What follows are thirty-three (33) action items, all part of a comprehensive plan to transform public education in America. These are actions that can be implemented one school district or organization at time until it is the reality in every public school district and every private, parochial, and charter school in the United States. The action items are divided into two groups.
The first group that are presented in this post are for implementation within our schools to transform the educational process. The second group, which will be presented in a subsequent post, will be focused on soliciting the support of the community at every level and venue toward the objective of pulling parents into the educational process. We want to resell the American dream and re-instill the hope and faith of millions of American parents that this newly transformed educational process will give their children a real chance for a better life.
The plan is constructed in such a way that it can evolve as our professional educators learn what works best in their particular environment. It is a plan that is designed to be a learning and adaptive process. The only aspects of the plan that are non-negotiable are our commitment to give each child an opportunity for a quality education and to preserve and protect the relationship between our schools and the communities they exist to serve.
These thirty-three (33) action items were first presented in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America. For the plan to work, each and every action item must be addressed, even if modified to fit the unique characteristics of a school or community. The deletion of any item will throw the entire plan into a state of disequilibrium and will assure its failure.
The job of professional educators is to take these action items and to add to the list of things we can do, relentlessly. When outcomes are disappointing, a solution is always there, in front of us, at the very edge of our present capability.
The reader is advised that the logical framework for these action items is discussed in detail in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America. The book examines, from an historical perspective how education has evolved to its current state and makes a detailed argument for each and every one of the recommendations to follow. Because much has been learned since my book was written, the author has exercised the privilege of making a few small changes in the recommendations.
In our post of June 24th we outlined all of the things we want our newly designed system of education to accomplish and the reader is encouraged to quickly review those goals and objectives before proceeding with the actual action items. In essence, what we want to accomplish is to put teachers in a position to teach and children in position to learn. We want both teaching and learning to be fun. We want teaching and learning to be a life-affirming activity.
Below are the specific steps that we believe will lead us to a new reality in which all of our goals and objectives can be achieved within the context of the system as an integral whole. These are not a list of actions from which we can pick and choose.
Action Item #1 – Each state department of public education should establish a forum of their state’s most accomplished educators and challenge them to employ a “Systems thinking approach” in order to challenge our fundamental assumptions about the system and then re-engineer the system to better meet the needs of Twenty-first century American children, their parents, and educators. We need to:
- Assess each student’s unique starting point and tailor an academic plan to his or her unique requirements;
- Change the reality in such a way that what matters is not how fast a child learns something, compared to his or her classmates, rather that they learn it;
- Change the expectations for teachers in such a way that taking the time to make sure a child is ready to move on is the norm and not a risky, consequence-laden diversion;
- Restructure our schools in a way that increases the probability that close, long-lasting relationships will develop between teachers and students and also the parents of those students;
- Create an environment that fosters the special rapport many of us experienced with our favorite teachers;
- Create reality in which no child is labeled and where every child succeeds because, in the final analysis, all success is relative;
- Create a reality in which children never have to worry about being pushed into a situation in which they are unprepared and thus predetermined to fail;
- Create a reality in which the expectations of our children are incessantly on the rise;
- Create a reality in which being somehow different does not diminish the esteem in which we are held and where our differences can be celebrated;
- Create a reality that focuses entirely on success and in which the word failure does not exist;
- Teach children that success is a process that all can master; and,
- Rethink what Twenty-first Century children must learn in order to be successful in a new world where what we learn today may be obsolete before we know it.
It is imperative that we address the problems of trust and accountability. This will require that we engage parents in the process, that we make what happens in the classroom more transparent, and that teachers, their unions, and school administrators work together to find new methods and measures of accountability and enhance teacher training.
Action Item #2 – Individual teachers, members of teaching teams, and teacher unions must demand more accountability from their colleagues and must work hand in hand with administrators to develop peer review standards and practices to ensure that:
- Substandard teachers are identified and remediated;
- That exemplary teachers are recognized and rewarded;
- That continued unacceptable performance leads to consequences that may include termination; and,
- That competency exams have little if any role to play in the assessment of teacher or school performance.
Action Item #3 – Teachers associations must rise to the challenge of redefining their mission in meeting the challenges of Twenty-first Century public education with a focus on partnering with the administration in the development of teacher training in: working as members of teaching teams; accepting responsibility for responding proactively to substandard performance of colleague; developing positive, nurturing relationships with students; and, developing partnerships with parents. Unions will also play a key role in serving as a powerful advocate for their members in the adoption and implementation of the other action items we will be proposing below.
Action Item #4 – Create an expectation that parents will visit their child’s classroom a given number of times during a semester or school year and hold the parents accountable by prompting those that need it and by reporting whether or not the expectations were met on report cards.
Action Item #5 – Install digital video recording equipment:
- In the classrooms of American public schools and place sole control of that equipment in the hands of the classroom teachers, and
- In the corridors, common areas, and playgrounds with the control place in the hands of the principal.
Next we must demand a commitment of students to both the educational process and to reasonable codes of conduct. This must include a change in perspective in which getting a quality education is no longer an entitlement but rather and a responsibility of citizenship.
Action Item #6 – States shall be asked to pass new legislation that abolishes compulsory education beyond the age of fourteen (14).
Action Item #7 – Establish education as a responsibility of citizenship rather than as a right and create an entitlement-free code of conduct in which students have the right to be safe, to be treated with dignity, and to an opportunity for a quality education, and are expected to earn rights and privileges through citizenship and scholarship.
It is vital that we shift the focus of our educational process to success, subject mastery, and accomplishment and eliminate even the idea of failure.
Action Item #8 – Shift educational focus to success and away from failure, providing ever-rising expectations: there is no failure, only varying velocities of success with students always working at the edge of their capability.
Action Item #9 – Shift our focus from protecting children from humiliation to preparing students to:
- View success as a process, not a gift or entitlement,
- View disappointing outcomes and mistakes as learning opportunities, and
- Understand that the learning process prepares them to overcome adversity.
Action Item #10 – Convert educational standards that have been established in virtually every state, to sequential gradients of mastery from a most elementary starting point to overall subject mastery. We would want to set minimum levels of mastery that even the most challenged students can achieve with ever-higher levels of mastery that will follow, effectively allowing a student to progress as far as he or she is able.
We must create a unique academic path for each and every student so that they are judged only against their own performance.
Action Item #11 – Complete a comprehensive academic assessment on each child, prior to entering their first academic year, for utilization in the development of an educational plan tailored to his or her unique requirements.
Action Item #12 – Require students to demonstrate subject mastery before they are permitted to move on to new material, thus building a solid foundation for future academic success by:
- Allowing students to move forward as quickly as they are able,
- Allowing students who are struggling to get the special attention they require, and
- Document their accomplishments not their failures as part of their formal academic record.
We must put teachers in a position to teach, to engage both parents and students, and insure that they have the resources they require to do their important job.
Action Item #13 – Replace classroom aides with certified teachers to strengthen the team teaching capability and assuring that every dollar spent on personnel in the classroom is spent on professionals who can facilitate the learning process.
Action Item #14 – Introduce team teaching at all levels from elementary to secondary, where groups of three or more teachers are responsible for guiding a group of students through a given number of the stages of mastery.
Action Item #15 – Eliminate all reference to grade levels and replace that concept with three academic stages to be referred to as Elementary (first through the fifth academic year), Middle (sixth through the eighth academic year), and Secondary (ninth through the twelfth academic years).
Action Item #16 – Upon entry into their first academic year, groups of roughly forty-five students will be assigned to a team of at least three teachers who will remain with this group of students through completion of the students’ fifth academic year. As children enter their sixth academic year, they will be similarly assigned to a new team of at least three teachers who will remain with their students through academic years six to eight, at which time students and their families will have to decide whether the child will continue their formal education. These elementary and middle school academic units will allow students and teachers to establish close personal relationships that will foster the child’s academic success.
When students enter the ninth academic year, which will require a formal commitment from both the student and parent(s), the schools must be able to effectively assess a student’s progress to-date in order to determine how best to support each individual in the secondary stage of their education. Not only will that decision relate to an academic track such as college prep, technical, or vocational it must also determine the levels of intimacy and personal attention necessary for the child to perform at their optimal level.
We must create new measures of accomplishment, eliminate reliance on standardized competency examinations, and integrate the accountability process into the instructional process.
Action Item #17 – Replace current competency exams, such as the ISTEP+ in Indiana, with frequent mini-exams that allow teachers to assess subject mastery frequently throughout the year and to document these accomplishments. Also, establish the threshold for demonstrating mastery at eighty-five percent (85%).
Action Item #18 – Eliminate graded homework that penalizes students for the mistakes they make and focus on practice that identifies mistakes as opportunities to learn followed by penalty-free chances to try again without any sense of failure until success is achieved.
We must take advantage of state-of-the-art technology, giving our teachers the ability to manage their time and priorities, eliminating important but time-consuming activity, and all with minimal adverse impact and the same user-friendliness we have come to expect from our smart phones.
Action Item #19 – Challenge an eclectic gathering of experts to develop a system of user friendly software and technology that converts academic standards, by subject matter, to step-by-step increments that:
- Support teachers and students in the presentation of instructional material;
- Permit students to read and study independently,
- Provide multiple opportunities for students to practice applying these new skills both in the classroom and at home;
- Give the teachers and students meaningful feedback as to the level of the student’s comprehension;
- Directs students, automatically, to additional practice and instructional resources if appropriate;
- Determines when a child appears to be ready to demonstrate their mastery in a given subject and directs them to what appears to be a practice quiz with no indication that the student must pass, but which is actually a Mastery Quiz;
- If the child demonstrates mastery, will guide both student and teacher to appropriate new instructional units or modules;
- When the child is unable to demonstrate mastery, will, very matter-of-factly, redirect the student and teacher to additional instruction and practice opportunities with the same material; leading to additional opportunities to practice and demonstrate mastery;
- Relieve teachers of the burden of grading and recording papers whether practice assignments or quizzes thus freeing them to focus on instruction, feedback, and support;
- Transmits documentation of the students successful mastery of the subject matter to the student’s permanent record for both recordkeeping and verification by appropriate authorities; and,
- That periodically prompts the student to a review of previous lesson modules.
 Senge, 1990.