Friday, May 30, 2008

The Covenant For Detroit: A New Educational Model of Success by Akindele Akinyemi

If our educational system is to deliver on the promise of high standards for all students, educational leadership must strive to create conditions for high quality instruction in every classroom. The historical paradigm – in which instruction is solely the purview of the teacher, to the exclusion of administrators, superintendents, and policymakers – is an obstacle to reaching our academic goals for children.

A Covenant for Detroit is what we need here in our city to create a serious educational model of success. Yesterday's version of large government operated schools do not work anymore. For example, Detroit Public Schools are not designed to work and the system cannot ever be fixed. It is not designed to be fixed. We must begin to transform education by stopping factory model way of preparing children in our schools.
Detroit Public Schools governance structure further weakens neighborhood schools. A superintendent's tenure is usually short, based largely on his or her ability to maintain a majority of the school board. And school board members spend most of their time consolidating political support or running for office themselves (i.e. Jimmy Womack, Terry Catchings and Annie Carter for State Representative). These political circumstances fuel a common view, that educators are good because of their personal skills, "not because they have mastered some body of professional knowledge or...are expected to be competent at what they do as a condition of employment."

Reform also "hits at a critical weakness of the existing institutional structure": why some students learn and others do not. In taking accountability away from school systems and placing it on individual schools and their employees, reform calls into question the current system of governance – and leaves no room for "excuses" such as weak family structures, poverty, discrimination, lack of aptitude, peer pressure, diet, and television.

Right now there is strong evidence that asking our State Representatives and State Senators to bring coherence and stability to education policy at the state and local level is akin to trying to change the laws of gravity. But pay attention to the next thing I am going to say here. The traditional arguments used to defend failing public schools will grow weaker with time – particularly as market-model tax credit systems, capitation grants, and charter schools take hold. Business themed schools in a traditional system have little incentive to operate under local governance systems if they can function successfully as free agents. Schools run under the old system will become the domain of the nonchoosers and the unchosen.

This is why I have personally directed my attention to improving charter education in the inner city. Some of our charter schools are being ran the same way as a factory model institution. I am not surprised since most of the educational leadership in charter schools are made up of people from DPS who have been in the system for over 25 or more years.

You have to first recognize that the inherent character traits said to make good leaders are much less amenable to influence by education, training, and practice than are knowledge and skill. The primary focus of leadership should be to guide instructional improvement, with everything else being secondary.

The best way to change the focus is through multiple sources of guidance and direction. Such distributed leadership does not mean no one is responsible for the overall performance of the organization – rather that leaders must create a common culture of expectations regarding skills and knowledge, and hold individuals accountable for their contributions to the collective result.

Our children are being indoctrinated not educated. Schools tend to reflect the societies in which they are embedded. In America before the Civil War, little book learning was needed to manage what was for most people still an agrarian life. School started relatively late in the day and ended early to leave time for chores. In summer, school let out entirely so children could help their parents in the fields. Education was narrow in scope, controlled largely by the teacher, and focused predominantly on basic skills.

In that world, the model of education embodied in the one-room schoolhouse was sufficient. Teachers taught reading, writing, and elementary mathematics to complement the skills students learned outside school. Since relatively few students progressed even as far as high school, the need for higher levels of education was minimal.

By the end of the 19th century, more and more of the population was settling in cities and going to work in factories. To teach students the basic skills and simple facts they needed for industrial jobs, the first great revolution in schooling took place: the factory school model appeared. Large buildings enclosed labyrinths of classrooms where students sat in neat rows with the teacher in front. Schools sought to be an efficient social institution that could turn out identical products. Students learned enough to work at jobs that they would probably keep for much of their lives.

Today many students still attend factory-model schools like Detroit Public Schools. Much of the day is spent passively listening to lectures. Many classes teach skills for jobs that either no longer exist or will not exist in their present form when students grow up.

Only about 20 percent of the employed population now works in factories or on farms. People graduating from high school or college will average six to eight jobs over the course of a career, many of them requiring skills that are unforeseen today. About half of all employed Americans work with information-analyzing information that already exists, generating new information, storing and retrieving information. Soon a major portion of this group will not even work in an office, much less a factory, but at home.

Technology is a key transforming element in creating this new model of school. Just as technology is reshaping other institutions, it has the potential to reshape education, ending the disjunction between school and the broader society. Technology offers unlimited new ways of learning, of teaching, and of running schools. It provides new ways for everyone involved in education to be openly accountable to parents, to communities, and to students.

Traditional schools have emphasized individual performance and competition and have discouraged students from working or even talking together. In the new model of school, classroom experiences emphasize critical thinking, teamwork, compromise, and communication-the skills valued in today's workplace.

This model of education calls for changing the roles of students, teachers, and schools. In the new model of school, students assume many of the functions previously reserved for teachers. In small groups, individual students act as peer-tutors for others. Because they are often the ones most familiar with new technologies, students lead by example, helping their classmates work through problems. In this way, students begin learning from an early age how to communicate and how to assume greater responsibility for their own education.

Teachers, in contrast, change from being the repository of all knowledge to being guides or mentors who help students navigate through the information made available by technology and interactive communications. They help students gather and organize information, judge its value, and decide how to present it to others. Moving from group to group and from student to student, teachers help students stay focused and working at the limits of their abilities. When the class meets as a whole, teachers share the responsibility for teaching with the students-each of whom has been forging ahead at his or her own pace.

As I work with a group here in Metro Detroit to open a charter middle and high school we will not follow the OLD governance of schools like most traditional and charter high schools are accustomed to. The structure will be different, the technology will be in place and the teachers will facilitate the lesson not just teach it. We are treating our children like a car part at Chrysler, General Motors or Ford Motor Company. They come in, get indoctrinated to things that are NOT relevant, and graduate from 12th grade with a 6th grade education.

For example, why should the principal be stuck in the office in a shcool doing paperwork and budgets? Principals are educational coaches for the instructors in the classroom and should get in and help out as needed.

Here in Detroit, the impact of such forces is so pronounced that critics often point to the “factory model” of schooling in DPS and charters as the underlying source of many unfortunate characteristics of modern education, such as standardization, hierarchical management, competition, and treating young people as a “resource” and their learning as a “product.”

This is why I am supporting the following candidates who want to change the direction of educational leadership and educational values in our area.

Carol Banks for State Representative in District 3 in Detroit.

State Rep. Bert Johnson for re-election in District 5 in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck.

Sheila Dapremont for State Representative in District 6 (Boston-Edison,Downtown,Midtown, New Center Area).

Dr. Carol Weaver in District 7 in Detroit (North End, University District, Green Acres, Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest, Dexter-Davidson-Livernois-Oakman Blvd).

Jeanean M. Bryant in District 11 in Detroit (Grandmont, Joy and Wyoming, Oakman Blvd)

Oakland County Commissioner Mike Rogers (District 14 Farmington Hills). Mike was the FIRST lawmaker to support our efforts on expanding alternative teacher certification requirements and how it can enhance emerging sectors in Oakland County.

Gail Haines (District 43 - Waterford)

State Representative Jack Hoogendyk for U.S. Senate (District 61-Texas Township). Jack has supported our efforts on educational reform in urban communities across Michigan since day one. He also supports our efforts in opening a urban high school academy in Detroit.

Not pictured:

-Denise Monroe Hearn (District 12). Denise supports curtailing adult illiteracy to create an emerging sector in Detroit.
-Scott Saionz (District 15). A strong supporter of educational choice.
-Linda Harmon (District 23). Another strong educational choice candidate.
-Jim Runstead (candidate Oakland County Commissioner District 6). Supports educational choices for families and children.

-Monique Baker McCormick (candidate Wayne County Commissioner District 7). Monique supports family preservation legislation and schools of choice that work for families.
These candidates will help foster a new form of leadership in all sectors in this region. Please support these candidates for change.

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