Earlier this week I had the honor of speaking at the Metcalfe County Schools opening day event. It was a chance to support my friend, Metcalfe superintendent Dr. Benny Lile, but also to highlight why Metcalfe's new status as a Kentucky District of Innovation is so important.
I gave a version of a talk I've delivered several times, usually to incoming cohorts of WKU's principal certification program. The theme of the talk is how we are living through the second of two great seismic shifts in the history of American education. This is an idea I borrowed directly from Vanderbilt University education professor Dr. Joseph Murphy, and first wrote about here.
You can read the full text of my message at the link below, but in broad overview, Joe argues that the first seismic shift in schooling occurred when America transformed from an agricultural to an industrial-based economy. A factory model of education emerged, mirroring the kinds of standardization and mass production processes found in the great manufacturing industries that were now the engine of American prosperity. And that factory model of learning, which was designed to rank and sort students for jobs in the industrial economy, worked well for its purpose. We didn't need to educate all students because low-skilled jobs were abundant for all.
But the economy has now changed. America is no longer the sole economic superpower and there is a dearth of opportunity for those with limited knowledge and skills. And yet the factory model of education continues to dominate, and it's not capable of educating students to the high level of content knowledge, critical thinking, and virtuous citizenship required in today's marketplace.
Furthermore, American consumers now enjoy an unprecedented level of customization, choice, and personalization in their lifestyles and purchasing decisions. Smartphones, Fitbit technology, and Netflix all exemplify the kind of individualized, real time, on demand technologies in information, fitness, and entertainment that Americans have come to expect and rely upon. And yet our schools continue to deliver a standardized, one-size-fits-all product that fails to address the unique interests, needs, and readiness levels of individual students.
But a New Era of Education has arrived to address this new economic challenge:
We see the New Education in new tools for diagnosing students’ academic readiness levels and providing enrichments or interventions that respond exactly to that child’s individual needs. We see it in flipped classrooms and Maker Spaces. We see it charter schools. We see it in the movement toward hybrid learning models that blend online learning, field-based learning that takes place out in real-world environments, and traditional learning in brick-and-mortar buildings...
We who make our living in institutions of education have a choice to make. We can choose to resist this new era of learning and be dragged kicking and screaming into the New Education, trying our best to hold on to the old factory model as long as we can. Or we can get out ahead of it, embrace the enormous opportunity we have to improve the lives of our students, and help define what the New Education is going to look like.
But make no mistake: the New Education has arrived and parents and students will demand the same kind of personalization and choice they enjoy in their cell phones and FitBits and Netflix, and if we don’t offer it they will eventually take their business elsewhere. And they will be able to do so.
The Metcalfe County Schools are not entering the New Era kicking and screaming. To the contrary, as one of Kentucky's newest Districts of Innovation, Metcalfe is distinguishing itself as a pioneer in personalization of the learning process. Under their DOI plan, new models of student advisement will be implemented, at-risk students will received heightened levels of individualized support, blending learning will become more commonplace, and there will be an expansion of career planning, standards-based assessment, competency-based instruction, and flexible scheduling.
These are educational innovations that are now widely recognized as best practices, and yet still rarely implemented. Metcalfe County has the opportunity to set the pace for Kentucky school districts.
The Districts of Innovation program isn't the answer all our educational problems. Some have suggested districts of innovation are a good substitute for charter schools. They are not, because they don't offer additional choices of education provider to families. And even districts with DOI status are still hamstrung by many onerous regulations in staffing and other areas.
But the DOI program is a good first step toward encouraging educators to embrace the New Era of Education, and I'm so pleased my friends in Metcalfe are going to be leading the way.
Read the full text of my talk here: Download Metcalfe County Schools Opening Day Comments
Usual disclaimer: All opinions expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of Western Kentucky University or the Kentucky Board of Education.