Teachers' Report Envisions Radically New Future for Schools
In the future envisioned by a select group of teachers who met to brainstorm about their profession, students will take much greater responsibility for their own learning, while teachers will let go of the "primacy and authority" of the knowledge they were trained to transmit to students.
Students will work together on projects that broaden their knowledge, while their teachers will guide their explorations and spend less time lecturing to entire classrooms of children.
This view of teaching and learning was developed by 50 teachers from across the country who spent a week last summer in Snowbird, Utah, talking about the future of education.
In the report released last week, "The Teachers' Vision of the Future of Education," the teachers paint a picture of a very different education system that breaks away from what they call today's "mass-produced learning."
The yearlong project to capture and portray the thoughts of outstanding teachers was organized by Impact II, a national, nonprofit organization that provides small grants to innovative teachers.
Supported by a $133,500 grant from the Metropolitan Life Foundation, Impact II held a series of workshops to identify teachers' concerns and help them create a vision for the future. The project culminated in the weeklong institute in Utah, where the teachers produced the report.
The effort was spurred by a sense that the education-reform movement that began in the early 1980's has left out "the voice of the classroom teacher," the report notes.
"Teachers have not heretofore been at the center of education reform; they do not own it," the report says. "Therefore, it cannot succeed at the classroom level--which we know, in the end, is the only place that counts."
Despite this sense, many of the concepts endorsed by the teachers echo recommendations that have been made since the reform movement began.
In more than 20 years, but less than a century from now, the report predicts, isolated school buildings will be replaced by "campus-style community learning centers."
Such centers, it says, will be equipped with multimedia technology centers, laboratories for learning science and languages, planning rooms, performance areas, and gardens and greenhouses that will produce food for the school.
Classrooms will be arranged for cooperative learning, with clustered desks and tables and plenty of handy resource materials. Teachers will not be the only adults in such rooms: A variety of "community mentors" will help students carry out their projects.
Beyond elaborate new facilities, however, the schools of the future will be characterized by new attitudes, the teachers say.
All children will be viewed as possessing unique gifts and will no longer be labeled as having weaknesses or limitations.
Students will be assessed based on their mastery of skills, the report says. They also will offer feedback to other students whose work they have critiqued at various stages.
The concept of dropping out of school will not exist, the teachers say, because students will be able to continue their formal schooling "within the community."
"Going from school to the workforce is merely a change of focus for learning," the report explains.
Teachers will have several new roles in addition to serving as the "choreographers, facilitators, and encouragers of the learning process," the report says. They will control the school's curriculum, budget, time, and space. In addition, they will make all staffing decisions, including the hiring of administrative personnel.
Teachers' workplaces will reflect their new roles, the report says. All teachers will have telephones and "fully equipped offices" in which they can hold conferences.
The schools of the future also will become the center for preparing new teachers, as education schools move out of colleges and into public-school settings, the report says.
Classroom teachers also will teach education courses at the university level.
But in the future, as is true today, educators will not be able to accomplish much alone. The report calls for the family to return "to its age-old place as the central institution of individual significance."
However, the concept of "family" must be broadened to include all those who support and nurture children, the teachers say. "Family members" will be defined as college students, senior citizens, and foster parents, as well as parents.
Businesses will play an integral role in education by encouraging employees to work with people in the community, allowing time for parents to visit their childrens' schools, and providing day-care facilities.
The teachers also envision businesses providing courses in career and financial planning, accepting student apprentices, and endowing classroom laboratories and teaching "chairs."
Members of the larger community--because they value schooling and are willing to support it--also will be involved with students and "learning centers," the teachers say.
Boards of education will change radically, becoming "planning teams'' made up of educators, social-service workers, business representatives, and family members. The teams will be responsible for evaluating and responding to communitywide needs.
Teachers will play a far greater role in serving on local, state, and national commissions and boards.
"Consulting teachers for educational advice [will] become as fundamental as consulting lawyers for legal advice," the report says.
To realize their hopes, the Impact II teachers said they were willing to take on new reponsibilities and give up some traditional protections.
"We must also challenge ourselves as a profession," the report says. That may mean, it warns, the end of long summer vacations, a "redefinition of the role of teacher unions," and a "re-examination of tenure."
The teachers also pledged to raise their expectations for student achievement and to push for higher standards that can be measured in alternative ways.
The report is interspersed with comments from the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Education Commission of the States, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Committee for Economic Development, and the Council for Aid to Education.
Copies of the report are available for $3.50 each from Impact II, P.O. Box 577, Canal Street Station, New York City, N.Y. 10013-0577.