Photo from the consultants’ presentation
In the course of our district’s facilities planning process, we’re hearing dazzling visions of what the Classroom of the Future will look like. In the future, the district’s consultants tell us, education will be “student-centered,” so:
Buildings and grounds should provide a variety of spaces for hands-on activities, project-based learning, student collaboration, research and study space, and presentations.The consultants showed us pictures of spacious classrooms where students work together at communal tables, while teachers work with one or two students at a time. None of the pictures showed a classroom with more than sixteen students in it.
The process has succeeded in getting at least some in the community talking about what kind of education we should be designing our schools for. I’ve recently heard parents, for example, envisioning classrooms in which the teacher is the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage,” and where students spend more time working collaboratively on solving problems, and where there is more “critical thinking” and less rote memorization.
That conversation is great to hear, even if it is just in its early stages. But I have to wonder whether we’re deceiving ourselves that “student-centered” education is the wave of the future. Everything indicates the opposite. State and federal laws have increasingly imposed a standardized vision of education on all kids. The newly imposed Iowa Core standards require teachers to cover a very particular—and extensive—body of content in each grade. They are accompanied by lengthy standardized tests to make sure that everything on the list gets covered. And “accountability,” many argue, requires us to make teachers’ jobs and raises depend on how well their students do on those standardized tests. Meanwhile, our state’s education department has taken the position that “improving educator effectiveness” is a better use of money than reducing, or even maintaining, current class sizes.
If your job depends on making sure a big group of kids knows an extensive, predetermined body of knowledge well enough to score high on a standardized test, how much project-based learning will you allow? How much will you be a “guide on the side”? How much time will you have to “foster creativity”? Anyone want to guess how the desks are arranged in a Kaplan SAT prep class, or how much independent inquiry goes on there? I’m afraid that’s what our standardized-test-driven future looks like.
Our district decides what the buildings look like, but the state and federal governments decide what goes on inside them. During the facilities planning process, we’re being encouraged to picture our dream schools. Once the money is spent and the buildings are built, what type of education will we actually get?