Students learn in different ways, so offering them multiple pathways to success just makes sense.
On November 27, 2015, the Washington Post published an article by reporter Ana Swanson about waiting in lines, which speaks to a number of aspects of traditional education that cause students frustration. According to Swanson, the factors that influence the experience of waiting in line are ideas of fairness, feeling out of control, and the perception of time. One of the conclusions is that navigating one serpentine line is less stressful than waiting in a straight line or choosing between several parallel lines.
Traditional education is one, long, straight line--with grade levels and test performance as the mileage markers. Between those mile markers are a series of subjects and classes where students have to move at the same pace and in the same sequence as their classmates.
I have the opportunity to speak to many students in credit recovery, alternative, and blended learning programs. When I ask them about how, when, and in what manner they learn best, their answers are both insightful and powerful. One answer I often hear is, “It depends.” Some say they learn English language arts better in a classroom setting with other students, but with math, they do much better studying on their own online.
For certain subjects or learning moments, a teacher is essential to assist a student’s progress. Others learn fine on their own. Time of day makes a difference for some but not for others. Their preferences vary a great deal, but one thing is constant: They are far more engaged and feel respected when they are given choices.
Imagine that, like many students who enter credit recovery, you’re in a class where the teacher’s instructional style does not match the way you learn. Or say you’re having difficulty with a certain concept that is key to further progress and there is no time or capacity to provide you with the targeted support you need. These scenarios make some students feel out of control, disrespected, or embarrassed, all of which leads to acute stress and a fight-or-flight mode that is detrimental to long-term memory and learning. Biologically, their brains cannot learn in that mode--and then they are stigmatized for “not getting it.”
If a doctor had 100 patients and 80 of them were in good health and didn’t need her assistance, five more had minor ailments and needed occasional checkups, but 15 were in acute trauma, would it make any sense for her to spend the majority of her time offering the same treatment to the entire group? Yet that is our traditional education model.
I don’t believe technology is a panacea for all things in education, but it does allow for options, control, and access that in the past were not possible or affordable within the confines of local budget realities, politics, and ideologies. People debate the value of direct instruction. I hope we have all experienced that inductive leap that happens when an expert teacher’s concept or lesson finally sinks in. It is a transformative experience. Either by practice, accrued wisdom and insight, or an ineffable gift, these teachers are savants when it comes to educating their students. Thousands of these teachers--and lessons--exist.
Imagine if we could capture these teachers teaching these lessons and make them available nationally? With technology, this is not only feasible, it is logical. Think flipped classrooms on a grand scale, where teachers could leverage the brilliant work of their colleagues and spend the majority of their time specializing or assisting the students who truly need it. This is just one possible pathway.
The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts July 2014 report on Public School Construction Costs said that new secondary school construction since 2007 in Texas averaged a cost of $26,711 per student. For a high school with a population of 2,000 students, this adds up to an average cost of $53,422,000. For a building. Not curriculum or teachers. Not for expanded services and options for students. Not for a dual credit program. A building.
Now consider that on a national scale. What if, instead of the stick-and-carrot approach the U.S. Department of Education used with NCLB and then Race to the Top, that money had gone directly to students in those states in the form of a 1:1 program? What if, a district instead spent that money on a combination of a virtual school, competency-based pathways, blended programs, and (for those who still prefer it) traditional programs? What if we used some of that funding to increase teacher salaries?
In any of these new paradigms, teachers will be more important than ever. In a time when one location and one setting are becoming far less important to the goal of learning, why aren’t we rethinking how we can invest to provide the best resources and most choices for our students? For example, Taylor County Schools in Kentucky offers a program with similar multiple pathways and enjoys a graduation rate of close to 100%.
The good news is that many schools and districts are starting to offer more educational pathways. The evolution of technology is demanding it. Districts are losing students to accredited virtual schools because parents aren’t satisfied with their local options, so districts are growing their services. These are but small steps in a wave of expanded choice that will only continue to build.
It’s time to stop making our students wait in line for their education.
John Kreick is a graduate of Brown University whose journey in education began 10 years ago, when he worked with the state of Hawaii to restructure 37 failing schools to increase student achievement. Today, Kreick is the vice president of marketing at Odysseyware, a leading provider of rigorous and customizable online courses for K-12 education.
The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.