TOWARDS AN INNOVATION CONCEPT OF SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLING

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^ Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh presiding at ribbon cutting, opening of Codman Academy’s K through 8 expansion

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Next year voters in November will have the opportunity to decide, by initiative petition, whether or not to increase the number of charter schools permitted in Massachusetts. At present the allowance falls far short of demand. Parents in communities of color especially want the much more disciplined, challenging, individualized education that most charter schools offer.

We support these parents. we support expanding the allowed number of charter schools, which are able to hire and fire whom they please, devise their own versions of the State’s curriculum requirements, establish codes of conduct, and offer a much longer school day to the students lucky enough to be selected for a spot in a charter school.

We also support that some charter school students do not make the cut. Only in a system where students understand that they can in fact not make it is there unavoidable pressure to not fail. That realization is integral to charter school’s lesson : you will not be able, simply by showing up, to get promoted to the next grade. Performance is required.

Advocates for the traditional, one size fits all, take-everybody public school decry charter schools’ codes of conduct and expulsion. I find their argument unconvincing. Taxpayers pay for public education; they have a right to expect schools to do more than provide a kind of pedagogic day care. Taxpayers have every right to insist on better. One might even say that taxpayers, as citizens, have a moral duty to the community to demand better.

Granted, that traditional public schools are asked to perform many task that aren’t pedagogic and to provide education to kids all along the scale of commitment from motivated to indifferent to sullen. Traditional public school teachers face impossible expectations and often meet them.

Yet the traditional public school, without systemic consequences for kids who do not make it, no longer assures what education must do : prepare students for the actual workplace. Every sort of employment today requires its own specific technologic skills and has its own workplace culture. What works in a research firm doesn’t work in a utility. The skill set needed for public relations differs hugely from what workers in health care or education must master.

Under John McDonough’s leadership, the Boston School District moved toward performance teaching and away from the lold time-served work rules. I applaud McDonough for seeing the goal and for moving our 57,000 Boston district students toward it.

Still, there’s huge imbalance in every year’s Boston district budget. Teacher salaries — not overly generous, mind you — take up a huge percentage of available money, leaving scant resources for school meals, school facilities, books, laptops, and extra curriculars. Budget imbalances worsen every year, as costs of everything increases : facilities repair, custodial work, books and laptops, technology, and teacher pay. As a friend observes, the State’s Chapter 70 reimbursement can’t keep up with current costs, much less future increases.

All this will change, and quickly. Soon enough, it will all be gone. The “summer vacation” will be gone, and the school day ending at 2:30 to 3:15 pm. School will last all year, for a child aged four to such age — seventeen at least — as a student needs be ready to handle the challenge of job or gig. A prime example of future schooling is the Mattapan Technology Center, created entirely by the Haitian community with support from Comcast and other smart businesses. It prepares students for specific technology jobs and successfully places graduates, thanks again to its partnering with businesses.

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^ at Mattapan Technology school : Lt Gov Karyn Polito with (from Left) Councillors Mike Flaherty and Tim McCarthy and Sheriff Steve Tompkins

The schooling of tomorrow will involve so much specialization that, in effect, every student in it will be a special needs kid. The lessons we have learned, in the 36-odd years that state education law has enacted special needs services, provide a surprise new model.

Teachers, too, will have to be specially skilled. in many disciplines they’ll need to be younger. Tenure, gained after years of service, will be irrelevant to schools in which the younger a teacher is, the better equipped to teach the curriculum.

Schools of the future will demand experiment, imagination, intellectual rebellion : because those are the capabilities that the workplace will insist upon — is already wanting. In future schools, teachers will not have actual careers. They’ll be skill workers in technology and cutting-edge systems, teaching for a year because it’s a terrific way for them to stay ahead of the curve — challenged by students who aren’t afraid to be bold on a whim.

They’ll teach for a year and then move on to an other gig : both to apply what their students have taught them and to master what the new gig demands of them.

Schools of the future may resemble universities, in which all kinds of individualized colleges co exist in community, and where such coexistent community provides lessons in citizenship. It may happen that such university-like school communities will also include workplaces — certainly in the future university this will be the case — because in the future school there won’t be a years of pedagogy followed by years of employment. Pedagogy and employment will alternate, co-operating, challenging each other.

On the highway to this new education purpose, charter schools are only the first step. We can and should expect to see more education operated, or co-managed, by businesses, universities, non profit associations : because these are what education today must prepare students to take on. We can, and should, expect to see far greater variety in the missions of charter schools. There will be vocational education, maybe apprenticeship learning, maybe seminar and field-trip education. (these last worked for Aristotle’s students, why not for ours ?) e should expect, we should insist, on these transformations, because the entire economy is changing, society with it. Our children will be living it. Encourage them to make the most of the new, as we once made the best of the old.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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