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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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PUSD board to meet Friday June 3

See update below…

A new agenda has been posted for a special meeting of the Pleasanton Unified School District on Friday, June 3, at 2 pm. (PDF)

There are four items on the agenda…

  1. a board workshop on “relevant skills needed for collaboration as a board and with members of the governance team”, from 2-4 pm
  2. closed session (conference with the labor negotiator, and public employee appointment)
  3. report, discussion and possible action to approve modification to actions the board took on February 22, 2011
  4. report, discussion and possible action to approve the personnel document
I am heartened to learn that the board is continuing to develop collaboration skills. With a new superintendent hired last summer, two new board members elected last fall, and key policy and budgetary decisions ahead, taking time to talk about how to best work together is a wise investment.
I am curious about the potential for modifications to the February 22 list of possible budget solutions (PDF). Will this agenda item simply take action on the CSEA concessions, removing some staff positions from the cut list, or will there be a more substantive discussion of prioritizing items to bring back, if the state legislature actually manages to pass a budget on time for FY 2011-12?

UPDATE, Thursday, June 2:

I just learned via the Mohr PTA page on Facebook some details for the modifications being considered to the February 22 list of budget cuts.

At the Special Board Meeting scheduled for this Friday, June 3, Cabinet will recommend restoring the following programs for 2011/12:

.5 reading specialists at 9 elementary sites and .5 Barton ($400,000)
Physical education sections at elementary schools ($400,000)
Maintain 25:1 in grades K-3 ($1,300,000)
Counseling ($200,000)

It is anticipated that this issue will be addressed at approximately 4:30 p.m. on June 3.

I’m surprised to hear that these decisions might be finalized before the Sacramento legislature and Governor Brown finalize a state budget. Nevertheless, I’m delighted to hear that the school district might be able to bring back some of these programs!

I had especially advocated that reading specialists and the Barton specialists not see reduced work hours, because I believe that the services they provide are so essential. These staff members provide extra small group and one-on-one tutoring to any students who are not yet reading proficiently at their grade level. (In the Barton program, one specialist and one classified staff member support the work of more than a hundred volunteers who actually do the tutoring. I’m a volunteer tutor.)

If the board approves these recommendations, then the only items that remain on the list from February 22 would be:

  • grade 9 class size reduction in English and Math
  • three furlough days for management employees
  • securing funds from the Regional Occupational Program
  • securing funds from Categorical Programs (including summer school, adult education, TVIP for new teachers, and the Peer Assistance and Review program)
  • securing funds from Kids Club
  • eliminating the Health Services liaison position
  • reducing site and district office classified support positions
Those last two bullet points are probably also coming off the list, because of the way that concessions were negotiated with the Classified School Employees Association earlier this spring, but I’m not sure that’s a completely done deal yet.