"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Public School Renewal 2014 and Beyond

Jim Horn

The public education renewal agenda embraces the values of democracy, fair play, inclusion, equal opportunity, and public school governance structure and operations of the people, by the people, and for the people.  The new public school agenda welcomes the participation of philanthropists, business, and industry to do what they are most capable of doing, which is to provide resources and strategies to create opportunities in communities where hope is in short supply, and to fund initiatives that educators, social scientists, and citizens agree will grow healthy communities with well-prepared, engaged citizens who are able and adaptive workers. 

Rather than funding segregated corporate charter chain schools, public education renewal solicits the Business Roundtable and the large corporate foundations to engage practical strategies to achieve their ostensible goal of a citizenry prepared to compete in the global marketplace.  Continuing research that began with the Coleman Study of the 1960s consistently finds that integrated, diverse, and inclusive schools provide more higher achieving learning environments than segregated classrooms.  Most recently, Scott Page and other researchers have found that functional diversity provides advantages to group problem solving that expertise, alone, cannot match.  Page suggests that learning environments that focus on “acquisition of new perspectives and heuristics” (Page, 2004, p. 16389) can provide large advantages to organizations seeking to solve thorny problems or to create new products and services.

Public school renewal requires of the federal government new programs and generous grants to states and cities that initiate economic integration programs that increase diversity.  Rather than incentivizing the continuing resegregation of American schools with hundreds of millions of dollars for segregative charters, public education renewal calls for substantive support for magnet school programs and other new integrative initiatives, as well as federal legislation and a Presidential priority that makes school integration a national goal once more.  That can only be accomplished with a renewed commitment to the Fair Housing Act, an initiative that was signed just after the assassination of Dr. King and that has been left to wither on the vine in the decades since.  Diversity in schools can only reach its full potential when the community housing patterns reflect that same diversity.

To compete with other countries in developing an economy that provides full employment, we must have the best-prepared teachers in the world, and that can only be done with the best teacher preparation programs.  Rather than demeaning or reducing preparation of teacher candidates in the science and art of teaching with alternative truncated programs focused on raising achievement test scores, public school renewal challenges business leaders to provide resources for chairs of excellence in university teaching programs that will attract the best scholars from neuroscience, sociology, child psychology, systems theory, pediatrics, and other relevant fields to complement the conventional elements of teacher preparation.   

If teaching is to be a profession that attracts the ablest and most dedicated candidates, it must offer competitive starting salaries with other degree fields, and it must demand from its members the full dedication to the learning health of children, to the same degree that physicians are dedicated to the health of their patients.  If this imperative is to be realized, children’s learning needs must be carefully diagnosed with psychological and sociological knowledge from within the school and the community for which the school remains a reflection. 

Rather than imposing a universal curriculum that threatens to stunt diversity of thought and the capacity to adapt and appreciate new perspectives and environments, public school renewal requires multicultural and interdisciplinary learning parameters that remain sensitive to the needs of children, parents, and the well-being of democratic communities.  For the vast ecological, cultural, and economic problems of the world to be faced and resolved together so that all may benefit, public school renewal must give children the power to direct and transform the future, rather than to become its victim by having the scope of a humane and democratic educational vision and mission replaced by narrow economic and behavioral catechisms.

Finally, public school renewal depends upon a broader societal commitment to reducing income inequality and eliminating child poverty.  The public schools remain a reflection of our commitment to the communities they serve and help to sustain.  The false notion that schools, alone, can solve the economic, cultural, and political challenges of our society remains a impermeable barrier to renewing public education in ways that help reunite us so that our differences may be celebrated and turned into assets, rather than serving as corrosive rationales for sorting, dividing, and demanding the most from those with the least to give, while offering nothing in return from those who demand accountability but accept none.

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