Minds and Matter: Tell us how West Branch can improve its schools by Kevin J. Hatfield, School Superintendent · Op-Ed · November 02, 2012
In today’s world, it has become increasingly clear that our current model of educating students is not consistently producing the globally competitive, highly skilled, highly collaborative, tech-literate, “ready-to-learn, unlearn, and relearn” workers of tomorrow.
West Branch’s graduating students and future graduates will work in a more globally competitive environment. This will be true for graduates who find employment with Iowa companies including our local companies. While attempting to foresee students’ future needs is not an easy task; it is a necessity. How do 21st Century learner and workforce needs fit or impact current curriculum, course offerings, content, and teaching practices? I do think we are at a “tipping point” (Malcom Gladwell, 2000) in education in terms of addressing “how students learn” and “how we meet 21st Century learning needs.”
Standards are defined as “what students should know and be able to do!” Standards have the potential for personalized learning experiences and aide teachers in assessing for learning. The challenge we are faced with is how do we raise student achievement for all students? Getting all students to proficient or to “secure” levels of understanding and beyond is something our current agrarian, industrial age developed “system of education” was not designed to do. There is no doubt that our current educational system helped create the world’s greatest economic power. We were without question the best in the world at meeting the needs of an industrialized era, the 1920 and 1950’s, when manufacturing jobs were plentiful.
Highly respected educational leaders such as Doug Reeves, founder of The Leadership for Learning Center, Ken Kay, president of Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and Harvard educator and author,Tony Wagner, author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” and “The Global Achievement Gap,” are urging teachers, school leaders and students of develop new sets of tools to determine whether or not students are learning. They know what we know, West Branch, like many good school districts across the nation, has solid overall achievement based on assessments designed to measure factual knowledge. Unfortunately, this begs the following questions:
• What level of achievement is appropriate for our students?
• What might account for the “leveling off” of achievement in reading, math and science in West Branch and the entire State of Iowa over the past thirty years?
• What can be done to improve achievement and learning?
• How do we raise rigor and student accountability for learning?
• How do we ensure that all students are secure in their core skill areas, but also secure in deeper conceptual understandings and their application of those skills and knowledge?
We invite you to attend and participate in our Community Forum, for a discussion on standards-based teaching and learning practices versus traditional grading and teaching practices. The forum will take place Monday, Nov. 5th, 7 p.m., at West Branch High School. We hope to share more about the great work our staff is doing to address one of the great challenge faced by our schools, ensuring that all students are at minimum, secure in the skills that matter most for their futures.