Sunday, February 27, 2005

Return schools to their communities.

So what has changed? Posted by Hello

Return School to their communities.

All over the world politicians are trying to impose simplistic solutions to improve education. All too often they are supplying the answers to the wrong questions.

Ted Sizer, the founder of The Coalition Of essential Schools, believes that the concern about educational provision is proper.

He has written that, ‘too many of our schools are stuck in practices going back almost a hundred ears, have failed many children, especially the poor. ‘We’ deliver the programmes; if the kids do not learn, it must be their fault.’

Although he writes in an American context his comments apply equally to New Zealand.

Current attempts by government to reform schools still remain extensions of an existing bureaucratic system. Imposed political answers have simply added further burdens on schools and have taken the real issue away from teaching and learning. In New Zealand we have suffered from imposed standardized curriculums, targets, strategy plans and cumbersome models of assessment – and it is never ending. All these attempts give no hint that there may be a better, more interesting way of organizing schools.

Sizer reminds us that bureaucrats do not seem to understand that no two students or schools are ever quite the same as they impose their ‘one size fits all’ thinking.

He continues that the ‘system is stuck’ and something ‘has to give’. The answer, he believes, is not more government regulation but, on the contrary, returning power to families, communities and individual schools.

Sizer reintroduces the emotional concept of vouchers to families as a solution. Critics call it ‘privatization’ and the 'end of progressivism’ but he believes it is neither. Vouchers or not, schools need to be returned to their communities.

Critics will also say that ‘parents don’t know what their kids want’, or that ‘we know best’ but the idea would provide for school choice and an incentive for each school to be sensitive to the needs and expectations of both students and their parents.

Naturally central government has a vital role and needs a means to assure some sort of quality control. In New Zealand we are small enough for an enlightened government to set up a nationwide ‘conversation’ out of which national guidelines could be drawn up. Each school would then need to be able to demonstrate accountability to its mission and values within national guidelines. School values would need to be drawn up following community consultation. A number of national or even international models might be customized by individual or groups of schools. We have one such model on our site. Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools is another.

This will sound familiar to those who were at the beginning of ‘Tomorrows Schools’!

Even if the concept of different schools were to be established, and only offered as an alternative, it would still be valuable idea. There are one or two such schools already existing in New Zealand.

Even if some schools were not to survive more successful schools could provide inspiration to others and their ideas would spread naturally throughout the system. This would be transformation by evolution not compliance.

Most of all such a development would represent a real expression of democracy by passing authority down to the lowest level, as well as providing a sense of choice for both parents and students. It would also help attract and retain creative teachers who want to help shape their own work places.

Sizer believes that these ideas will ‘provoke instant and furious opposition’ because it would expose ‘vunerable nerves’ of those whom the 'status quo' currently suits.

It would certainly be an alternative to current central government's moves to regulate every aspect of education.

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