conversations as they do with State Farm Youth Advisory Board or Mayoral youth councils such as Boston's Mayor's Youth Council, but today more and more young people are stepping into roles traditionally left up to adults and "experts." What the Kentucky legislators failed to recognize was that students are 100% of the State Superintendent's constituency, and students are uniquely qualified to say what works for students. So, having a student advise a decision-maker who influences the lives of other students makes sense -- it makes democratic sense. When adults and students begin designing the schools that students, too, must attend, and when adults and students begin crafting the curriculum that are taught to students, a more relevant, more meaningful outcome is created.
These three ideas are not the only answers that will radically change our education system, but they would have a great impact in how we use our school systems to develop a more equipped, more skilled population. My contribution to creating better schools lives through my work in developing student leaders through Greening Forward, a youth-imagined and youth-engineered environmental organization I founded when I was 12-years-old. Share with me what your ideas are to create better schools on Twitter @Corgbon, and let's continue the conversation.