21 July 2009

Education Reform Part I

Educational History for a Radical Future

Education from the bottom up is the only way to effectively address the core needs of all parties involved, the most important being the student and the parent. Those needs can be thoroughly addressed by taking the best of generations of educational theory to create increased motivation of the whole child to learn in accelerated stages through a functional approach to behaviorism, transforming the swinging pendulum of reform into a rolling snowball of genuine progress.


Educational Intent

What is Education?

Any environment which increases knowledge and understanding, physical ability and stamina, or spiritual enlightenment and improvement can be deemed a learning environment. How anyone's senses and sensibilities are attuned can make any environment a learning environment. Education would be the sum of experiences and environments which have altered the intellectual, physical or spiritual capacities of a human being. To improve in any or all of these capacities is a primary goal of human existence and necessary to the happiness of all.

What is the purpose of education?

The purpose of education as defined above is to improve human life. What is the purpose of public education, more specifically, and what are its limits? If its purpose is to prepare young people to be productive members of society, then education should include topics which are relevant to modern society. However, American society is composed of many distinct cultures with varying and even competing values. Therefore, the constraints of a national education culture must be very broad and encompassing to leave subcultures room to develop and maintain their identity. National standards must only be bare essentials of education. Details must be independently and locally controlled.

Whom should education serve?

Who should decide what is learned and how it is taught? The answer is: those who are intended to benefit from it. A student will receive no benefit for something he does not want and refuses to use. Therefore compulsory curriculum does not serve the average student for whom education is administered. Is it ethical for the national government to attempt social engineering through compulsion in education? The notion seems to go against all of the principles of individual freedom upon which the United Sates was founded. Like the government itself, government mandated and supported education must be of the people, for the people and by the people.

The Elements

National Standards, Local Input

The intent of public education in the eyes of the Founding Fathers is to create an informed citizenry to sustain a strong nation. For that purpose, knowing how to read is important for citizens to become informed of current issues and political leaders. Understanding political and legal processes as well as laws and the foundational values of those laws is vital to sustain rights, freedom, and citizen participation within the nation. These are the only requirements for education which the government has any right to specifically mandate. All other issues are of local or individual concern.

Finding a practical implementation for reform which includes national interests and allows for local development is the challenge. Larry Cuban was summarized thus, "Reform movements give too little credence to the fact that schools are situated in communities and those communities have tremendous impact on both what happens in a given school and what happens when schooling is finished for individual students." Essentially, we are talking about a learning culture. The assessment continues, "Because schools perform multiple roles in society, they cannot be reduced to simple fixes or recipe-mode solutions" (p.178).

Because having skilled workers, technicians, and a variety of businesses is vital to the national economy and welfare, it is in the government's best interest to support local and individual initiatives to develop skills and knowledge which contribute to professional fields. Therefore the government should support programs which develop and support local/community education goals and programs.

Parental Directive

Of all the rights protected by the U.S. Constitution the most vital is the right to exercise individual conscience. Extreme progressive education as a social agenda inhibits parental control over children's moral, spiritual, and intellectual education. The home school movement is a response to that infringement of parental right and an assertion that state education is a power that needs to be kept in check.

Since parents are the primary educator, whether by proactive choice or negligent default, their contribution to educational values and curriculum must be invited and respected on a local basis. Children will learn more thoroughly when ideas and information are reinforced in the home environment. When parents are a part of the process of selecting curriculum, they and the children are empowered to maximize and reinforce learning. The objective, more accurately then, is for schools to reinforce parental values and learning goals in the courses selected by the community of parents in which the child resides. A plan for integrating a technology program outlined in this paper will make that sort of educational niche-ing practical and functional.

Student Choice and Accountability

As Herbart determined (Pulliam 2007), learning is most effective when associative (p. 65). When a student chooses subjects for which she has an interest, she is far more likely to relate learning to actual experience. This then gives the child a broader and more lasting base of knowledge to build further knowledge upon. Therefore, after basic reading and mathematical concepts are understood (by about second grade) children should have more freedom to move independently through subject matter at their own pace. How this can be achieved will be addressed later.

Teacher Assessment

Allowing the student to be an active participant in the nature of his own education requires teachers who are empowered to exercise creativity and have well developed problem solving skills. Teachers are, therefore, the most crucial element of successful public education. They are the mediator between the parent-student dynamic and the local-national government constraints. The success of public education hinges on the teacher's ability to balance those demands. The teacher must recognize a student's ability, or lack thereof, and adjust situations and methods for optimal educational benefits to the student's specific needs.

As James Bryant said,

If we want our students to learn, then we must move away from this need for a theory or method that will reach the masses and understand that all education is an individualistic exercise and must be geared toward the individual. We cannot answer the demand of pedagogy and transform our students unless we know their needs as people and do not assume their needs as a race or a class or a gender (p.163).

The teacher must, therefore, be able to assess the student's abilities through testing, observation and record the results. Teachers must be given freedom to develop those methods in order to apply their minds most effectively to meet the needs of their students. Peer review and collaboration with other teachers will increase the professionalism of assessment methodology.

Education Reform Part II

The Plan

Increased Motivation of the Whole Child to Learn in Accelerated Stages through a Functional Approach to Behaviorism

The stages of development outlined by Piaget can be accelerated by systematic introduction of advanced concepts in any child who is motivated to learn. Jerome Bruner held that the key to teaching a child these advanced concepts was to integrate them on a level to which the child could relate in subjects for which the child has interest (Pulliam p.70). In order to achieve this, the whole child must be understood, as noted by Gestalt psychologists. The child's needs defined by Maslow include security and self esteem progressing to self-actualization (p. 73). Nothing could contribute more to these needs than allowing the child clear choices within basic constraints so that he may have the sense of accomplishment which comes from setting his own goals and having full responsibility to achieve them with the full support of a caring teacher who recognizes his abilities and helps him set achievable goals through a plan they have developed together. This approach is very functional. It requires the teacher and student together to engage in an activity, discover a problem, gather data, form a hypothesis, and test their understanding (p.66).

As the behaviorist John B. Watson noted, we do not have the right to project our thoughts and feelings onto a child as educators (p.67). Breaking from that philosophy however, we know that we can ask a student about her feelings or reasoning. The functional approach above can help teachers better understand and affect the behavior of their students by increasing the child's awareness of self in context with larger concerns in concentric fields of awareness (classroom, to school, to community, to nation, etc.) through maturing stages of development.

Self-Directed Work

We will increase student's motivation to learn when we understand from their own mouth what motivates them. In order to accommodate varying motivation in a large body of students, material must be presented in a variety of ways, and the child must be allowed to choose the method by which she learns.

For example, a young elementary student is required to learn a certain set of math facts. He is given a choice to use a computer program. He may do an art project where a certain number of objects are drawn and organized to represent those facts. He may partner with another student in repeating a physical activity such as jumping rope where their combined effort represents the facts (i.e. his two jumps plus her two jumps equals five). He could perform an experiment with manipulatives to reveal the underlying number patterns of the facts. Repetition of any number of those, or like, activities would provide behavioral reinforcement and ensure that the information was assimilated by the child on a variety of functioning levels. That effectiveness is increased when the child is given a choice to express his preferred methods and has a sense of personal control and responsibility for his education.

This method emphasizes self-directed work in station, group, and paired activities. This allows the teacher time with individual students for assessment and guidance. Supervision of learning activities can be done by a team of teachers and/or parent volunteers among young students. Supervision should be decreasingly necessary as students mature and take responsibility for their chosen educational pursuits.

Once fundamental skills are mastered (language, basic math, scientific method) as determined by teacher assessment (within broad national guidelines), the student should have the opportunity to chose her topics of study and work through them at a semi-independent pace, being grouped with other students having the same interests. This student independence will blur the lines of grade by age. Therefore adaptations of classroom structure will have to be evaluated an made.

Government Intervention

Students with behavioral or learning difficulties may need more supervision, but are likely to respond favorably to alternative methods of learning (kinetic, dimensional, and active) when given the option. However, it may be necessary to make special accommodations for the students who do not respond. Because each situation varies, teachers and school leaders must be given full freedom to adjust to those needs and work creatively to solve their own problems. Should they be unable to find adequate solutions, it becomes teaching community's responsibility (including parents as part of that community) to seek resources outside the school for necessary funding, staff, or program ideas. Ideas created for such specific situations should not be extrapolated to apply to broader situations as a matter of public policy. A resource of a public sharing network of educators can help teachers and school officials find solutions already discovered by educators with similar circumstances. There is no need for national legislation and policy for small scale situations, except to make information available for all concerned parties.

Students, educators, parents, and community members within an educationally challenged community have the right and responsibility to recognize the problems within their own community. Should the above method not produce the results they desire, they can request government or legislative help where their specific needs are addressed. Again legislation for the benefit of that community must not be adopted as a matter of course for the national community, only distributed via sharing networks to other regions which are free to adopt similar measures specifically tailored to regional concerns.

This approach will avoid the downfalls of widely criticized standardized testing which Christine Sleeter evaluated thus: ""If the knowledge and skills taught in the curriculum and the assessments used to determine whether students have acquired them are not transformed, tests and accountability efforts will often reinforce and perpetuate the racial, ethnic, and class stratification within U.S. society" (p. 188).

Education Reform Part III

Technological Tools

Technology affords us the opportunity to develop education tools which can supplement and far exceed traditional pen and paper, book and lecture learning. Rather than trying to regulate the content of the World Wide Web, the government should develop a separate education network, which, over time will have, say, its own peer-reviewed version of Wikipedia and downloadable courses and lessons by subject and age group which will be developed and submitted by educators and rated by other educators and students who use them. Courses which receive a certain rating or above can be completed for credit which would be tracked via social security number. In this way, government quality control is entirely organic and from the bottom up. Further, students transferring from other schools in our highly transient society would be anchored by the network and programs. Students could continue to work on projects at an independent pace.

Again, local classrooms are the starting point. A teacher with a student-specific concern is free to search available lesson programs or write his own to use with the child and submit to the program. Credit for that lesson is established by that teacher's education credentials and the recommendation of one or two other teachers from that school and an administrator. Some of the programs could be self-contained—able to be completed entirely on the computer by the independent student. However, many of them will include three-dimensional activities, projects, or discussions to be completed by the student or in groups and would be observed or evaluated by the teacher who would submit his assessment in the program.

This integrated approach to education technology has been shown effective by Sulsic and Lesjak. In their research, the report Ally's finding that "ways of teaching, as well as testing and assessment methods are much more important than the use of ICT (information and communication technology) in education" (p.43). They continue to report on Dagger and Wade's finding that dropout rates in strictly online education were because of lack of student participation in the learning process, confirming the importance of teaching methods in online curriculum. Their own study focused on delivery and student feedback with the conclusion that "Blended learning which involves different teaching strategies than those in traditional education improves study effectiveness and represents a suitable course deliver for part-time students, mainly due to temporal and spatial adaptability of the study process" (p.44).

The pattern I recognized in their data was that students in required courses consistently had a more negative experience, regardless of delivery and teaching methods than did students who were in elective courses, which validates my assertion that students will be much more motivated to learn when it is a subject of their choosing.

Graduation requirements would include only the most basic national requirements. State and local high schools would determine additional quantities and specificities for credit completion with a high proportion of elective credit. This tool would be available to all citizens including home schooled students and adults of any age, making high school graduation possible for anyone of any age. Early graduations among self-paced, achievement oriented students would allow for a greater number of professionals and college graduates at an earlier age.

The G.E.D would be the fulfillment of national requirements and graduation would be achieved through the high school of the communities to which a student belongs and could be completed by adults from home with the option of meeting with an adult high school education specialist, either in person or through the network.

Fiscally speaking, perhaps courses would be without charge up until the age of 18. Afterward credits would cost as any for credit college course. Students are then motivated to complete graduation before they are 18, and or complete as many courses as possible up to that time. A limit of a certain number of no-fee credit courses above high school graduation requirements might be acceptable for the sake of education expense and government budgetary considerations. Any courses after that would be completed through accredited colleges, who would also be a very important part of the education network and continue its use. Current financial aid, grant, and scholarship funding would be applicable with some necessary adjustments.

Program lessons submitted and approved would be copyrighted. Teachers whose lessons, articles, and studies are downloaded and highly rated by students and other teachers would receive bonuses proportional to use and effectiveness or demand. This will encourage and motivate quality education and self-regulating professionalism.

As noted, post-secondary level courses would continue through colleges and universities who would develop their curriculum in like manner, with the students continuing to pay per credit hour. Again, the goal is to encourage student-teacher initiative, therefore the specifically proscribed courses must be limited to a certain percentage of required credit hours. This will also prevent conflicts with teacher-university self-perpetuation by requiring the use of program materials generated strictly by their own faculty.

These courses should not be limited to academic study but include vocational training developed by vocational professionals in cooperation with the education community. This will allow educational and vocational training to meet the demands of a fast-paced technological world.


A peer reviewed, national education network provides a national standard which can be developed locally with parental community input. The network would be personally utilized by individuals in counsel with education professionals who are empowered to address each student's specific needs and help them meet their educational goals. This integrative approach will allow freedom for teachers to develop new teaching methods and increase their professionalism by monitoring the results and effectiveness of such endeavors among peers. This slow, organic change from the bottom up would open the door to radical and continuous reform with genuine progress, not just a "progressive" label.

Individual students will be motivated to learn which will multiply the effectiveness of educator's efforts. Parents will be empowered to participate in their children's education, creating reinforcement for learning methods and subjects, which will further multiply effectiveness. It will strengthen diversity by allowing local and regional cultures to build on existing strengths while maintaining access to national quality.