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“What Are The Goals of K-12 Education?”

Vonny – a great science blog run by a particle physicist, school board member, high school teacher and education reform consultant – asks a question that teachers, parents, administrators and our elected officials should all be considering:

“What are the goals of a K-12 education? “

….I think the main point being made is that educators are not asking the right questions today about what we are doing and teaching in K-12 school systems. This is in large part because of NCLB and the mandates we are forced to follow and the goals that are set for schools (again, those goals are to get kids to score well on the exams). But the title of the book asks one of the questions we should be asking. Another question is: What are the goals of a K-12 education, as well as what should be the goals of a K-12 education? Is the point of mandatory schooling to promote and effect the continuation of a democracy? Is it to prepare students for college? For the workplace? Is it to build independent learners and thinkers? Is it to develop good problem solvers? Is it to develop students who can recall a series of facts about a given topic? Or should we develop good, decent, multicultural individuals who can fit into our melting pot society? Are the goals some combination of all of the above, and if so, what gets the most emphasis? In the end, who decides what the goals are and how a school goes about working with kids to meet those goals? Should it be federally mandated, as in NCLB, or purely local? Should the education one gets in urban districts the same as one should get in rural, southern farming districts?

….Here is something to leave with. Should a “good education” focus on the specific content of specific areas of study, or should content be used as a means of getting students to develop what Deborah Meier calls the five “habits of mind?” These are 1) the value of raising questions about evidence (how do we know what we know?), 2) recognizing the point of view (whose perspective does this represent?), 3) how is material connected to other material (how is this related to that?), 4) supposition (how might things have been otherwise?), and what I always try to emphasize, 5) relevance (why is this important to my life?).

In the end, how much specific content does a typical student remember, since most is never used in their life? How well do I remember how to diagram complicated sentences, or remember specific dates from events that occurred centuries ago? Does that mean my early education was a failure? Not at all, nor should we suddenly expect today’s students to remember everything that is brought up in class by name…it is the higher-level thinking and problem solving skills that make a difference in life. It is knowing where and how to find information. It is knowing the right questions to ask when you don’t know something. It is finding connections between theory and reality, and recognizing how to draw logical conclusions based on supporting evidence. It is about being able to use some limited information and building off of it, and perhaps making predictions that are sound in judgment. It is about finding good information from the growing, endless stream of nonsense that is on the Internet, by checking it with multiple sources. ”

Setting overarching, systemic, objectives as the starting point for guiding change is strategic planning. By and large, our national and state level political leaders have failed at this task because to do so would require making clear educational choices – choices that would be guaranteed to offend significant sections of the electorate but would give the K-12 system greater curricular focus and consistency. Unfortunately, an effort to be all things to all people prevailed in Springfield

Illinois, like most states, opted to set a very, very, large number of specific and varied content benchmarks as “learning objectives” in each subject so that each interest group can feel satisfied that their concerns have been acknowledged by the legislature and State Board of Education.  Best educational practices, scope, sequence, methodology, curricular coherence and students with special needs were secondary or tertiary considerations on which the state has passed the buck on to school districts and classroom teachers, to shoehorn in as best they can around the NCLB prioritized testing process. The schools are shouldering the responsibility our elected officials have abdicated (financially as well as politically).

Some districts, like Center Cass 66, have managed this precarious balance well while still erring on doing what is in the best interests of our students. Not every district in Illinois has been nearly as fortunate

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