Public schools 2025: A vision for the future

If I could wave a magic wand and transport us to the future – to the best of all possible worlds in 2025 – what would we see on a visit to Alisal, or Harvest Park, or Amador? What would Pleasanton’s students experience in their public schools, that would allow our community to earn its reputation as an outstanding place for families to live and students to learn?

I’m betting that bells will no longer ring in 2025 to signal the beginning of the school day. Students will no longer register for two semesters each year, or three grading periods, or four quarters. And schools will not close for the summer in 2025.

Shelly Blake-Plock argues that many features of our current public schools will be obsolete by 2021, and one of the key differences is that “the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear [because] the 21st century is a 24/7 environment.”

She uses this assertion to suggest that homework will disappear. Plus, she thinks that attendance offices will disappear because bio-scans will allow students to check in with their fingerprint. And most provocative of all, she believes that the organization of educational services by grade will fade away.

Whoa! No more grade 7? Grade 8? grade 9?

I believe that’s an innovation that is long overdue, and one that will hit schools like a whirlwind over the next decade.

A necessary complement to the disappearance of students divided up by grades is a radical reframing of the curriculum. We should be moving away from curricular benchmarks that consist of artificially imposed timeframes for all 10-year-olds to take 10 months to learn specific concepts in mathematics (or other subjects).

In 2025, I can envision a school that is more like a community center, open year round from 8 am till 8 pm, and staffed by teams of professional educators who are each “on call” for 6-8 hours each day. The elimination of classroom grades will do away with what Charles Taylor Kerchner labels as “batch-process learning”, to be replaced by learning 2.0 — more choices and more challenges for students.

On a typical day that students check into their community center, they will spend much of their time in small conference rooms with 3-10 other students who are all focused on the same learning project. Students will sign up online to be “at work” in the community center for several time slots each day, and will have options to engage in team sports, theater and musical rehearsals, art projects and quiet reading time during other parts of their day. Students could also schedule days or weeks “off” from school, to travel with their families, but students and families could take pauses from school learning in different weeks. Some project groups could meet online, spanning across local community boundaries to bring together students who share a common interest and similar learning goals.

As Sandy Speicher of IDEO’s Design for Learning domain describes in her vision of the school of future, students will be “Building, making, imagining, interacting, investigating, reflecting, connecting, shaping, participating.” For some learning projects, students will work together intensively for a week or two, meeting for 6 hours per day. Other projects will involve less time each day, and permit students to participate in several different projects concurrently. Project teams might gather outside to collect data on the ecosystem of the arroyo, or visit local businesses to observe marketing trends and survey customers. They might visit with senior citizens to video-record oral histories, or practice their conversational skills in Spanish, Chinese, or Hindu.

Learning will become more student-centered, building on curricular innovations like the Khan Academy for math, allowing students to advance through lessons at their own pace. The roles of teachers will be transformed.

Each student will work with a “portfolio assessor” to review progress toward learning goals every two or three weeks, with parents participating via videoconference or in person. Assessors will provide developmental feedback to individual students each time they complete a learning project, and recommend that students sign up for subsequent learning projects that would challenge them to advance in particular skills.

“Learning coaches” will spend time each day working alongside a learning project team, to ensure that students are taking full advantage of the online supports, peer tutors, and partnerships with student learning groups at other schools that are designed into the project.

As well as serving as portfolio assessors and learning coaches, master teachers will also become “learning architects” who design new learning projects — creating structured opportunities for students to engage with key topics in fascinating ways. The learning projects they design will be available online to learning coaches across the district, so that the best curricular designs can be reused easily with different student learning teams.

As teachers’ jobs are redefined in these new ways, drawing attention to the sophisticated skills that teachers of the future will bring to their work, the greater public will develop a deeper respect for teaching as a profession. Talented individuals will again aspire to become teachers, drawn by their increasing autonomy as they develop skill in facilitating students’ learning.

These changes will not come easily, of course. There are formidable political battles ahead on the innovation journey from 2011 to 2025. Without an energizing vision of the future to guide us, those battles may seem overwhelming. When a vision of the future emerges, though, it becomes easier to give up outdated practices in order to make space and time for new efforts with more powerful impacts on learning.

What’s your vision of the school of the future? Grab that magic wand, and dream big.

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About Sandy Piderit

parent, education advocate, and professor

One response to “Public schools 2025: A vision for the future”

  1. Phil Simms says :

    Local public schools (PS) in 2025 will no longer exist as we know them today. PS will primarily educate the poor, disenfranchised (low parental involvement), low motivated and/or handicapped students. There will be an ever increasing number of students, backed by supportive parents, abandoning PS to attend charter schools and/or, with voucher money, private schools similar to white flight in the 1960’s. Public school teachers left will no longer have tenure, or the guarantee of a pension or protection from union bargained rights and there will be a educational bubble of graduates with a BA in education and other social sciences that cannot find work. There will be K-12 students that are left behind in spite of on-going accountability and testing, as well as, the latest technology in the class including ipads and/or laptops provided for every student along with on-line textbooks and on-line classes. There will continue to be more “honor students” in China than we (USA) have students. While the curriculum in charters may become more intense, the average American student will continue to fall behind students in South Korea, India and China who attend school 6 days a week 12 hours a day and study another 3-5 hours beyond that and the middle class in America will shrink as the middle class grows in China, India and South Korea. The 40 year experiment attempting to deny the reality of natures bell curve by attempting to “Leave no child Behind” NCLB will have failed. Some will and always be left behind. Most of those left behind will attend public schools where those teachers, no matter how hard they work, will be blamed. While America for 50 years focused on the importance of self-esteem other countries (i.e. China, South Korea, India, etc.) focused on a rigorous competitive curriculum where they made no bones about it – some would fail but those that were committed to excellence would succeed. American students that graduate HS without calculous I, II, and III, physics, biology, geography, and other sciences will not be able to compete against those in the world who do. Students in American who do not take rigorous courses will not be able to compete for the best jobs in 2025. Furthermore, students in America that focus on team sports, clubs or social events, instead of studying, will not be able to compete as well after HS. To be number one educationally takes sacrifice, something most American students are unwilling to commit to. Like Rocky III, we are soft and have a sense of entitlement. The economics book, chapter one states, “Nobody owes you anything.” Is that true? Why are there so many American students earn A’s in HS but continue on to college only to drop out or transfer to easier curriculum found in the Liberal Arts courses. Yes, our brightest will go toe-to-toe educationally with any other country. Sadly, we just won’t have that many.

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