High quality and proven practice should drive policy, not the reverse.
Too often, policy interferes with effective practice, and often policies take too long to change to enable and facilitate excellent practice. For years, we have known about the importance of integrating curriculum, particularly in high schools, but policies continue to separate courses from each other, to have completely independent requirements for each subject, and not enable teachers to collaborate. This is a serious missed opportunity in creating relevance and streamlining the learning process.
We also have long understood that we need ways to differentiate learning opportunities to meet a broad range of needs and talents. Nevertheless, we often see flexibility taken out of the system rather than built into it. There are encouraging examples of policies that move in the right direction, but we need more of them.
Time does not equate to proficiency.
The use of time is just one example of inflexibility that reduces opportunity for success. Time is still overly governed and guided by the Carnegie unit. Instead of using time effectively and efficiently, it is predetermined by how much time each subject gets. The only flexibility comes within a defined set of periods.
Time management is a key skill for most workers, but high schools provide little opportunity for students to learn time management and apply it to their work. Moving from a seat time approach to a proficiency approach would position students to work at self-determined paces, accelerating when they can and slowing down when they need to. If students could organize their extra-curricular activities with their curricular work in more efficient ways, they would become more prepared for college and careers. Online learning programs are now offering new ways of organizing the school day, providing opportunity for differentiation in instruction and enabling teachers to adjust how they work with students.
Learning is best achieved when real world applications are stressed.
Young people, particularly those who drop out, often complain about the irrelevance of high school to their lives. Much of this problem stems from the artificiality of the high school environment compared with most experiences outside of it and the remoteness of much of the content from any clear utility beyond the classroom.
It is completely fair for students to question why and what they are told to learn, and for its use beyond the classroom to be explained and justified. Until all students see those connections, we will continue to see large numbers of student alienated from the learning experience. If we cannot justify it, then maybe we need to re-think it.
The workplace is a powerful extension of the classroom.
One of these key outside connections is the world of work. If we expect students to be college and career ready, then the workplace better be the learning place. NAF has emphasized workplace learning for 30 years, and for all of those years NAF alumni have pointed to their compensated internships as formative experiences in their lives. The workplace enables students to understand how employers view the added value their employees are expected to provide. Students acquire the ability to manage projects, take initiative, work with fellow employees of multiple generations and backgrounds, and calibrate their own ambitions and aptitudes.
We need to work together to get results.
So much is made of “school reform” that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that schools are only a part of the learning experience for students. They do not have all the resources needed to enable students to achieve. Intermediaries such as non-profits, companies, community groups, and government need to contribute and coordinate their efforts to position students for success. Leaving it all to schools sets unreasonable expectations for results. The expertise, talent, and opportunity that organizations beyond the schools can bring to education can be lost without committed efforts to work together. In an era of strained budgets, collaboration and coordination is even more important.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
JD Hoye is the President of the National Academy Foundation (NAF), where she oversees an acclaimed network of 500 career academies that open doors for underserved high school students to viable careers. Through NAF academies, young people gain access to industry-specific curricula, paid internships, and relationships with business professionals.
Ms. Hoye previously served as President of Keep the Change, Inc., a nationally recognized consulting business focused on helping communities strengthen their educational and workforce development practices.
In 1994, Ms. Hoye was selected by U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Reilly and U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich to head the new national Office of School-to-Work in Washington, D.C. She served in that role for four years, overseeing a $1.1 billion budget and spurring nationwide progress in college and career readiness.
Prior to that, Ms. Hoye was Associate Superintendent of the Office of Professional/Technical Education for the Oregon Department of Education and Office of Community Colleges.