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American schools were designed for a world that no longer exists—a standardized model of education that prepared students for a factory economy. To succeed in today’s global economy, young people need different skills and mindsets that the factory model was not designed to foster. A focus on student-centered, innovative approaches is taking root in schools across the country. Below are a few examples of policy approaches adopted in other states and districts.
Transitioning an education system from a factory model to a studentcentered model requires long-term commitment and alignment of stakeholders. States will be well-served by creating a clear vision statement that reestablishes the purpose of education and allows schools, districts, and educators to apply their day-to-day efforts toward realizing this vision of student-centered education.
It’s nearly impossible to construct a student-centered system of education within existing rules and regulations designed for a factory model of education. Often, policies surrounding funding, assessment, calendars, staffing, reporting, and many other areas impede innovation. A mechanism for flexibility from state- and district level policies is needed. States can tackle this in a variety of ways; here are just a few: Review statutes and rules and eliminate outdated and unnecessary requirements.
Most education systems are organized around specific requirements related to the number of hours (or even minutes) of instruction a student receives in a day, week, and school year. These requirements usually influence funding, staffing, schedules, how content is delivered, and other core areas that serve as an obstacle to innovative approaches.
States would be wise to transition from these arbitrary requirements that have little correlation to learning. Instead, ‘they should focus on mastering concepts and skills, regardless of time, place, and pace. This effort will likely require states, districts, and schools to rethink traditional school practices like grouping children by age, organizing content by grade-level and subject area, and funding based on time.
As primary and secondary education moves to more competencybased models of education, a key challenge will be to ensure that postsecondary institutions view their transcripts in a way that does not put them at a disadvantage compared with transcripts that feature traditional elements like grade-point average, class rank, and course completion within the context of a standardized course list.
A persistent barrier to innovation in education is a focus on end-of-year summative tests that are based on traditionally defined courses. These systems perpetuate age-based cohorts and prevent education leaders from creating learning environments that better meet children’s interests and passions.
In an ideal world, my daughter would have direct input into what her curriculum looks like.— Teacher, Miami
Innovative schools are designing assessment practices that value a broader set of skills, assess learning as it happens to inform instruction and allow students to move on when they demonstrate mastery. In short, schools are moving toward policies and designs that make testing a seamless part of a child’s education experience— not the end focus of education.
Customs and laws around the days, hours, and months that children are required to sit in classrooms are largely manifestations of habit. However, schools around the country are experimenting with new models, such as four-day school weeks that allow students to pursue self-directed learning on the fifth day, year-round schooling, elimination of subject blocks/period, more out-of-classroom learning opportunities, and other changes to how we think of a typical school day.