Realign public education to meet modern demands [column] | Local voices
Change in K-12 public education is inherently difficult and painfully complex. Schools are an extension of our government and as such are subject to structures of legislative oversight, rule making and accountability, many of which were not developed by educators or have been put in place decades ago. The needs of society in today’s fast-paced world demand more than the performance of standardized tests by students.
Preparing young people to be ready for life in 2022 requires a different toolkit than in years past. In simpler times, a school’s mission was to instill specific content knowledge in each graduate. In contrast, today’s world is content rich. Most of us carry phones that can provide access to all the information in the world in seconds. In the “information age”, the market value of content has plummeted. This certainly doesn’t mean that schools don’t need to provide appropriate and rigorous content, but it does suggest that the focus has shifted from what individuals know to how they can apply it.
Additionally, provisions that have always been valued in schools, communities and workplaces have proven invaluable over the past two years. After all, we have all been asked to show flexibility, adaptability, resilience and courage many times throughout the pandemic.
The application of skills is valued in the real world, beyond school. I suspect most employers rank skills like critical thinking, communication, and collaboration on SAT scores and a high school GPA when it comes to what they’re looking for in their future employees. In a world where everyone has the right answer, how someone can apply that answer to solve a problem or contribute to a team is differentiation in the 21st century workplace.
Unfortunately, public education has been held captive by high-stakes tests designed to value the acquisition of knowledge over the application of knowledge.
Since 2016, the Ephrata Area School District has made a conscious decision to focus beyond standardized testing and invest in the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that all students will need to succeed in life. . After extensive research review, we collaborated with members of local and county chambers of commerce, business leaders, alumni, Rotary participants, and others to create the EASD Life Ready Graduate Profile, which sets new goals for our students. Although this is an important first step, identification alone will not get us where we need to go.
It is a growing priority of district leaders across the country to support instructional design that promotes authentic application and higher levels of student engagement. Supporting teachers as they explore new instructional strategies, the creative use of technology, and the incorporation of authentic projects and design challenges is a necessary step for districts serious about making this change.
Over the past few years, school districts like Ephrata have worked hard to develop and strengthen partnerships with local businesses and community organizations. Bringing employers into the classroom and sending students to the workplace is a win-win proposition. Authentic exposure to real-world application of content improves engagement while helping to inform future career decisions. Additionally, school and business partnerships allow businesses to demonstrate their joint investment in a strong community and future workforce.
Recently, our work on the changes described above resulted in the Ephrata Area School District being recognized by The School Superintendents Association as one of 13 districts nationally designated as “Beacon” systems offering models of positive change in public education. While Ephrata may have earned this designation, we recognize how fortunate we are to be part of the larger educational community in Lancaster-Lebanon, full of districts and educators who are committed to moving in this direction. .
An example is provided by Career Ready Lancaster! This partnership championed additional traits for graduates with its “High Five,” a set of five critical skills that lead to academic and career success: communication, resilience, integrity, problem solving, and hard work. ‘crew. We collectively hope that this common language between school districts and the common goal of developing skills through authentic application will help continue to fuel efforts across the region.
Leading change in our public education system is a daunting task, but now may be the time to realign with the needs of our students and the demands of our workforce. Taking steps to prioritize skills and dispositions over knowledge acquisition can lead to a more engaged student body and a better-prepared set of graduates. Certainly, efforts in this direction can divert resources from the preparation of annual standardized tests. However, we believe this is exactly the direction our communities and students expect of us.
Brian Troop, Ed.D., is superintendent of the Ephrata Area School District